Monthly Archives: June 2014

Review: “Orders Is Orders” by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Orders Is Orders
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2009

Once more I find myself reviewing one of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp stories from the Golden Age! Thanks to Galaxy Press and the Goodreads FirstReads program for getting me the book in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on the substance of this review except to ensure its existence. Well, okay, it also moved up my queue when one of Galaxy’s marketing people sent me an email asking when they could expect to see it, but that’s the extent of the meddling I promise! It’s always nice to see the publisher taking an interest in readers’ opinions.

I’ve ranted before about the disrespect pulp fiction often gets, and I’m not going to do it again here. Short version: there’s nothing wrong with stories that exist solely for the entertainment of the reader. This isn’t high literature or the next Great American Novel, and you know that when you pick it up. This is adventure and danger and good triumphing over evil in the end. The prose will be a bit on the lurid, overly-dramatic side, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s par for the course. Don’t like it? Go read something else. I find it refreshing on occasion.

The time is 1937. Imperial Japan has launched a full-scale invasion of China, intent on exploiting their resources for the glory of the Emperor. (Curious? Here’s the Wikipedia article on the war.) The Chinese are being beaten back with heavy casualties, and the United States is unwilling to get involved, but there’s a problem: the American embassy in Shunkien is under siege. More accurately, Shunkien is under siege, and without food and antibiotics to combat the cholera outbreak cropping up in the city all of the Americans hiding inside will die. Two hundred miles and multiple armies stand between the USS Miami and Shunkien. The United States is unwilling to go to war. Nevertheless, orders are to get the supplies and medicine to the beleaguered embassy. And so we join Sergeant James Mitchell and PFC “Toughey” Spivits as they attempt to make the treacherous overland supply run through innumerable obstacles. Can Mitchell and Toughey make it two hundred miles with the supplies before the besieged city falls to the Japanese? Pick up the book and see for yourself! It’s a tale of courage, temptation, unexpected meetings and unflinching determination. It’s also darn good fun.

Like I said, this was fun. It’s kind of odd, sitting here in 2014, to see history through the eyes of those to whom it was current events. This story was published in December 1937, a full four years before Pearl Harbor woke the sleeping giant of the United States and pitted its wrath against the might of Imperial Japan. You get no sense of that impending conflict here, but the underlying tensions between the powers do exist. This is a time and place not often explored in fiction, at least so far as I’ve seen. I’m not saying this is a scholarly piece, by any means, but as a history major it is interesting to see the world through this lens for a little while. The characters are stock, but no less interesting for all that. You know as soon as they describe Mitchell as having a drinking problem that this character flaw will play a role in the story. You know as soon as the mission and deadline are given that our heroes will arrive at the eleventh hour through great feats of derring-do and/or cunning evasion of the enemy. You know as soon as you meet her that the abandoned American girl they encounter will end up warming to Mitchell. That predictability doesn’t negate the fun to be had in the journey. It’s what you sign up for when you pick up pulp fiction. It comes with the territory. I was minorly annoyed at the negative portrayal of the missionary character, but I know Hubbard is no fan of Christians and so it came as no surprise. The cover art has nothing to really do with the story, but that’s okay. They couldn’t use the original art since Orders Is Orders wasn’t the headline tale when it was first published. It looks like that honor went to a dueling tale. Oh well, no matter.

CONTENT: Mild language, more than many publications of the era would have allowed. Not gratuitous by any means, but not as tame as the other stories from the same period I’ve reviewed. Some violence, given the setting. There’s talk of a character being a fan dancer, but no real sexual content.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Ring Of Fire” by Doug Petrie & Ryan Sook

Title: Ring Of Fire
Writer: Doug Petrie
Artist: Ryan Sook
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Standalone Graphic Novel)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2000

