Despondeo is making his final moves. If John Constantine is going to save the day, he’s going to need a little help from his friends.
Hellblazer: Rise and Fall has been an interesting miniseries from its first issue. In many ways, it feels like a beginner’s course in the world of John Constantine, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With this mini, Tom Taylor has boiled the character down to his essence, softening a few of the title character’s edges along the way, but ultimately telling a story that feels like it could fit in snugly in the Vertigo days. Rise and Fall is all about John’s past coming back to haunt him, which is Hellblazer in a nutshell.
The most effective horror elements in the issue come at the very beginning, because they feel like they hit closer to reality. There’s a palpable fear when Aisha’s family is put in danger, and the terrified look on young Billy’s face when the demon briefly recedes may just be the most haunting moment of the entire miniseries. Darick Robertson’s expressive faces really sell the terror of the moment.
For the most part, the dark humor works, particularly when it plays off of what we know of these characters. The Devil is genuinely charming and sweet in some scenes, cementing Taylor and Robertson’s version as very much his own thing. The final scenes of John and his friends are endearing snapshots of one of the times when John has actually done all right for himself. Some things feel like they’ve been wrapped up a bit too neatly, but the overall vibe of the ending is a refreshing change of pace for ol’ Constantine.
The one design element of the issue that doesn’t quite work for me is the look of Despondeo in his native form. There’s something about the over-the-top cartoonish form that the demon takes which feels utterly divorced from the more grounded world that Constantine typically walks in. Even the classic design of the Devil feels a bit more at home than the musclebound monster that is Despondeo. Diego Rodriguez’s color choices make these devilish sequences pop, setting them apart from the modern day city backgrounds.
Despondeo’s ultimate plan, however, fully fits the almost Looney Tunes visuals on display here. There’s something almost childlike about his ultimate goal, and the fact that his victims are naive enough to fall for it sells the satire even more. The body language and shocked expressions in Robert’s illustrations make some of the comedic beats even funnier, but also lend more humanity to the more sentimental moments.
Yes, even with the sillier aspects of the story, the emotional components really hit home. There are a few moments in this story that might play particularly well to longtime fans of John Constantine, and which could only really be pulled off in a tale like this, which is seemingly placed just to the left of the character’s Vertigo continuity. There are a few things in this story that feel like they come just a little bit too easily, but maybe that’s because I’m used to reading years and years of stories where John isn’t really winning; he’s just been surviving.
There’s room for hope in this version of Hellblazer, and for that, it’s worth seeking out for new readers and jaded fans alike.
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