Friday, 25 February 2011

John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Fear Machine

Written by: Jamie Delano, illustrated by Mark Buckingham, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman and Alfredo Alcala
Year of Publication: 2008, first published monthly as John Constantine, Hellblazer issue 14 (December 1988) to issue 22 (September 1989)
Number of Pages: 239 pages
Genre: Graphic novels, horror, supernatural

Summary: Occultist and magician John Constantine is accused of a murder he didn't commit. On the run in the English countryside he befriends a group of New Age travellers in particular a young girl named Mercury, who has strong psychic powers, and her mother Marj. He decides to join up with them, until one morning the camp is raided and Mercury is kidnapped. Constantine determines to track her down and follows the trail to London. He discovers that Mercury is being held by a sinister organization who want to use her psychic powers as part of a devestating new weapon known as the Fear Machine. However, Constantine soon realises that the Fear Machine is just part of a much wider conspiracy which reaches to the upper echelons of power in Britain. A conspiracy that is attempting to awaken a powerful supernatural force, older and more terrible than anything that Constantine has yet faced, and he may be far too late to stop it.

Opinions: One of the most striking things about the Hellblazer comic-book series is the way it blends supernatural horror with a recognisable, gritty reality. Another element that sets it apart is the character of John Constantine himself, a charismatic and fundamentally well-intentioned man who nevertheless is very much an antihero, who frequently manipulates, discards and endangers both friends and lovers, who frequently loses and who, when he does win, often does so more through luck than skill.
This story is a good example of early Hellblazer which, despite some of the aspects of the story coming across as quite dated now, nevertheless still stands up well. The only criticism really is that the conclusion is kind of rushed and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. However for the most part the story is interesting and complex and also very bleak, but it also features plenty of the comic's trademark strain of dark humour. Some of the artwork is a little crude when compared to more recent comics but it serves it's purpose, and the original issue covers by Dave McKean and Kent Williams (which are reproduced in this volume) are very impressive.
Another good point about the Hellblazer series is that it is relatively accessible to newcomers. Most of the storylines can be read without having read any of the others in the series, and this one is no exception although there are a few references early on to events that presumably occured in an earlier story.
While this might not be the ideal introduction to the Hellblazer universe, it can still be enjoyed by non-fans, and fans of the series will certainly like it.

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