Angels appear to be falling from the sky. John Constantine is on the case, but there’s more to these murders than meets the eye. It may have something to do with a horrible mistake John made many years ago.
This issue gets a ton of heavy lifting out of the way, introducing all of the main players and giving readers an entrance point for Constantine and his world. Tom Taylor clearly has a blast putting words in Constantine’s mouth. The character’s overall flippant tone is reminiscent of his attitude in Taylor’s Injustice run, perhaps paired with a bit less existential self-loathing. This is a John Constantine who has learned how to push the things he hates about himself as deep below the surface as possible. The result is an absolute bastard who never shuts up, but is somehow still charming (and downright lovable) when he needs to be. After all, that’s the only reason he’s still alive, isn’t it?
In addition to nailing the characters, Taylor’s script also features some wonderful deep cut references to former creatives that have worked on Hellblazer stories throughout the years. These little moments should serve to make longtime fans smile. They’re very clever and they’re thankfully not overdone. In particular, the name of the doctor delivering an infant John is absolutely appropriate.
Darick Robertson nails the facial expressions on all of the characters, particularly John himself. A single panel is enough to give readers a sense of a character’s personality, and nowhere is that more clear than the cocked eyebrow and devilish grin of John Constantine. In a fantastic touch, John truly does look like he’s one step ahead of everyone, even as an infant.
The sequence in which the streets begin to flood feels appropriately chaotic, with everyone’s limbs splayed out as they twirl through the filthy water. It’s easily the most intense moment in the book, which is saying something when one considers some of the messier moments here.
Diego Rodriguez’s colors are phenomenal throughout. Again, the moments that make the reader’s stomach drop here are largely not the ones that involve explicitly supernatural imagery. Instead, it’s the cold pallor of a dead body, the deep reds of blood, and the unearthly skin tone of John’s unwelcome visitor (you’ll know who I mean when you read the issue).
The more sinister moments of the book really get under your skin, too. There’s a conversation between two characters in an alley way that feels like classic horror fiction, with the villain knowing entirely too much forbidden information. It will be interesting to see just how much this character knows.
Still, there’s something slightly off about the presentation of this first issue that is hard to pinpoint. Rise & Fall #1 feels almost like the pilot for a television series based on Hellblazer. It hits a ton of familiar beats and story angles, which is both a good and bad thing. In a way, it feels like Taylor and company are playing a “greatest hits” version of Hellblazer. It’s almost the ideal introduction for someone who has been hearing about this Constantine fellow for quite a while but had no idea where to start with his stories.
On the downside of that, there’s not much here that longtime readers of the character haven’t seen before. In fact, the idea of dark magical goings-on affecting people positions of power has been used to great effect in both the original series and the current storyline playing out in Si Spurrier’s Hellblazer series. That doesn’t mean that the story being told in Rise & Fall isn’t still well-written or effective. However, it does give the story a feeling of familiarity that may weaken some of its overall impact.
Ultimately, Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 shows a deep understanding of the character and what makes him tick. It may feel like it’s trodding some familiar territory with the overall story beats, but those beats are executed with a clear love for the character, by a creative team at the top of their game. It’s kind of difficult to fault the book too much for that. And again, much of this issue is about setting those disparate pieces in motion. Rise and Fall may yet have many surprises for readers.