Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hellblazer #233

Hellblazer #233
by Andy Diggle (writer) and Leonardo Manco (artist)

Five issues in, Andy Diggle's run on Hellblazer is well on its way to becoming the stuff of legend. The opening two-parter proved that Diggle understands John Constantine's character, and the second story displays both knowledge and affection for his history. But the real strength of Hellblazer #233 for me is its development of a truly interesting metaphysics.

Diggle's goal with #232-233, set in the Ravenscar asylum where Constantine spent some time following his first experiments with magic, is to clean up the character's history. In his early appearances in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Constantine constantly referred to Newcastle, where soem mysterious, horrible event had happened years before. In Hellblazer #11, Jamie Delano revealed what had happened at Newcastle. It was a story that needed to be told, perhaps, but it symoblized the main difference between Constantine's Swamp Thing appearances and the required paradigm of a solo book: he lost much of his mystery.

In this story, Diggle metaphorically undoes some of the messy continuity that has built up in the 222 issues since the secrets of Newcastle were revealed. In the character's 20-plus year history, he has damned, indirectly killed, or otherwise screwed over everyone in his life. That's led to a lot of guilt—the accumlated sin of two decades as a bitter antihero. Diggle physicalizes that sin, making it manifest so that Constantine—and the book—can purge themeselves of the baggage. The catharsis is fascinating, and it shows more attention to metaphysics than Hellblazer has shown in a long, long time. Add the always-incredible art of Leonardo Manco, and this is easily the best Hellblazer has been since Warren Ellis' unjustly-truncated run.

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