So. You may have noticed that some of these comics I’ve enjoyed, and others I’ve given mediocre to poor reviews. If your memory is exceptionally good, you may remember that I was….not so much a fan of Ryan Sook’s work on a couple of the Spike & Dru stories. There, his style evoked Mike Mignola without ever rising to that level of genius and sophistication. I thought it was too minimalist, I think. Here? Here, I loved it. Sook has improved his craft and tweaked his style a bit, not forsaking his roots but adding to them a previously-unseen degree of sophistication. Here his work still evokes Mignola at times, but has enough detail to truly be called beautiful. I really liked it. The writing was spot-on too, of course, which you would expect from Petrie as one of the show’s stable of writers. The best part? You can read this comic for free online via the BBC! (Link here) I’m going to go back and see if other comics I’ve reviewed are similarly available, post links to that in the relevant reviews. Alternatively, you could find an original edition of it, possibly a reprint (not sure if it’s still being printed or not), or you could find it in the second Buffy omnibus from Dark Horse Comics.

This particular graphic novel is set towards the end of Buffy season 2, after Angel loses his soul and reverts to his Angelus persona but before the explosive season finale. Buffy is reeling from Angel’s betrayal. Giles is nearly out of his mind with grief over the death of Jenny Calendar, dead at Angelus’ hands. Angelus? He’s happy to be back and ready to unleash Hell on Earth. Teamed up with Spike and Drusilla, his current plan involves resurrecting an ancient Samurai demon who once terrorized feudal Japan. Because that’s how this works, he happens to be buried in Sunnydale. And unless Buffy and Giles can get their heads back in the game, Sunnydale may find itself with a new diabolical overlord….

Like I said, this was good stuff all around. I compare the art to Mignola’s….favorably this time! Everyone was recognizable, which isn’t to be taken for granted in early Buffy comics. And as I mentioned before, the writing and characters’ voices were spot on, from dialogue to pacing. It was superb, and I really don’t know how much more I can say without repeating myself. So, I’ll settle for this: this story feels like an episode of the show that never aired. There’s nothing new, nothing earth-shattering here, but it feels like it should be just one more episode as the story moves forward.

In terms of canon this is, as always, a bit tricky. Beyond the fact that none of the comics Whedon had nothing to do with are officially canon, this particular graphic novel has a tightrope to walk. It obviously happens after Angel loses his soul in Buffy S02E14: Innocence, but before the events of the finale. Willow performs some magic in this story, which she really only becomes interested in after S02E19: I Only Have Eyes For You. She needs some assistance from Giles, so I don’t necessarily think this is incompatible with her development on the show, but it does strain credibility that she could do so much so quickly. In an episode of Angel she quips that re-ensouling Angel was the first spell she ever learned, but that doesn’t have to be taken as gospel. Given these factors, I place this story just before the tw0-part finale to Buffy Season 2.

CONTENT: Some violence, consistent with media from the Buffyverse. Mild language. No real sexual content, aside from mild flirting. Buffyverse vampires, which are debatably occultic, plus some working of magic for the purposes of resurrection. Not to mention that Kelgor is a demon.

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Review: “D-Day: June 6, 1944” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Title: D-Day: June 6, 1944–The Climactic Battle Of World War II
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Simon & Schuster, 1994

Well, this is awkward. I was all set to tell you how Stephen Ambrose was one of the greatest historians of the Second World War still living, and then tell you to read this book. Except that in looking up tidbits of fact to sprinkle in here and whet your fancy, I discovered two things. First, he died twelve years ago. Secondly, and more important, his reputation is not now as glowing as I had believed it to be. It seems that several of his books are riddled with improper citations and, in a couple places, even inaccuracies. Sentences or even paragraphs lifted almost verbatim from other sources, given a citation but not acknowledged within the text. An easy mistake to make, perhaps, but a rookie level one. Ambrose was one of the leading WWII scholars in the nation, even the world. You would think that indicated a level of care and professionalism that would preclude such sloppiness. (You can read about that whole mess here.) More troubling is the recent discovery that his relationship with General-turned-President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not exactly as he had described. Instead of Eisenhower approaching him to write his biography, Ambrose approached the former president. Instead of the hundreds of hours they allegedly spent talking before Eisenhower’s death, the meticulous records kept by Eisenhower’s secretary and assistant show only five. Some of the interviews cited by Ambrose take place at times Eisenhower was recorded to be elsewhere. Later-used citations are vague as to the date and time, simply cited as “Interview with DDE.” (You can read that story here.) This saddens me, for I had intended to consume his entire bibliography. Now….now my plan is to still read his WWII histories (Pegasus Bridge, Citizen Soldiers, re-read Band Of Brothers) which are less controversial, but I doubt I’ll push beyond that. We’ll see when the time comes I suppose.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this book. It was incredibly engaging and well-written–even his harshest detractors admit that he was one heck of a writer. With two lone exceptions (discussed below), there is no controversy concerning the facts as Ambrose relates them here. There may be a few spurious interview bits from Eisenhower buried in the passages he cites from his own books, I can’t check the whole chain of citation since I only have this one book on hand, but across the board his sources for this one seem legit. Would I use this as a source for a scholarly paper? Maybe not, at least without doing some more serious digging, but that’s really not a question I think most of my readers are concerned with. So far as I can tell, most of my readers are simply concerned with finding good books to fill their reading time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. History degree or not, I’m under no delusions that my review blog is a scholarly source. So, let me be clear as to what this is: Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day is an incredibly compelling study of arguably the single most crucial operation in the Second World War, told mostly by the men who were there and survived the experience. It is a tale of incredible human ingenuity, courage, and resolve, and it is very much worth reading.

