(2005) Mike Carey, Marcelo Frusin, Lee Bermejo and Jock, Titan Books, £12.99, trdpbk, 144pp, ISBN 1-845-76186-3
This volume collects issues 181-186 of the regular title, now firmly in the hands of the brilliant Mike (Lucifer) Carey. I'd like you to think about that for a moment. I'm not talking about 'continuity problems for those at the back' (perhaps recently captured readers after the film, Constantine). I appreciate it could be intimidating to anyone to jump into a title that's already had 180 issues published, but that's irrelevant. Most of the Hellblazer volumes can be read as self-contained story arcs. What I'm talking about is how hard it can be for any writer to take over a long-established title, which has accumulated a lot of backstory, especially when that title has had some pretty excellent writers on it already. You need more than just confidence. It starts with Alan Moore, of course, a hard act to follow; then Jamie Delano, good solid work; then Garth Ennis, the fans' "god" for this book (yeah, me too); then Warren Ellis, brief but memorable; then Brian Azzarello, thoughtful and perverse. How many awards and kudos do these men have; how much cred? Huge amounts! And rightly so. You need mucho cojones to want to join this list. Who'd ever want to take the chance of being known as 'the man who screwed up Hellblazer after 18 years of excellence'? Salute Mike Carey! So I'll take you back to the starting sentence, and you'll spot the important bit: "now firmly in the hands of". The Hellblazer graphic novel, All His Engines, should have demonstrated to anyone just how fit Carey is to write the title, but graphic novels can be one-offs (which, of course, it was in the art department when we were treated to the wonderful Leonardo Manco, then denied his talents on the regular title). But by the end of this volume (which follows Red Sepulchre) Carey is a dozen issues into his run and he is firmly in control of the title. In a way I find reminiscent of Ennis's takeover, Carey has knowingly ignored huge amounts of backstory and will, no doubt, continue to do so until it becomes relevant, when he'll whip it out and smack you over the head with it, with a triumphant, "Aha! Bet you thought I'd forgot..." At the same time he effortlessly sets up his own continuity and characters, engineers situations and plots like you've never seen, and cunningly introduces all the elements of a long-running story arc, almost without your knowledge. This guy is so good, my brain wobbles when I read his stuff (Lucifer just keeps getting better and better, now this too! Be still my beating heart...). I do wish this book had a regular artist I liked more than Frusin. He's OK, but starting to get on my nerves. Jock's entry here (issue 181) was OK for a one-shot, but I wouldn't want this on a regular basis. Lee Bermejo's two issues (182-3), on the other hand, would be a contender; I quite like this, even when s/he (? I'm not gambling on 'Lee') is looking a lot like Paul Gulacy (nothing wrong with that). Or my other suggestion: Tim Bradstreet's covers are still brilliant, so let's have him on interiors! Or get Dillon back. Or something. Just get rid of Frusin... Sorry, getting carried away (note: Frusin on art hasn't stopped me reading the title, so I do give him a break...) Anyway, plot? Oh yeah, well Constantine bops around the planet puttin' stuff straight and gathering info about the upcoming calamity 'til he gets real scared. Just shut up an' read it already.
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