Reviews: Hellblazer

Just be quiet for a minute, would you?

"And the noise — the shrieking, screaming, clattering cacophany of a breaking world goes on forever, beyond the double-glazing of my mind slapped numb evolving slowly into a blackly pregnant beast of stillness, which, one by one, gives low-moaning birth to the ticklings and groanings of tortured steel."
—John Constantine

The above quote demonstrates Hellblazer's single biggest problem. The comic does not know when to shut up. That quote comes from a scene in which the narrator, Constantine, is nearly killed in a train collision. You'd think that such a tremendous crash might interrupt the gratuitous mixed metaphors, run on sentences and hardboiled monologuing for a moment. But no, Constantine doesn't miss a beat.

Hellblazer is a supernatural horror series about a magician who fights demons in a noir-ish version of 1980s England. "Noir-ish" is the key word here, as the comic indulges the hardboiled tropes with glee. The protagonist is a solitary, down on his luck, smart talking anti-hero who smokes too much, and can only communicate via extravagant similies. That last characteristic stands out the most. The comic goes on and on with its dystopian, psychedelic, convoluted rhetoric and it isn't long before my patience wanes. There is barely a single panel that doesn't have narration or dialogue. The comic fails to understand that in a largely visual medium, mood and atmosphere are best conveyed through visuals, not writing. In hardboiled novels, it is necessary to have the narrator blather on so as to set the scene. But in a comic it is largely redundant.

That's sad, because the premise of a demon fighting magician works pretty well. Each arc usually begins with somebody dying in a horrific, ironic death, usually at the hands of equally horrific and ironic devils. There is a lot of imagination and style going into these mysteries, and it is a delight to see such a broad range of mythical elements referenced in each and every issue. The story, characters and magic are both clever and compelling.

Despite my complaining, there is enough to Hellblazer to warrant a recommendation, but expect the comic to be a bit of a slog. It would be an excellent comic, if only it could get over itself.