REVIEW: Hellblazer #300 (of 300)

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Or – “I’ve Been Putting Off Reading This One…”

I’ve been readin’ comics for a very long time.  Titles have come and gone, characters and universes swirling down the drain month after month, but Hellblazer has remained.  Since The Reagan Administration, I’ve been picking up every issue of this book (even the really awful ones) and I find the concept of a world without Hellblazer to be one that’s somehow a sadder place.  Still, time is an illusion, so they say, and lunchtime doubly so, and there’s no reason to dilly-dally any longer.  The end of one of my personal eras of comics is here, and your Major Spoilers review awaits!

Hellblazer300CoverHELLBLAZER #300
Writer: Peter Milligan
Layout Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
Finisher Artist: Stefano Landini
Colorist: Brian Buccallato
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Hellblazer:  From the mighty Wiki: “John Constantine, the main character of Hellblazer, is portrayed as a kind of confidence man who does morally questionable things, arguably for the greater good. He usually triumphs through guile, deceit, and misdirection, but often makes more enemies in the process than he defeats. Indeed, it is a common theme in the book that Constantine is unable to effect any lasting change or enjoy unequivocal victories. While sometimes striving for the good of mankind, Constantine is often manipulative and a dangerous person to have as a friend, as the lives and souls of those around him become perilously involved in his misadventures. He takes pains to protect himself from direct attacks, but his friends and relatives are often endangered in order to strike at him. The spirits of deceased friends haunt him, individually or as an entourage of ghost.”  Also, last issue, he died and presumably went to Aitch-Ee-Double-Hockey-Sticks…

“YOU ASKED ME TO GO TO LIVERPOOL AND DIG UP THE BONES OF YOUR ANCESTORS…”

In recent months, Constantine has been up to some new tricks, having officially married young Epiphany, daughter of local crime boss Terry Greaves and reconnected with his lost niece Gemma.  John being John, he has also discovered (and already ruined the life of) an illegitimate son that he didn’t know he had.  After dying last time, we open with Gemma seemingly contemplating suicide, while the widow Constantine returns home.  Both women are trying to come to terms with the loss of the man who made their lives miserable…

…and then John walks in the door.  Writer Peter Milligan is a name that I trust, having read his work as far back as Skreemer (Go Google it, it’s far too hard to explain) and his recent run on this book has been interesting on a number of levels, and have been filled with terrible moments of awful anticipation.  As Epiphany and John get down to the business of conjugal relations, I get that familiar terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing that something horrible is about to happen….

WH… WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

Of course, it’s just a demon in John’s form, and only the arrival of bastard son Finn keeps Epiphany alive, making it clear that John Constantine’s legacy will live on long after his thrice-damned bones are a’mouldering in the cursed earth, or something like that.  There are still a few twists and turns to be had, including a second seeming-resurrection, the final end of John’s business with his father-in-law, the resolution of Gemma’s story and a return appearance by an old antagonist from the Garth Ennis days.  The story even ends the way John’s story has to end: With a strange confusing sense of “WHAT?”, and a lovely tribute to the creators who came before Milligan and company on the book.  Visually, Camuncoli and Landini are great, giving J.C. the grizzled look of an old man, and haunted eyes that have become an instantly recognizable part of the character.  Their rendition of London looks like it takes place in our real world, and the horror of what happens to Finn, Epiphany and others is expertly expressed in their facial expressions…

BOTTOM LINE: BITTERSWEET ENDING?  WHAT EXACTLY WERE YOU EXPECTING?

I’ve read this issue about three times now, and I’m still not quite clear on what the Gainax Ending means, nor am I entirely sanguine with the market realities that led to this book’s death and upcoming resurrection back in the core DCU.  Either way, though, it’s a pretty fitting end for the life and times of the Hellblazer, being both a downer and kind of inscrutable.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been reading this book for a quarter-century, the entirety of Major Spoilers intern Young Zach’s life and more, and that Hellblazer will no longer be a thing.  From the earliest Jamie Delano stories to the gawdawful Keanu Reeves flick, the adventures of John and his ever-dwindling list of friends have kept me company through the decades, and I still remember the utter horror of Gaz in the bath from 1988 as though it were yesterday.  This book isn’t the big send-off one might expect for the last of the classic Vertigo titles, but then I suppose that it’s technically not an end at all, what with Constantine getting another solo title in a couple weeks.  Hellblazer #300 is a strong issue, on a par with the book’s most recent run, with interesting art and some closure for the characters (if not the readers) earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  As much as I’m glad to see the New 52 meaning a higher profile for John, I’m saddened to see this book go away, as it was one of the last remnants of the great titles of the late 80s to get run through the chipper-shredder of the next big thing.  Here’s hoping ‘Constantine’ holds up that tradition…

Rating: ★★★½☆

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