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Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection by Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis

01/05/2005. Contributed by Paul Skevington

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pub: Titan Books. 166 page graphic novel. Price: 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84023-979-4.

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This graphic novel had a difficult birth. 'Constantine' is a comic that turned into a film and then mutated back into a comic again. My head hurts just thinking about it. I start thinking about videotapes and how each time you copy them they start to degrade, the images losing clarity, the sound slowly melting into an almost unrecognisable babble of random noises. I think to myself, that's a pretty apt description of 'Constantine: The Movie Adaptation'.

To be fair, the author Steven T Seagal didn't have that much to work with. The film 'Constantine', which as most of you will know is an adaptation of the comic series 'Hellblazer', was a mildly enjoyable, utterly forgettable affair, which singularly failed to incorporate any of the elements that make 'Hellblazer' such a wonderful title. Quid Pro Quo this adaptation can't avoid being a bit rubbish.

Many changes have been made to the original comic's premise. John Constantine is still a pragmatic working class bloke, who also happens to be one of the most powerful wielders of the occult in the world. However, he is no longer Liverpudlian, nor does he live in London. He is an American from LA. Gone is his blonde hair, only to be replaced by the black wavy tresses of Keanu Reeves. Constantine's frequently sarcastic humour has been toned down and the element of moral ambiguity native to his character has been pruned out. Now we are left with the results, deformed and misshapen, like a bonsai tree trimmed by an amateur horticulturist wielding a chainsaw.

The writers of the original script have also helpfully delineated the exact nature of the universe and the afterlife. It is most definitely Christian and almost certainly catholic. The original 'Hellblazer' series delighted in presenting us with creatures and beings from all religions, old and new, practised and forgotten. Constantine's world used to be tantalisingly nebulous in regards to the spiritual aspects of the world. Helpfully, the movie's writer, a Mr Kevin Brodbin, has come along with a large broom, sweeping up all that nasty uncertainty until all that's left fits in a handy little box that even the most mentally challenged movie-goer could get to grips with.

The plot you say? Oh all right then, if I must. God and the Devil are fighting a war on Earth, but they are not allowed to intervene directly. They can only influence others because otherwise the whole thing would be over in a few minutes and they'd both have to go home and read a book or something. Constantine comes across a demon that is breaking the rules and trying to get directly into our world. He then finds out he's dying, a result of his continual chain-smoking (something kept from the original) and meets a hot girl whose sister has been caught up in the shenanigans. He does a bit more investigating and the blows the crap out of a lot of demons with a gun shaped like a cross. This project oozes subtlety from every pore.

I'm going to give away a bit of the end as well. Constantine gives up smoking. I nearly cried.

Seagal takes this unpromising mix and squeezes it into the comic format with predictable results. The panel layout is workable although not particularly inventive. Some small things are taken out and some are added. Ron Randall's art is competent, but never really that exciting. I started to get the feeling that neither one of them was that enthusiastic about the project and, in all honesty, I can't blame them. There are worse films and there are worse comics. There are also a great many better ones.

Do not despair though! Included within the book are three classic issues from the original series. There is the very first issue by Jamie Delano and the jump in narrative quality is significantly noticeable. Here is the old familiar Constantine, addict and hero, magician and man. It is telling that this story features an ancient African hunger spirit and touches upon many themes and issues that the movie wouldn't have prodded with the proverbial barge pole. The pace of the issue is kept tightly under control with some great uses of confined space and splash pages. John Ridgway's art reflects the true feel of 'Hellblazan's superbly distinctive artwork helps to make this a classic piece of work.

You still shouldn't buy this book though, as all these issues are available in other collections that don't contain the movie adaptation. That is unless you loved the film, in which case, be my guest. You can have my copy.

Paul Skevington

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