Hellblazer Annual #1
Story: Peter Milligan
Art: Simon Bisley
You may not have noticed, but Hellblazer has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, under the fearless penmanship of Peter Milligan. Milligan’s a veteran of DC’s beautifully barmy Vertigo imprint, having a pedigree of quality work there, matched only by the likes of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore or Garth Ennis, having been writing exciting ongoings, one-shots and mini-series relatively regularly since the imprint’s inception (Notable works being 'Enigma', 'Shade: The Changing Man', 'Girl', 'Face', 'Greek Street', 'Hell Eternal'). He has his misssteps, but as a reader you know a Milligan book is going to be in exciting journey wherever it takes you. I explain this to highlight what a perfect match Milligan is to Hellblazer, Vertigo's flagship of weird, following the ongoing adventures of British 'blue collar' mystic, John Constantine. Frankly it's surprising no-one made it happen before this run. Having breathed new life into the longest running (in unbroken numbering) title of the big two over the past couple of years we actually find ourselves at a point when the series even gets its own Annual for the first time in over a decade. This, dear reader, is where we come in.
This Annual is written by series writer Milligan and pencilled with signature flair, by the inimitable (though many try) Simon Bisley. Bisley's been the regular cover artist and semi-regular penciller for the series for a few years now, and has brought some of his career-best work to the title. His gaudy, tits-and-beasties fantasy edge is sanded down here to perfectly capture the spirit of the macabre life of John Constantine in these pages. To sound like a pretentious tit for a moment (or so) it’s really matured since his Lobo work but still maintains that mischievous edge and Biz's innate brutality. This is top level sequential art, as good as any of the many industry legends who've depicted John in the past, and no less than the book deserves.
It's been so long since I first picked up an issue of Hellblazer that I forgot how one can get put off by the fact that so many issues have been published you don't know where to start. This is nonsense though; as long as you go from the beginning of a storyline, Hellblazer is easy to start cold and rarely continuity laden. Apart from the occasional story all you need to know to read Hellblazer is: John does Magic, John likes women, John's a bit of a prick. The story in this Annual is a classic example, it concerns the family of an old friend of his from his childhood. Have they been in it before? I dunno. Does it matter? Nope, all the information you need is there in the pages of the book. The story actually involves a suspicious series of teen disappearances, but in a way much of this is irrelevant too, what matters is that as ever, something moody's going on, John's deep in the heart of it and innocent people are getting hurt. And as ever John's not a hero, he's just the guy who, when the world goes up shit creek, might, just might, have the only paddle, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
If like many, you are curious about Hellblazer but just don't know where to start, start here. This is what to expect, gruesome urban supernatural horror with a not entirely irredeemable rogue in the lead. If, like I was until a year or so, you’re a lapsed reader, pick this up, it'll remind you why you fell in love with John’s dirty little world in the first place. Superior, supernatural horror for the modern reader, like an episode of Eastenders written by Clive Barker. So yeah, it’s classic Hellblazer.