Monday, August 11, 2014

Volume 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano

This is the very first volume that will span one of the longest running series for Vertigo, and I can honestly say that John Constantine was not an easy man to love at all. Fortunately enough for this comics, he curiously remains a readily compelling titular character for the Hellblazer series. A man of action, deep thought and snarky humor, Constantine can win us over if he'd just bother trying yet he also manages to effortlessly cruise the pages of this book with an enigmatic charm that manages to be both unnerving and personable. Jamie Delano's writing of this volume features a hefty prose with balanced verbosity and showmanship that often works best when it lends itself to symbolism, subtlety and satire (as seen in issues A Feast of FriendsGo for It and Ghost in the Machine, which are all personal favorites of mine).

Collecting the first nine issues, Hellblazer: Original Sins was teeming with lots of creative and innovative potentials for a top-notch paranormal series that I came to expect from Hellblazer. However, there are two insufferable issues here and there (notably When Johnny Comes Marching Home whose heavy-handed yet ultimately diluted writing was alienating, diminishing my enjoyment for the events in the issue; and Extreme Prejudice which had a serviceable plot progression but barely enough tasteful commentary that I expected could have been a worthy follow-up to the delightfully satirical Go For It). Still, this first volume of Hellblazer had given us a lead character whose mistakes, inclination to cowardice and often very callous decision-making became very detrimental not only to his person but also to the people who surround him or are in direct contact with him. It's in the nine issues of Original Sins that we see what a miserable life John Constantine chooses to live and how sometimes it's because of his reckless choices that got him to that state in the first place.

Though we could just enjoy the material solely for its metaphors, commentary and sardonic comedy, the driving force for Hellblazer: Original Sins that we should pay close attention to in order to fully appreciate the magnetism and scale of this series is this remarkably flawed and petulant hero caught at the center of it. We have to watch him fail time and time again until we just want to smack some sense into him ourselves. But then he would surprise us anyway whenever he would find some strength of will somewhere to pick himself up; and do it just as stubbornly and ferociously as we have come to know him of--and later on probably love him for. John Constantine's journey in this volume has been filled with mental anguish and guilt. His baggage is a tremendous pain in the ass and every time we are allowed to glimpse inside his damaged psyche, we are not prepared for the quantity of heartbreak he had been carrying all this time. We don't feel completely sorry for him, however, because most of the losses have been self-inflicted; we can sense the arrogance and hot-blooded impulse underneath that false laid-back attitude he projects--and we know these qualities had endangered him and the people he loved along the way. It's through this paradox that I think we learn to see ourselves reflected in an unsettling yet very honest way.

In reviewing the nine issues, I was dully focused on John Constantine's growth as a character, taking note of his responses to the circumstances unfolding around him. And I find that I can understand the dark places he's coming from and keep coming back to. His story so far is one that echoes our own shortcomings and self-doubts; that nagging sense of paranoia that often makes us believe that all the things we touch will just turn into shit. That is the overall frame of mind that Constantine is currently operating in. But he wouldn't have survived decades of this chaotic life of his if he didn't know how to persevere. I sincerely hope that the next handful of issues for the second volume will continue to further discuss the conflicts not just in the ongoing plot but also within our lead character. Granted, John Constantine is the most interesting aspect of Hellblazer for now. I can't wait until we start talking about Newscastle (a game-changer featured in issue #11). 

In a nutshell, Hellblazer: Original Sins is a fantastic introduction to John Constantine as a character and the world and monsters--real, imagined and personal--that he must face.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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