In Review: Constantine: The Hellblazer #4

I'm not going to follow this series any more with this art team. Utterly disappointing.

The cover: This is a really good cover, the best this reboot has had yet, and (I’m assuming, since there’s no credit inside the book) by Vanesa Del Rey with colors by Ivan Plascencia. The top half has John looking his best, staring down the reader with his overly confident glare, complete with cigarette in mouth. Where his shirt and tie would normal be an image exists: two skeletons dressed like a young couple on the town making their way down a street, their cigarettes’ smoke rising to hook up with the flame on John’s fag. Excellent idea with some sensational symbolism expertly carried out. Overall grade: A

The story: “Atrocity Exhibition” by Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV jumps back and forth between the past and present with former bandmate Veronica Delacroix being the crucial character. She and John met while in a band and while he was with her John remembers ‘We were beautiful, the world was ours for the taking. And if it had a problem with that it could go **** itself.’ This memory of past love moves to the present where John’s in a record shop and he’s hammered. In fact, he’s drinking right out of a bottle in the shop. An employee tells him he can’t do that and John responds as you’d expect. As the worker walks off, a voice behind Constantine tells him he’s drunk. He turns to find a ghost reminding him that he came to town to help stop the beast that’s gobbling up ghosts, not to get loaded because “some chick you shagged half a lifetime ago decided to off herself.” John’s wallowing in self-pity, tells the spirit that everything goes bad when he gets involved. He goes so far as to yell, “Hey tentacle monster, you want some ghosts to gobble right up? Here they are!!” The ghost flips him the bird as the stumbles out of the shop. In the past readers can see that Veronica — Vee — is concerned about the magic that the pair are dabbling with, as it’s seeming to have an effect on her and it’s making her uncomfortable. John blows off her concern and so begins the slow destruction of this woman that he loves. He journeys to two of the places he went with her, with one having horrendous side effects (Pages 10 and 11). The issue ends with him having a close encounter with a specific spirit and this will have major consequences for the hellblazer next issue. I didn’t like having John drunk for a majority of the issue; it’s only Issue #4, can’t readers see John do some alchemy before going into his predictable state of self-loathing? All of this issue’s events were rote for fans who have been following John’s adventures for a while. The past was much more interesting because that’s new for this rebooted Constantine. I liked only half the book: loved the past, hated the present. This should be much more interesting than it is. Overall grade: C-

The art: This book just looks awful. Part of the reason Hellblazer became a hit was that the visuals showed the supernatural in the real world. It was shocking and different. The visual work by Vanesa Del Rey and Chris Visions is an obvious attempt to cash in on the successful look created in the current Batgirl series. It’s difficult to be shocked by the bizarre when the art for normal scenes is bizarre. The art is also too loose. Page 2 appears unfinished. When in the present, John’s shoulders are so broad he could support five heads on his mass; take a look at the third panel for proof on 3. It’s as if John’s entered The Silent Invasion drawn by Michael Cherkas — but that art worked, brilliantly, for that story. The top panel on Page 4 is reason enough to be dissatisfied by the art. Both characters are sloppy renderings and the background, boxes of records, are uneven messes — it’s a bunch of similarly sized boxes; this should fall under Illustration 101. Style trumps substance in this book, and it’s a style not suited for this series. Look at all the wasted space in the third panel on the same page. It looks as if the illustrators had no idea where the text was supposed to go. The full page splash on 5 is a huge mess. What’s with John’s positioning in the first panel on 7? Has he been slapped? Is he being shaken? The text doesn’t state that’s occurred, but the way he’s rendered makes it look like that’s what happened. When John finally gets a close-up in the present, at the bottom of 8, he’s drawn terribly. I can’t continue to purchase this book with art like this. Overall grade: F

The colors: Again, more Batgirl copying. Pages and panels are plastered with single colors that are supposed to signify intense emotions, but instead increase the mess that the art started. Why color a book when the colors bleed so much into each other? The first page is an out of control concert that John and Dee are performing at. It looks to be a former church. Colors would have been the perfect way to showcase this gothic environment, but instead Ivan Plascencia blankets everything in the same shade. I realize that Page 5 is shown by candlelight, but no real colors exist in this image; it’s been placed in a rosy haze. I don’t even want to try to look for details in such an image with such dreadful coloring. Pages 17 and 18 have the best coloring in the book that is perfectly suited for what’s going on: two characters are saying farewell to each other and the colors show how one has already left. This was the sole exception to a painful visual installment. I really didn’t like the majority of the coloring on this book. Granted, Plascencia is not being given the best to work with, but this seems as though he’s not even bothering to try to color. Overall grade: D-

The letters: Scene setting, narration, dialogue, story title, credits, writing on polaroids, announcements, sounds, text clipped from a newspaper, creature speak, and the tease for next issue are by Tom Napolitano. There’s no faulting anything he’s contributing to this issue. Overall grade: A  

The final line: I’m not going to follow this series any more with this art team. I can’t follow a book that has a mature storyline that is aping the style so blatantly of another book. Utterly disappointing. Overall grade: D

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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