The penultimate issue of the latest Hellblazer volume is here. The enemies of John’s homeland are finally revealed in a moody story that sets the stage for a dramatic finale.
This series has told some dark tales during its first several issues, so it is saying something when I feel like this is as horrifying as it gets. There’s a sense of foreboding that lingers in every single panel. The creative team knocks this issue out of the park, with Spurrier’s morbidly humorous narration and some vividly upsetting visuals from Aaron Campbell and Jordie Bellaire.
There are occasional moments in this issue where it feels as though the book is having to be tied up sooner than it was meant to be (because it is). As a result, there are a few scenes that feel a little vague and sketchy. This can occasionally be a strength in a supernatural horror story, since so much of what occurs in the tale is meant to mystify and unsettle.
However, there are a couple of beats here that don’t quite land, almost like they were meant to be filled in by a story that we may never get. At one point, even the narrator himself seems unsure of what happened during a particular attack on a young woman. This scene in particular seems a little undercooked, sadly. I love the sense that every little piece of Rawhead’s tale could fill an entire book, but the narrative as a whole feels slightly shortchanged in spots.
Aaron Campbell’s artwork is unbelievable, yet again. The gritty style perfectly suits the story being told. There are moments of sheer brutality and horror, along with some eerie visuals (Rawhead’s peeked-back “mask” being one that has stuck with me). However, it’s the human moments of uncertainty and fear that also stand out. The preceding issue featured all of John’s mates receiving an ultimatum from the evil that he’s been fighting throughout the series. Because of this, they know they shouldn’t be going along with John, and that can be seen in the furtive glances exchanged between John and his driver.
The physicality of the characters tells us so much about the stakes of the story. When Ryan put his head down as the cops approached, it made my stomach drop. Likewise, when John put his hand over his mouth and stumbled away from the disgusting scene at the end, it meant something. We’ve seen this guy stare down the devil himself and kick him in the balls. What we see at the end of this issue is a flailing desperation from a man that we’ve known never to let his fear show.
There are some interesting uses of varying color palettes from Jordie Bellaire that finely separate the modern day sequences from Rawhead’s bloody, hate-filled flashbacks. Bellaire and Campbell give the flashback scenes a kind of weathered, scratchy look. There are moments when it is almost difficult to tell what is happening, but that seems to be by design, almost like the characters themselves can’t cope with what they are seeing. The result is a swirling vortex of reds and blacks that threaten to swallow the page whole.
This issue is an unnerving affair from start to finish. Spurrier and company show the reader just how far human beings can sink, to the point where even the demons of the world have to look away.
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