Hellblazer: Rise and Fall may yet surprise in the next couple of issues but it does feel a little run of the mill and a wasted opportunity for the format.
DC’s Black Label imprint has provided us with some mature content for some of their most iconic characters. John Constantine has already featured in Batman Damned in this oversized magazine-sized format, and here he gets his own shot with Hellblazer: Rise and Fall written by Tom Taylor with art by Darick Robertson.
It has to be said that the stunning cover by Robertson is a joy to see on the shelf, with John standing in front of graffiti angel wings on a brick wall, very reminiscent of Tim Bradstreet’s covers on the original run of the title. In fact, these Black Label books in this format all have a great tactile feeling to them, often, like this one, the covers have highlighted cover gloss on the image, making them a treat for the eyes.
We start Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 with a look at John’s birth, and old-time readers will probably know his twisted origin from the early Jamie Delano stories. In fact, Delano is name-checked in the opening scenes. John was born guilty, and this is no doubt one of the driving forces behind his character. It is of course not a new idea; Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker are closer to Constantine in their motivation than they would care to acknowledge.
Story-wise we get a peek at an early attempt of John’s to open a doorway to Hell with a couple of school friends, that goes terribly wrong, of course, and an accidental death occurs. Years later the incident will return to John and his old friend Aisha, kicking off the story.
It appears that the creative team here is happy to recreate the Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon era of the title, as this storyline could easily have fitted into their run on the book.
Dead bodies with angel wings and the vengeful dead are all staples in the world of Constantine, and as nice as it is to see this approach, the book does feel slightly like a throwback rather than adding anything new to the character.
Perhaps I am slightly cynical, as books that go back to the character’s youth and present us with new details often irk me, especially when previous writers have already been there, and done that. The new added back story here feels like an afterthought put in place to simply drive this narrative, and that seems like slightly lazy writing. If the past events here were so significant, it seems silly that this is the first time they have been mentioned in the book.
The art is nice; Robertson captures John really well, and that helps things along, but with a platform such as this, an oversized prestige square-bound book, the story should perhaps have taken a few more chances, or at least tried something different. This is competent and worthwhile, but it could have been an issue of any run of the title.
In the already canceled regular run of the book, the storyline has been quite unique, and it makes me think that the team from that book should have presented their story in this format. Hellblazer: Rise and Fall may yet surprise me in the next couple of issues but it does feel a little run of the mill and a wasted opportunity for the format.
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