For fans of Vertigo’s Hellblazer comic, and John Constantine in particular, issue 291 proves a bit anti-climatic as the epilogue to the recent Another Season in Hell arc. Peter Milligan wrote a fantastic story up until this issue, but brings the action to a head rather briskly.
For those of you who have kept track of events up until this point, skip ahead. To catch those new to the series up on the story, Constantine’s niece was raped by his demon twin a bit back. In this issue, he has set a trap for his demon twin using his typical shocking methods – a bit of black magic, the shagging of a hooker dressed up to look like his niece, and beating an evil man to death so his accomplice could collect his killer sweat for the spell.
In general, Milligan’s story and dialogue are consistently entertaining. The elements he uses to move the plot along are always creative and disturbing in a dark comic sense. Milligan does a great job of making Constantine and the surrounding cast more fully formed characters because of the detail be puts into their dialogue and interactions.
Where I found this issue lacking was in the ending climax. After luring his demon twin by offering his niece Gemma up as bait, the action falls too quickly. Let’s face it. Constantine is the ultimate con artist and a pretty solid conjurer. The guy has bet with the devil and won. By this rationale, his demon twin should be a force to reckon with as well. It turns out that his demon twin is a bit of a lightweight.
Constantine’s demon twin gets the drop on him quickly, only to be quickly dispatched by Gemma with a demon tranquilizer gun that shreds his psyche with a dark magic poison. In all of but two pages, the struggle is over and Gemma has her bittersweet revenge. For my taste, the ending to this story arc was bittersweet. Perhaps Milligan just wanted to hurry things along so he could get on with the next series arc.
On the plus side, the aftermath of the fight brings about a glimpse into what appears to be another promising story arc as Gemma and Constantine discuss the matter of her mother moving on from her time in Hell and the secret child she gave up. Overall, I’d grade this issue’s effort a C+ for story and plotting.
On the matter of artwork, it’s a different story. Guest artist Gael Bertrand falls stunningly flat. I found the artwork far too cartoonish for the subject matter. Granted, Milligan continually takes the piss out of the title’s potential to become an overly dark drama by working his dark humor into the story, but that’s no excuse to have someone rendering artwork fit for elementary and middle school readers.
Even though he only did covers, Tim Bradstreet offered the most satisfying rendering of Constantine of anybody in the series’ storied run. I know that’s a high benchmark, but Bertrand doesn’t even get in the same universe as previous Hellblazer artists. Sadly, I grade his artwork on this issue a D.