Hellblazer: All His Engines
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Published: Vertigo, 2005
I figured it would be appropriate to segue from the works of Stephen King to this similarly supernatural series, Hellblazer.
I have heard much about John Constantine, the protagonist of said series. He was played by THE Keanu Reeves in his own Hollywood action/horror flick, which a few friends have recommended [and which also came out in 2005]. He is apparently a certified badass with his chain-smoking, wearing trench-coats and literally making deals with devils. John is a sort of occult detective and has a vast knowledge of magic, although he uses it sparingly, mostly relying on his wits to get him out of the fucked up situations he gets himself into. Think of him as Fox Mulder on steroids.
So, Chas Chandler [which could be an homage to Jim Sterenko's Chandler, who is, in turn, an homage to detective-fiction authour Raymond Chandler], a close friend of John's, has a problem: his granddaughter, Tricia, is in a mysterious coma and doctors have no idea why. Also, similar cases of “mystery coma” have been popping up all over England [John’s a Brit]. John seeks help from an associate who is able to enter Tricia's mind and he finds that her soul has been taken by a demon working out of Los Angeles
John and Chas travel to L.A. to meet with the demon to try and work out a deal. Once there they discover that the States has been hit by the “missing-soul-coma” as well. This demon, Beroul, has been busy. He is quite the ambitious fellow, and is trying to start up a literal “hell on Earth” out in Santa Monica, complete with extra-dimensional torture chamber for all the souls he is acquiring.
By keeping Tricia hostage, Beroul coerces John into doing his dirty work by dealing with some rival demons that have also set up shop in L.A. Realizing he's in over his head with this one, John seeks help from an ancient god who has interest in the Los Angeles area. John must play each faction against the others in order to save the girl's soul.
My first meeting with John Constantine went quite well. He is indeed a badass, playing “chicken” with not just the life of a ten-year-old girl, but with her eternal soul. This is not, however, something he does for shits 'n' giggles. John often puts himself in the most dangerous position: in this story, he attempts to use his own soul as a bargaining chip. Although extremely dangerous, his methods are effective. The results are what is important, not the means to the end.
It kind of reminds me of the show The Shield, as John's wheeling and dealing is similar to that of corrupt detective Vic Mackey. With each new deal, the stakes get higher and the tension rises, and it seems like it's all the protagonist can do to stay one step ahead of his foes.
Despite the required suspension of disbelief, there is a gritty realism to Hellblazer. The dialogue is great, with a refreshing amount of “fuck!” and Beroul recognizing a Star Trek reference. The behaviour of the characters is reasonable, given the circumstances. Chas flies off the handle often, understandable with his granddaughter hanging in the balance. And one of my favourite scenes: Beroul doing coke, like any old Hollywood high-roller.
The art is great. John looks like a more-haggard-than-usual Billy Idol. I have no idea why they got Keanu to play him in the movie. The demon-y and hell-y parts are fittingly disturbing, looking like something out of Hellraiser [fun fact: before its 1988 debut, the series was originally going to be called Hellraiser, but Clive Barker beat them to the punch with his 1987 film].
So: I highly recommend Hellblazer and its anti-hero, Mr. Constantine. I look forward to reading more of his wily adventures.