1/01/2010. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Titan Books. 216 page hardback graphic novel. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-342-1.
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
Among the world of comic books, 'Hellblazer' is a popular line, the longest continuously running title by publisher Vertigo. Its protagonist, John Constantine, is most famous for a mediocre Keanu Reeves big screen adaption that didn't do his dark humour justice. An investigator of the paranormal, Constantine is a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Englishman, a working man who just happens to work with the dead.
Notable about this graphic novel is the pedigree of its writer. Ian Rankin is one of the writers most likely to be seen in the hands of a fellow traveller at an airport or on a train. His mysteries are frequent visitors to the top of the British best-seller charts, especially his 'Rebus' series, which has spawned a very successful television series in addition to its seventeen novels.
The approach to Rankin was done to launch a new 'Vertigo Crime' series, with art by Italian Werther Dell'Edera and a cover by Lee Bermejo. A slim, satisfyingly palm-sized hardback, the volume introduces and wraps up a John Constantine story in one neat little package.
The plot is a fairly well-worn pastiche by now. A reality television show is broadcasting a 'Big Brother' style show in which the contestants are scared on screen for the audience's pleasure with the last left in the house the winner. When the contestants begin to see visions that the television studio executives hadn't planned, they call in John Constantine to investigate...as another contestant.
Things rapidly spiral out of control, with the usual demons and devils you'd expect from a 'Hellblazer' title and some neat humorous touches. Rankin is a competent writer as you'd expect and wraps up a mildly diverting story with impressive efficiency.
There are two main shortfalls with this graphic novel. The art isn't one of them, a sketchy but evocative black and white style that hints at dark things well. The main problem that lets the whole thing down is the story concept itself, which feels like an episode of 'Jonathan Creek' with a splash of demonic murder thrown in at the end. It's fairly obvious what's going to happen and even the jokes feel a little obvious.
The second thing is that the neat standalone nature of the story detracts from the ethos of a 'Hellblazer' story. This doesn't feel like a John Constantine book, at least not enough. The nature of the premise means there are far too many characters for such a small volume and none of them are really given enough time to be anything more than placeholders for the plot.
It's a shame, as the combination of John Constantine and a crime writing superstar like Rankin sounded great on paper. In reality, this is a competent but not particularly exciting addition to the 'Hellblazer' franchise and not really worth the fifteen pound price tag unless you're a completionist. One to borrow, perhaps.
Tomas L. Martin
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