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John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4
DC Comics

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‘John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America’ #4 continues to examine American tragedy

This isn’t a story about justice – Hellblazer stories rarely are.

As is expected, John Constantine is up to some nonsense.

Issue #4 of Dead in America starts with a clear grift, a sleazy con game, the sort of which our boy is the master. Into a bar in a small, rural midwestern town, waltz Constantine and his secret son, Noah, posing as a deeply questionable Catholic priest and a near-catatonic spiritualist.

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For Constantine and his crew (which, for the record, includes both a diminished oracle in a clay jar and a confused Swamp Thing, alongside two streetwise young Brits on their first sojourn in the states), the small town in question seems like an likely place to continue their quest. Constantine has been charged with recovering the sands of Morpheus, Lord of Dream; this town is having trouble sleeping.

The town is experiencing a curse, of sorts: plagued with guilt and worried about their children, a sort of supernatural malaise has settled in. If there is anywhere I America that needs an exorcist, it might very well be this place.

 

DC Preview: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4

DC Comics

Artist Aaron Campbell seems to understand this sort of bleak midwestern malaise, the drudgery of a place that is barely a wide spot in the road. This is a corn-and-grain community, depressed economically, and Campbell captures the sort of stifled, insular atmosphere of such a place so succinctly that readers with no experience with towns like these might consider themselves familiar after finishing the issue.

While Constantine isn’t the type of exorcist he’s pretending to be, this town is very much an American town – it’s certainly committed American crimes: it’s ignored a grievous crime in favor of supporting high school football. Some of those kids that aren’t sleeping (who, perhaps, don’t deserve to sleep) were, of course, quarterbacks and offensive linemen, the after-school warriors to which small towns are beholden.

DC Preview: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4

DC Comics

They’ve also assaulted a young woman. One who has now disappeared.

Sexual assault isn’t a uniquely American problem, but the lengths Americans go to ignore sexual assault are. The United States has been overrun by news stories about sex predators charged with their crimes and left to wander free. This is a nation that refuses to believe victims, particularly if assailants happen to represent the glory days of the old timers’, especially if they partake in America’s true sporting past time.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4

DC Comics

The true crime, of course, is the victim’s knowledge that society may acknowledge the crime, but it does not acknowledge their trauma – and neither does it feel those responsible need suffer any consequence.

But this isn’t a story about justice – Hellblazer stories rarely are. This is a story of petty vengeance, of compounding a curse even as Constantine ministers to the vengeful spirit. It’s a story that knows that not only can it not fix the sorts of problems it addresses, it can’t even stand on a soapbox and deliver a half-hearted PSA.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4

DC Comics

Throughout his tenure, writer Si Spurrier has captured this aspect of Hellblazer with such ease and insight that it feels as if the series’ original, mammoth run never ended. He delivers this tragic story so succinctly that the issue still has room for a profound speech about the nature of agriculture’s grasp on man – of Swamp Thing’s primordial source of power, the Green, and its inherent hold on humanity.

Dead in America remains true to Hellblazer and holds up the legacy of those original Vertigo titles and characters. It knows what it needs to be doing, and it does so with just the right air of depressive wonder.  

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4
‘John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America’ #4 continues to examine American tragedy
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dead in America #4
Atmospherically on point and socially aware, 'Dead in America' understands that it is capable of telling important stories; it also understands that our hero can do nothing about them.
Reader Rating1 Votes
8.9
Socially resonant.
True to the book's legacy.
Compelling supporting cast.
Deeply considers Swamp Thing.
Oh so bleak.
The world is garbage.
9.5
Great
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