Saturday, 25 July 2015

John Constantine, Hellblazer: City of Demons Review (Si Spencer, Sean Murphy)

Ah, John Constantine. Poor bugger can’t enjoy a quiet pint down his local boozer without some rudeboys pulling out knives on him (to be fair, that’s most North London pubs, whether or not you’re Constantine)! And then the evening’s coup de grace: getting knocked over by a Land Rover!

While in the ER, John’s demon blood is stolen by satanic doctors for their mental experiments. Surprisingly, said mental experiments to funnel demon blood into ordinary people don’t go well and innocents are turned into psychotic murderers. Such is life if you’re called the Hellblazer. 

City of Demons is a pre-New 52 Constantine mini-series meaning all the years of continuity are still in play. Not having been much of a Hellblazer fan, I didn’t know John had demon blood in him but I believe it – guy walks on the wild side! I liked how Si Spencer wrote John. The language, the devil-may-care attitude, the sarcasm and gallows humour – brilliant. So much better than how Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes wrote him in the New 52 as a dull weeny. 

Unfortunately the rest of the book is pretty crap. The story isn’t very gripping as we know who’s doing what (except for the cheap twist at the end) so we have to watch and wait as John catches up with us. The murders are gratuitously gory without adding anything. And basically a whole lot of nothing happens in between! It’s not very clear either what the satanic doctors think they’re going to get out of injecting demon blood into people, though it probably has to do with power or something generic.

The finale is a little too pat with Constantine pulling out a well-worn trick we’ve seen him do before. I did like that generally though his magic is muted, subtle, and appropriately street level. It’s not flashy like Doctor Strange, it’s almost like he’s doing nothing at all. He tends to talk his way out of trouble instead. 

I’m not really a fan of Sean Murphy’s art either. The heads are always way too angular, as is John’s here, and I have no idea why there’s so much cross-hatching on his face. Some panels it’s clear, the next there’s so many lines and scratches – awful!

I liked Si Spencer’s recent Vertigo book Bodies, which is why I went back to find other titles by him, but I didn’t like City of Demons much. It’s a standalone book and fairly accessible, it’s just his Constantine is much too forgettable to recommend. Go for a quiet pint yourself instead.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: City of Demons

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