Graphic Miscellany #2

Three more graphic novels read recently:-

Constantine the Hellblazer Volume 1: Going Down

Written and illustrated by Diverse Hands

This volume collects together the first six issues of DC’s 2015 relaunch of the character. Having never read any of the books before, I know Constantine only from the Keanu Reeves’ film, and this is nothing much like that. The character as portrayed here put me in mind of Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius – sharp dresser, androgynous, English, mouthy git. He performs various occult deeds during the course of the book, moving effortlessly through a liminal society where our world and that of the supernatural overlap. The main storyline however concerns a vengeance demon that is consuming the ghosts that attend Constantine, and to deal with that he has to travel back to London and revisit somebody from his past, giving us the cue for a wealth of back story. Oh, and along the way he picks up a new boyfriend, which is probably going to lead to all sorts of trouble in the future. It’s a fascinating and elaborately constructed piece of work, one where you have the impression of a whole world of the unknown just waiting to be discovered by the reader – the nearest comparison I can think of is Sunnydale in the Buffy TV series, with its bars and clubs where humans and other entities rub shoulders, only here it’s done on a worldwide scale. The various adventures are handled well, convincing once you allow for the existence of the occult, while Constantine himself is a memorable character, one who constantly rubs everyone else up the wrong way, cocky and arrogant, and perhaps afraid to let himself get too close to anyone and so using attitude to keep them at a distance (the new boyfriend is initially repelled). The artwork is inventive and varied, an almost trippy sensitivity colliding headlong with much darker sensibilities to keep the reader off balance and unsure what to expect next. I liked it a lot, and at some point hope to catch up on previous incarnations of the character.

Darksiders II: Death’s Door

Written by Andrew Kreisberg & David Slagle, illustrated by Roger Robinson & Michael Atiyeh

The hero of the story is Death, he of the pale horse. Death is asked by head angel Abaddon to travel to Earth to defeat a rogue demon, but to do so he must work under the radar of the Charred Council, who have not allowed this mission. Death agrees to take on the task, but the rogue demon is not quite as advertised, which causes certain complications. And that is pretty much all there is to it, though they pad things a little with tales of Death’s past and history with the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and there’s a mysterious character who looks like Clint in High Plains Drifter mode. It’s all window dressing though, at least within the context of this particular adventure. The appeal of the book lies in the vibrant artwork, and as far as that goes I’ll admit to being impressed. There are some visionary and spectacularly rendered scenes of combat and otherworldly tableau, all of which put me very much in mind of the work of Jack Kirby, though here done with a subtle blurring of the edges and modern feel to it, with the use of scarlet and bone white tones enhancing the atmosphere of the story. I liked it to look at, but aside from gaping in awe there’s really not a lot here to remember or encourage me to seek out more in the series.

Happy

Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Darick Robertson

Angels and demons are okay for the existential stuff, but for real evil you need human beings, and that’s what we get in this sleazy, gritty tale. Nick Sax is not a nice man: he used to be a cop, but now he’s a contract killer. Unfortunately he over achieves on his latest job of work, taking out four underworld figures, not three. The fourth man held the password to a fortune, and the mob boss thinks Nick knows what that password is. With a gunshot wound, Nick is shacked up in a mob hospital with a gang of professional torturers waiting for him to come round. And then there is the tiny blue horse called Happy that only Nick can see, who tells him that he has to save a young girl being held prisoner by a killer in a Santa suit. The race against the clock begins. The whole thing with the password is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let it go as it gives the bad guys a reason to chase Nick without actually killing him. There’s some good characterisation here, not just in Nick, who is sleazy as advertised though ultimately proving to have some redeeming features, but also in the bad guys, with their Trumpesque dialogue and plotting, and with the female detective Nick knows from the old days. The plot is reasonably complex, providing the pretext for plenty of ultra-violence and taking us far into the seedy underbelly of the porn industry (no plot spoilers, but this is definitely not for the faint hearted). While it’s simply a convenient way to get the plot moving, there is a certain logic behind the existence of Happy, the one outré element in this otherwise entirely realistic story, and it’s a stretch this reader was completely willing to make. Robertson’s artwork brings Morrison’s words to vibrant life on the page, stripping all romance out of the text and bringing home the sleaziness of what is taking place. And the blue horse lurking in some of the panels adds a note of vibrancy to the generally noir tone of the work, assuring us that, no matter how bad things get (and they get very bad indeed), there’s always hope for a happy ending. I loved it.

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