In the wee hours of the morning, June 6th, 1944, the Allied nations launched the single greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare. Hitler had spent years fortifying the French coast against this day, certain that it would have to come eventually, and the network of fortifications he had ordered constructed were intended to be impenetrable. Had any one of a hundred different factors played out differently, they may well have proved to be. Had the fortifications been better staffed, had Hitler proved more decisive and/or less inclined to micromanaging troop dispositions, had his staff even proved willing to wake him up when the invasion started so that he could give the proper orders, it would be a very different book I’m reviewing here. Had the invasion failed, what would the world look like today? That’s a question far too large for me to answer, at least here, but Ambrose believes that Berlin would have suffered the eventual fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, it’s no spoiler seventy years on to tell you that the invasion of Normandy was successful, if incredibly costly. I urge you to read this book and see the operation through the eyes of the men who were there.

I think I’ve pretty adequately communicated that I think you should read this. I’ve touched on how well it’s written, and how despite the controversy surrounding the author nobody really takes issue with this particular work, with two exceptions. First, Ambrose portrays the pilots ferrying the airborne troops to their dropzones as untrained for the degree of AA fire they were taking, and blames this factor (and, by extension, their fear) for how scattered the paratroopers became. These pilots take offense to this portrayal and have repeatedly lobbied for changes in this and other books that make the same claim. The second minor controversy concerns an incident occurring off of Omaha beach, where a landing craft skipper wanted to abort and the infantry captain aboard forced him to make the run in anyway at gunpoint. A fine story, a compelling anecdote, and properly sourced to boot. Ambrose didn’t simply make this up–it comes from a 1960 article in Atlantic Monthly, and is a story that has been much repeated in a number of other works since. The problem? The sole survivor of that landing craft denies it ever happened. Either way, Ambrose acted in good faith here, though I do somewhat question the reliability of Atlantic Monthly as a reliable source of historical fact. So do with that what you will. But read the book.

CONTENT: Some R-rated language, depending on how the veterans being interviewed censored themselves and their stories. Some graphic depictions of violence, especially in the accounts from Omaha beach. No sexual content.

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Review: “John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil You Know” by Jamie Delano, David Lloyd, & Richard Piers Rayner

Title: The Devil You Know
Writer: Jamie Delano
Artists: David Lloyd, Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Mike Hoffman, & Dean Motter
Series: John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume II, Issues 10-13 + Annual #1 + The Horrorist miniseries)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

Alright, if you’ve been paying attention you know I reviewed the first collection of this comic series earlier this month. I wasn’t too overly impressed with the first volume for a number of reasons, but figured I’d give it another chance—if only to watch certain plot threads finish unraveling. I’m still not overly impressed, but I’m not giving up on the series yet either.

