Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Marcio Takara
Colorist: Chris Peter
Cover Artist: Bilquis Evely
Publisher: DC Comics
Curated by Neil Gaiman
Last August with The Sandman Universe #1, DC launched a series of comic books curated by Neil Gaiman with the aim to bring in “new creative voices to expand the mythos of the Dreaming.” Year Two kicks off with a special one-shot issue, The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Marcio Takara, which also launches the new ongoing series John Constantine, Hellblazer from Spurrier and artist Aaron Campbell. It will run alongside The Dreaming, House of Whispers, Lucifer and Books of Magic storylines (the first collected editions are available in comics shops now). The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 deals John Constantine a new hand, but is the deck already stacked against him?
For a guy who hates the ‘flashy stuff,’ he sure picked the wrong profession. Constantine finds himself in the midst of “the final magical conflict of this age” as Mister E puts it, the ultimate battle between the forces of good and evil. This event is pulled directly from the pages of Book IV: The Road to Nowhere (Neil Gaiman/Paul Johnson) from the original Books of Magic mini-series (1990-2000) where Mister E of the Trenchcoat Brigade is leading young Timothy Hunter, whose magical fate remains undecided, on the last leg of his journey. In one of many possible futures, Tim leads the forces of evil and brings about a magical apocalypse. He watches in horror as his future self slaughters his allies, and finds a mortally wounded John Constantine who regrets not killing Tim when he had the chance. In the opening of Hellblazer we’re witnessing the short exchange from Constantine’s perspective, with plenty of disturbing context to go with it.
Spurrier starts off showing the reader that you can’t teach an old cynical magician new card tricks, as John Constantine remains true to his self-destructive and manipulative nature until the very end. Or what he thinks is his end. Even after getting a second chance, he tries to fall back into his old ways. After all it was for the greater good, or his own good, it’s all the same to him even if his best mate pays the price. But this wouldn’t be a Hellblazer comic without a few moral quagmires and a lot self-loathing — this comic felt like coming home. But Spurrier doesn’t stop there. He brings the old demon-haunted Hellblazer into a new world mired in political and social turmoil; a world he barely recognizes, but whose warning signs are all too familiar.
“In this new era, everything is different. Everyone and everything he loved and knew is dead or despises him. Alone, angry, older, and wiser, he beholds a world that is clearly going insane. The shadows are deeper than ever. So he does what he does. He breathes smoke. He grins to himself. And he goes to work.”– Simon Spurrier
His return in the ongoing series John Constantine, Hellblazer will obviously impact the Books of Magic storyline the most due to his inevitable encounter with Tim Hunter, but he’s set to appear in the early pages of Lucifer as well. It’s clear why this one-shot is launching the new season, and the cover by Bilquis Evely wonderfully captures the essence of Year Two with a nod to all the storylines, emphasizing the new Hellblazer’s influence on Tim Hunter’s story.
The art and colours are the best I’ve seen come out of the Sandman Universe. Some pages seem to barely contain the swirling kaleidoscope of chaos as realities are torn apart and stitched back together. The set pieces and visual elements are utterly mesmerizing, and there are quite a few details referenced from The Road to Nowhere. The heavy-handed dark shading and thick, black backdrop swallows this comic in darkness, with flares of colour illuminating the panels like the strike of a match.