The Hellblazer Volume 1: The Poison Truth
Written by Simon Oliver
Art by Moritat and Pia Guerra
John Constantine, the titular Hellblazer, has just arrived back in the U.K. after an extended stay in the States. As soon as John hits the shore, he is pulled into a battle of wills with a demon. This particular conflict involves John succumbing to a curse or figuring out how to pass this evil onto the entire population of London. I bet you can guess which route he goes. Swamp Thing shows up as a support and the petitions John’s help to finding the missing Abby Arcane. A conspiracy of supernatural beings is revealed, and it turns out Abby is deeply involved. Along the way, John pisses off bookies and demons alike, as he is wont to do.
I have never had much love for the John Constantine character. He came out of that vein of mid-1980s anti-hero they seemed to be trying way too hard to be edgy. As a kid, The Hellblazer comics were out of reach for me anyway and so I never really thought twice about his existence. I remember seeing him pop up in the trade for Crisis on Infinite Earths. Last year, I finally sat down and read through the first trade of the original series run by Jamie Delano and was a bit…neutral. Having read through Gaiman’s Sandman, a similar book from around the same time, and Animal Man by Morrison, Delano’s Hellblazer didn’t feel different enough than what was going on in those titles. The writing and the art were just okay in that 1980s volume.
This take on the character surprised me with being quite a bit of fun, however, still nothing that hooked me. Decompressed storytelling is at the fore in these seven issues which fail to tell a complete story. Instead, like many of these Rebirth trades, they feel like chapter one of a more significant arc. There is no resolution to the Swamp Thing story, and the secret supernatural cabal is barely revealed at the end. I put down the book with the sense of needing to read to the next chapter for any of this to have any real weight.
The character of John Constantine is not as grating as I expected he might be. When I read the Delano trade, he was a much milder form of what he has become in modern comics which was a Cockney tryhard edgelord caricature. This Constantine does have a more developed personality than the trickster from the 1980s, he has that Cockney slang but feels fallible and interesting. His plans go south often, and there is a sense he could lose.
Overall, The Poison Truth is the first part of a larger story. And it isn’t too unique of a story. I really loved the inclusion of Swamp Thing, but his asides always seem to be taking place in a different story from Constantine. I haven’t read any of writer Simon Oliver’s previous works, The Exterminators and Collider, but heard they are pretty good underrated titles. This volume was enough to raise my interesting in seeking them out for a read.