DC and Marvel had yet to be bought out by Warner Brothers and Disney,and because of this, there were no rigid company edicts or branding campaigns that the writers and artists had to kowtow to like they do today. It meant less money, less popularity, and less audience, but it also meant more freedom to try new, exciting, and often dangerous ideas. In that expansive and creative era, no comic title became more wildly successful than Hellblazer.
The title was recently relaunched, but only ran for about twenty issues before it was cancelled. Its failed second life, owing to the corporate mindset that is currently crippling DC’s creativity, left Hellblazer defanged. Even the artwork was a polished turd tailored to resemble the rest of the company’s brand identity rather than any sense of innovation. DC seems to have listened to the fans for their third go-around, this time allowing John Constantine—the title’s flawed British protagonist—room to cuss, smoke, and shag like it was the ‘80s all over again.
There is danger to this book, a sense of violence, sex, magic and obsession that drips from every page. New writer Ming Doyle smartly has decided to highlight who Constantine is in this defining first issue, rather than getting bogged down in magic hocus-pocus. There is time for all of that, but the audience must first buy into this world and actually like its main character if we’re to become invested in the title. This is a daring relaunch and the creators do not hesitate in establishing Constantine as openly bisexual, a character trait alluded to in the series first run and all together buried in the second PG version. The issue’s plot could be considered a bit reductive (the Brit stops at a diner to have fish and chips and gets tricked to exorcising a few demons) but that is its intent. This just another day in the life for John Constantine; like slipping on an old shoe, we’re back in stride from the opening page. The Rossmo art was a breath a fresh air in an increasingly stale stable of house artists that get shunted from one DC title to the next. The character designs here are breezy, loose, and at the same time gritty. It is still early but with the writer and artist playing off of each so effortlessly within this first issue, I’d say there’s some magic in the air.