Hellblazer, Vol. 3: The Fear Machine by Jamie Delano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Remarkably wordy, this feels more like an illustrated novella than a graphic novel or trade. There's also a touch too much deus ex machina, coincidences where Constantine and the secondary characters are either witnesses to or dragged along by the plot. Their decisions, and thus them at characters, come across as irrelevant, which is one of the downsides of Hellblazer as a series. At its best, it's the adventures of Constantine in the shadow-world of magic-infused London. However, here it's Constantine as half-capable tour guide of the magical horrors the writer and artist dream up.
And not to be relentlessly negative--I did give it three stars, nearly four. There's still a neat story at the core and, as wordy as the book is, it's well-written, so much so that I'd almost prefer reading it as a prose piece. Constantine's interiority and wondering about himself as the corrupting force and whether he can ever be redeemed, escape that corruption, or refrain from ever hurting others with it is the most compelling part of the collection. While the action picks up as that falls away, that's when the book becomes less interesting; becomes watching someone watch a story.
The biggest downside, apart from what I've noted, is the moral absoluteness of every character. The good guys are uncomplicatedly good and the bad guys are irredeemably bad. That doesn't determine anyone's fate--which would have made the book childishly obvious--but since Hellblazer involves literal deals with devils and real choices between lesser evils, these characters seem lazy and didactic. I find that when characters reveal essential information shortly after they appear and quickly die to keep from complicating the plot it's a sign that the writer knows what they want to have happen in the story, but don't know how to make it happen.
As a side note, I find it difficult to imagine reading this series issue-by-issue as it came out. This particular storyline is nine issues long with very little payoff at the end of each chapter. What is a very carefully, almost lackadaisically-paced story took nine months to tell. If nothing else, this volume is evidence of how people read comic books before the current age where being collected into a trade is assumed.
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