‘Hellblazer’ #2- The Road to Hell is Paved with New Yorkers

Hellblazer2Constantine: The Hellblazer #2
Written by Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV
Art by Riley Rossmo
Colors by Ivan Plascencia
Published by DC Comics

In Hellblazer #2, John Constantine is back, bisexual, blood spattered, and trying to prevent ghosts from dying. Writers Ming Doyle and James Tynion play a clever riff on the shades of John’s past coming to haunt him by having the actual ghostly forms of the old friends whose deaths he caused follow him around. Or vanish when they find out that he wants to use them as a kind of bait to catch the mysterious ghost killer. The plot of Hellblazer #2 is structured as one long walk in New York with Constantine looking for ghosts in the “thin places”, or places where the magic and mundane world come together. It is a welcome return for his favorite activity, and Doyle and Tynion pepper his journey with little horror/folksy fantasy anecdotes that act as a cautionary tales about the ill effects of magic. But Constantine doesn’t heed these warnings, keeps stepping into trouble, and is generally back to his snarky, scheming, utterly screwed up self.

Riley Rossmo’s art is the polar opposite of the DC house style with “spooky” colors style that hid the fact that the New 52 Constantine was more punching superhero than horror book. Rossmo’s draws his people in a cartoonish, almost wispy style, which works well for the legion of ghosts that make up the majority of this issue’s cast. Rossmo also has a wicked cynical edge with subtle or not so subtle Easter Eggs, like Constantine snooping in a yuppie-frequented emporium with a sordid past called “Complete Foods” or having a Kama Sutra on his bed side table instead of a grimoire or something. (Constantine does almost call off his part redemptive, mostly destructive to hook up with the sexy, burly barman from last issue.)

HellblazerInterior

However, what he does best is give the comic the feeling of one of those long, endless walks through a large, well-known American city filled with memory, regret, colorful passerbys, and  a joke or two. Rossmo’s use of double page spreads (Not splash pages. There’s a huge difference. One is used by super indulgent superhero pinup artists, the other by actual storytellers) gives Hellblazer #2 a meandering motion, and colorist Ivan Plascencia gives each nook, cranny, and bend its own personality. The ghosts get a blue/white glow that barely illuminates their misshapen body, the morgue and its 150 year old owner get restrained browns that connect to its sense of continuity and ghoulish decorum, and the monster is as crimson as the gallons of blood Constantine has spilled either directly or indirectly in his magic career. These are merely small sampling of the locales Flascencia brings to life as a colorist.

Most of the words of Hellblazer #2 come from Constantine’s inner monologue, which makes sense because Doyle and Tynion establish that his only friends are dead, er, ghosts. So he just verbosely thinks to himself and breaks his silence to talk business (or conning), make sarcastic jokes, or try to justify his actions. Most of this issue is Constantine making general, yet amusing remarks about the connection between magic, cities (specifically New York, and its residents, but Doyle and Tynion also spend time showing his bond with Gary Lester. Gary showed John porn for the first time as a lad, and John reciprocated by showing him magic when they were a little older leading to Gary’s untimely demise. In Hellblazer #2, he plays the voice of reason and utters some real truth about the character from beyond the grave. He also gives the plot a personal dimension beyond a fun, ghastly ramble through New York.

Through Rossmo’s variety of cityscapes and their denizens and Doyle and Tynion’s raconteur-style voiceover monologue, Hellblazer #2 continues to establish the urban fantasy picaresque era of the magnificent bastard John Constantine. (The end cliffhanger echoes this theme.) And it also happens to be darkly funny, occasionally sexy, and filled to the gills with mystical worldbuilding.

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