DC Comics | Black Label
(w) Simon Spurrier (a) Aaron Campbell (c) Jordie Bellaire
The last several years have been rough for fans of one of comics’ biggest assholes. Since the conclusion of the original Hellblazer series back in 2012, John Constantine has been neutered and sent bouncing around the DC Universe playing the role of a productive hero. From the New 52 to DCYou and even in DC Rebirth, the publisher has struggled to make the character work outside a consulting gig on the Justice League Dark. In the end, they tossed him back into the mature readers section under Vertigo replacement Black Label. With British scribe Simon Spurrier at the helm, John Constantine is finally back to being the opportunistic antihero he always should have been. Hellblazer #3 concludes this new series’ initial arc, crystalizing the character’s new status quo.
Hellblazer #3 is full of gritty yet stunning artwork courtesy of Aaron Campbell and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Campbell, who’s past work includes Infidel at Image, does not shy away from showing readers what’s happening in the story. Often, artists will use busy page layouts and fragmented visuals to mask what is happening on the page – especially when supernatural activity is involved. However, Campbell does a great job in laying out the pages in a manner that allows readers to see what is actually happening, a result in the confidence he has not only in his abilities, but in the abilities of his writer and colorist. As a result, Hellblazer #3 is visually immersive experience.
The world brought to life by Campbell’s art feels tactile and lived-in. From the cold, grimy streets to the blazing hellfires, it’s as though readers can feel the atmosphere of the book as they read it. This is largely attributed to Jordie Bellaire’s fantastic color work. Her mix of warm yellows and oranges give heat to flames, while cool blues and browns make the city streets cold, damp, and scary. A mix of greens and off-whites in the interior of apartments indicate that these are slum-like living conditions, adding to the overall look of the title. From a world-building perspective, Campbell and Bellaire are a tour de force in Hellblazer #3.
Thankfully, the story by Simon Spurrier lives up to the standard set by the art team. Even though [through story reasons] Constantine is much younger than he was back in the old Vertigo title, he retains the cankerous wit of an older man. Spurrier does a great job not only in finding the titular character’s voice, but providing unique, distinguishable personalities to each character in the book regardless of how big or small their role. Establishing these personalities is critical in an issue that does not name its characters frequently, which adds a naturalism to the dialogue. In reading this issue, it is easy to picture these characters carrying on conversations in an everyday context.
By the time the issue wraps, Spurrier has set up this new world for John Constantine, including a new sidekick in the deaf Noah. The main conflict of this issue, Constantine dealing with a… *ahem* fired up military veteran, who also happens to be a racist that beat up his now-deceased wife, is resolved seemingly a little too cleanly. Thankfully, it turns out to be a bait-and-switch due to Constantine’s trademark improvisation and self-preservation instincts. It’s a harsh and sloppy resolution, which makes it spot-on.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #3 wraps up the series’ initial arc in satisfying fashion. Having been absent for the better part of a decade, Simon Spurrier has brought the “real” John Constantine back, so Joshua Hale Fialkov may one day get his opportunity. But as strong as the writing is, the artwork is even better. Hellblazer’s artists don’t just create a world to look at – it is one that readers experience. Here’s to more experiences as the series marches forward.