Review: Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Writer: Jamie Delano
Artist: Jock
Letterer: Clem Robins

Apparently, all DC had to do to ensure a runaway success was put Jamie Delano back on Hellblazer. Our regular shop sold out of Pandemonium by the time we got there last Wednesday night. While out and about yesterday, we wound up calling six different shops, which only netted us one copy, Meltdown’s last. We had them hold it just in case. The effort was well worth it, though. There’s not many combinations of writer, artist, and subject that will make us drop $25 on a thin-ish hardcover sight unseen.

[Editorial note: If you’re looking for a copy in LA, Cat at DJ’s Universal Comics in Studio City assured me that he was talking to his DC rep ASAP and expected to have some in by Thursday or Friday. You might start there. If you’re not in LA, I can always point you to Amazon. –Janice]

I cut my adult comic teeth on Hellblazer. While the first issue someone handed to me with the timeless order of “Read this” was written by Neil Gaiman, it was Jamie Delano that really drew me in to the character and his dysfunctional world. Hellblazer remains the only comic I hunted through back-issue bins for in the days before reliable trade publication, a fact I’m glad about now given the holes in the series’ republication.

While it takes place in the here and now, Hellblazer: Pandemonium feels like it fits perfectly into Delano’s run on the series. This is John as I remember him best: stumbling into trouble, shrugging his shoulders at it, and then meandering out again at his own pace. He certainly tries to do the most good on his way out, but does so with his usual charm- or lack thereof. Only John Constantine could lose himself to the wicked joy of sating his gambling addiction in a game of poker where the chips are human souls and not come out tainted on the other side.

There’s a lot in Pandemonium that reminds me of the James Bond reboot of Casino Royale. It’s not close enough to make me think that it was Delano’s inspiration, though the poker game mentioned above certainly draws some parallels. There’s something about this older John that meshes well with Daniel Craig’s rough-edged take on Bond. There’s an immediacy of character shared there that makes John’s few truly unselfish moments in the story endearing instead of jarring. Delano has made the old boy age well without losing his edge.

On the art, Jock’s hit this one out of the park. He takes the frenetic style of his covers for books like Scalped and translates it to the entire book. The work is reminiscent of Dave McKean’s amazing covers from Delano’s original run on the series without aping it. Some favorite moments, in no particular order: John stepping off the plane in Baghdad in full trenchcoat. One of the best uses of a bottle of gin both in practice and as a visual pun. And by far, Nergal’s amusing little “HAH!” towards the end, one simple little joke of an image that speaks volumes about the demon prince’s actual relationship with Constantine.

I used to worry that Hellblazer would lose relevance over time, that it might become just another dark artifact of comics in the 90’s. Thankfully, its fortunes have improved in the last few years- Denise Mina’s run being especially noteworthy (and now collected in Empathy Is the Enemyand the already out-of-print The Red Right Hand.) Hellblazer: Pandemonium makes me especially pleased, and I’m happy to have hunted up a copy for my bookshelf. You should too.