Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Review; John Constantine Hellblazer The Red Right Hand

About eighteen months ago, my local branch of The Works, a chain of book shops in the UK that sell returns more cheaply, had a graphic novel section. It was a golden era where I picked up many comics and graphic novels that I either wanted, was curious about or thought I could resell on ebay for a profit. It was at this time that I bought a copy of Hellblazer collection The Red Right Hand for £2.99, original retail price being £8.99.

This was a curiosity for me. Like Locas and Daniel Clowes, John Constantine is a comics-thread that reminds me of my adolescence. From the moment he first appeared in Swamp Thing blowing smoke into the poor mud-bastard’s face, I loved him. I liked the character so much that Constantine getting his own comic wasn’t a consideration, until it actually happened. In fact, I liked the character so much that for years I smoked Silk Cut cigarettes and wore a trench coat (until that time I went to see Basic Instinct in the cinema. I didn’t realise how pervy I must have looked walking into the screening on my own until after I sat down in the front seat and saw Sharon Stone flash her knickerless womanly under-area at Newman from Seinfeld.) For me however, the longer his comic ran for, the softer the character became so that, by the time Garth Ennis started writing the book, I felt a lot of his mystique had been lost. I enjoyed Ennis’ run as it happens but I pretty much bailed out of Hellblazer after that, only returning for occasional stories by Warren Ellis and Jamie Delano. It was pretty much over for us and I haven’t read a John Constantine comic for over a decade. However, I made a mental note a while ago to give Denise Mina’s run on the comic a go. Mina is a British author of proper books whose interpretation I was intrigued by, and besides, I was missing the provocative old sod.

The Red Right Hand doesn’t start so good. It opens with a short, standard comic book long tale called The Season of the Zealot which I had trouble getting into. I’m not sure if this was the fault of the creators or me having difficulty adjusting to the author’s rhythms. When the Red Right Hand starts after, the story already seems to be well under way and I started to worry that I had somehow missed a major chunk of it. (This book collects the second half of Mina’s run). The story opens with Constantine in a Glasgow devastated by the aftermath of mass suicides and violence. He’s with a man called Evans who has supposedly built an Empathy Engine; a creation of some sort that forces people to empathise with others. The result is the carnage that the story opens with and, further more, a worldwide vulnerability to The Master of the Third Place and his emotion eating demons.

If this is a continuation of earlier stories then it didn’t matter to me because I got into the flow of it quickly this time. Mina has a number of strong ideas and narratives here that she brings together in a natural and seemingly easy way. She also seems to have a good grasp of Constantine and his almost stubborn speech inflections. (Constantine has always struck me as someone who knows he’s a character in an American comic and speaks that way as an act of defiance against those he imagines his readers to be. Just as cockney’s invented rhyming slang to remain misunderstood by their middle and upper class employers). For a story set in Glasgow, however, there’s a surprising lack of Scottish accents, although (spoiler alert!) a plot development later works more effectively because of this.

Leonardo Manco’s artwork is fairly atmospheric although there are two sets of characters I had difficulty telling apart. I’m not sure that the rough paper stock publishers DC/Titan chose to use does any favours to it, muting the colours and creating a sense of the blacks being blotted. But like the story, the more I stayed with it the more I got into it.

Actually, The Red Right Hand was a good place for me to encounter John Constantine again and, as one of my earlier Objects of Desire entries demonstrates, my attraction to the provocative old bastard is far from over. I’m just not going to start wearing macs and smoking this time.

1 comment:

  1. I gave up on Hellblazer around #13. Even though I loved Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run and John Constantine's role in it, I never really liked the character in his own title. I would like to read all the Garth Ennis issues, though. I read the first few issues he wrote - the cancer storyline - and quite liked those.