Andy Diggle puts the Sting back into Constantine.
by Andy Diggle & Leonardo Manco, cover art by Lee Bermejo
I said it in my review of the first issue of Andy Diggle’s run issue eighteen months ago and I’ll happily repeat it here; Hellblazer just seems to work a lot better when written by a Brit. (Or honourary Brit in the case of Garth Ennis – you know what I mean). And the character has been written best by a trio of writers: Alan Moore, Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis.
These three writers created something very special, three different readings of one character, all riffing off the same central ideas. That the character is still going strong, twenty plus years after first appearing in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is testament to how good a character he is. Especially when you consider that there aren’t really that many story variations you can really do with the character himself.
After Ennis left the title I rather gave up on it, picking up the odd issue, but none of the writers seemed to have the character down quite right for my taste. But within the first few pages of Diggle’s first story I’m back on familiar and satisfying ground. Diggle knows this as well and he capitalises on it immediately. Within the first 22 pages he completely revitalises both the Hellblazer comic and the character of John Constantine, giving us back the be-suited wide boy magician; all smart clothes and a smart mouth that Alan Moore had first described many years prior as:
“An almost blue-collar warlock. Somebody who was streetwise, working class, and from a different background than the standard run of comic book mystics”.
(Diggle’s first move on Hellblazer – bringing back the John Constantine of the sharp suit and the devastating put-down. A return to the character’s roots and a return to form. Art by Lee Bermejo.)
After the first couple of stories that serve to return Constantine to the spiky haired Sting look-a-like of Alan Moore’s time, without remorse or guilt, feeling unbeatable and all-powerful, Diggle serves up a selection of familiar tales, picking and choosing well from the John Constantine stock story collection. Not, of course, that I’m complaining, merely pointing it out. Once Diggle has his story he still has work to do to make it interesting. After all, for most of us reading Hellblazer, this would probably be the third time we’ll have seen some variation of the same story. But enough of this damning with fault praise. Andy Diggle’s Hellblazer is really very good. It’s too early yet to see if he can reach the heights of Moore, Delano and Ennis, but it’s going to be fun seeing him try.
Leonardo Manco’s art fits the story well, reminiscent of many artists who’ve drawn Constantine before (a dash of John Ridgway, a touch of Will Simpson, a pinch of Sean Phillips. Any more you can spot?). It’s a good match for Diggle’s writing of the character.
And when it comes down to it that’s what really matters. Hellblazer is all about getting that authentic voice, so perfectly realised by first Alan Moore and expanded upon by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis. Constantine works best when fitting around a basic model; part cockney wide-boy, part trickster magician, part all powerful Magus. And based on this first collection, Andy Diggle has nailed the voice first time. A return to form, the return of John Constantine Hellblazer. It’s about time.
Richard Bruton is considering trafficking in Dark Magics and summoning Downporius, the Demon Lord of Domestic Repairs to ensure a leak-free roof before winter. That’s his excuse for wearing the trenchcoat and he’s sticking to it.