After Spider-Man, John Constantine is probably my favourite character in comics. I have a theory about this. (Bear with me, we'll get to the review.) Whereas Peter Parker is the character I aspire to be - the one who selflessly sacrifices himself for others and is forever striving to do his best and live up to his responsibilities... John Constantine is the character I'd be if I gave up trying. The character who says - "hey, the human race is a bunch of selfish bastards, so I'm gonna be a selfish bastard too. I'll help out if I can... but I'm gonna put myself first and not worry too much about breaking a few eggs as long as there's an edible omlette at the end of it". Or something. Along the way I'd get to smoke and drink and shag whatever I wanted and tell anybody who didn't like it exactly where to go. I'd get to thumb my nose at authority and even stick two fingers up at the devil himself. I'd still get to be a hero - I just wouldn't give a toss about what anyone else thought about it. Hmm... when you put it like that... Peter Parker looks like a lot of hard work for not much reward.
Most people consider John Constantine to be an Alan Moore creation, but though Moore did conceive the character and give him his first few outings in Swamp Thing, it was Jamie Delano who made him into a lead man. Although Delano hasn't written the regular book for about 20 years, but he does return to the character every now and then for a new mini-series or original graphic novel, and the latest of those, Pandemonium, has just been released in softcover.
This time Delano takes Conjob somewhere he's never been before - to wartorn Iraq, where he ends up facing off against one of his oldest enemies in a bizarre poker game for his life. The most interesting part of this story is the set up, a honey trap involving a mysterious Muslim woman that breaks taboos revealing John's weakness for women wearing burkas. It's witty and irreverent and reminds me of a 21st Century take on Raymond Chandler.
Then it's off to Iraq where Constantine gets to make snide remarks at the soldiers protecting him while undergoing a Heart of Darkness style journey that leads to a dramatic climax... at which point things gets metaphysical. Which is always the area I enjoy least in any Hellblazer adventure, though for the most part Delano aquits himself well. It feels a slight cop out that a story dealing with war and terrorism ends up getting resolved by a card game in Hell, but that's just the nature of the beast. This is a horror comic, and there always has to be a monster.
Art is provided by Jock, who demonstrated in The Losers that he's good at drawing tanks and machine guns and blowy-up stuff. His work here is reminscent of former Hellblazer artist Sean Phillips, though the bleached colouring doesn't do him many favours. I kept wanting to turn up the contrast on my set, but that probably comes from reading too many brightly-coloured superhero books.
It's good to read Delano's Hellblazer again. For all the talented writers who have worked on this character over the years, it was Delano who really defined his his voice, and that voice rings out loud and clear through the pages of Pandemonium. Intelligent, acerbic, depraved, spiteful and funny - this is classic Constantine.
Hellblazer: Pandemonium has a cover price of £14.99 but I pre-ordered my copy from Ace Comics and got a 25% discount. There's a similar discount available on Amazon, but the cheapest place I can find it online at the moment is The Book Depository where it's currently selling for £8.91 - not bad for a 126 page graphic novel.