Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Comics Day

Slow week. I only picked up the new Hellblazer and Penny Arcade collection. I'll post about the latter later since I want to write about webcomic print collections in general.

Hellblazer 246: "Newcastle Calling" Part two of two

This two-parter manages to cover everything I love and hate about Hellblazer. Last issue, focused on a group of amateur documentarians producing a special on Constantine's punk band Mucus Membrane and they, of course, awaken some sleeping evil and embark on journeys of personal terror. This issue continues the story with a rundown of all the terror afoot in Newcastle. Constantine walks through, observes it all, puts the evil down and then explains all the relevant back story to the one surviving member of the film crew who then dies.

What I love about this story and Hellblazer in general is the really evil imagination that's brought to bear. The stories, at their best, manage to draw out the human themes of responsibility and shame and tie them to fantastical and disturbing visions of monstrosity. There's a refined nightmare logic that runs parallel to the human drama. That's what makes the series both stand out and be consistently readable.

On the other hand, that very nightmare logic disrupts the narrative. When it doesn't work you end up with some character putting on the hat of Basil Exposition to explain everything that's happened up to that point, why it happened and what it means. It's like reading a Cliff Notes of the comic within the comic itself. Unfortunately it falls upon Constantine himself to take that role this time around. While Constantine's attitude when confronting the Terror Elemental is nice, you don't actually see him deal with it. He starts the staring contest and, next time you see him, is lighting a cigarette. Tease. No doubt it'll come up later in the series as a major plot point. After all, this story is seemingly drawing on the original Newcastle story from the first year of the comic, twenty years ago. Good thing my library has most of the trades.

More satisfying, and exploring the thematic strengths of Hellblazer, is the new mini-series Chas: The Knowledge. The first issue came out a few weeks ago and you should still be able to find it on the shelves. It's a five-issue series focused on the Chas of the title, Constantine's old taxi-driving friend who can always be counted on to stick his neck out a little too far. "The Knowledge" refers to the cab-drivers' routes around London and no doubt is tied to the supernatural force that strikes at the end of the issue. While the first issue largely sets up the situation that'll play out over the next four, it reads well and really taps into the best repeating themes of the Hellblazer universe: responsibility and shame. It looks very promising.

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