Last volume I mentioned that there was no resolution to the overarching plot of the previous volume, and as expected that plotline finds its resolution here. Most of Constantine’s brokenness stretches back to one disastrous night in Newcastle that is often referenced but has never been explicitly described…until now. The demon lord Nergal has been jerking Constantine around like a rebellious puppet for months, manipulating him into several disastrous courses of action, but now Constantine has managed to bloody his nose a bit. (Still not too sure what that was about—I think I need more info from the Swamp Thing book.) What Constantine has failed to realize thus far is that Nergal is in fact the previously-unidentified demon he encountered all those years ago in Newcastle, the night Constantine’s arrogance and amateur demonology got his sanity smashed to bits along with the lives of most of his friends. Now Nergal has alerted Constantine to their longstanding connection in an attempt to goad him into the open where he can be dealt with…but this may be the largest tactical mistake he could have made. Following the final reckoning between Nergal and Constantine, we’re treated to one of Constantine’s always-horrifying nightmares. This time it comes in the form of a thinly-veiled rant against nuclear power, closing out the regular-series entries in this volume. What comes next is the first ever Hellblazer annual, which carries us back to 1982. Britain’s forces are shipping out for the Falklands, it’s been four years since Newcastle, and Constantine is back out of Ravenscar Mental Hospital. At least for the moment, anyway. Now he’s back in London, next thing to suicidal until he meets a snow-white beauty who seems to know untold eldritch secrets. Or did he just hallucinate her? Either way, we’re treated to an extended nightmare sequence detailing a long-ago conversation between Merlin’s undead head and the mage-king Kon-Sten-Tyn in the age of old. I don’t put much stock in the dream being “true” (according to the series lore) given the grave differences between it and the historical record, but I could be proved wrong in future volumes. Rounding out the collection is the two-issue miniseries The Horrorist. Here we meet Angel, a young woman forged in the fires of Mozambique’s civil war and witness to countless horrific war crimes. As a result of her childhood experiences, Angel has become a Horrorist, one who redistributes the pain and suffering of the world to those isolated from its effects. Constantine is going through one of his numb phases where he feels completely isolated from the rest of humanity, but he’s drawn to a picture of Angel and grows determined to track her down. It’s not hard if you know what to look for: just follow the bodies. I’m not sure when this is supposed to be set chronologically—presumably soon after his showdown with Nergal, given its inclusion here—though the isolation Constantine is feeling at the beginning was nowhere in evidence during the regular series issues that precede it in the collection. Oh well.

Here’s the thing: I don’t much like this series so far. I like the character, John Constantine, but not the series. Constantine has that cynical, sarcastic antihero thing going for him, and I can’t stop reading his lines with the voice of Spike in my head. I enjoy his character, and will keep reading this for the potential to become something truly awesome that its reputation suggests will someday be achieved. The series so far, however, has been very bleak with little in the way of hope. I like to be uplifted a bit to balance out the horrors, if only just a little. You won’t often find that here. I also am not really one for nightmare sequences and the unreality of dreams (outside of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, where such things are expected) or madness. I’m just not a fan. So this volume’s three nightmare/vision/astral journey tales? Not really digging them. There’s definitely a taste element going on there though, so take that as you will. The strident political commentary was still featured strongly, which also turned me off a bit. On the plus side, we evil Christians weren’t the villains this time around. I mean, it wasn’t a complete turnaround, but an improvement. Constantine thinks angels are scary, which I’m sure is probably true (Why else would their first words in every biblical appearance be something to the effect of “Don’t be afraid?”) and Angel (the girl, not the celestial beings) was adopted by a couple of missionaries. Constantine makes a snide comment about the wisdom of bringing a girl from war-torn Africa to Suburbia, but concludes that they probably meant well. Then there’s the vision/nightmare featuring Constantine’s….ancestor? Previous reincarnation? Whatever. In that segment the Church is at first the enemy and later a duped ally, thinking Kon-Sten-Tyn has converted when he’s simply paying their God lip service and subverting all their efforts to serve the elder gods. So we’ve gone from being represented as evil (the Resurrection Army from the first volume) to being well-meaning dupes. I guess it’s a start….

Most of the art is just run-of-the-mill 80s DC Comics fare, but David Lloyd’s work on The Horrorist was pretty good. Very subdued coloration along with Lloyd’s signature style, which I’m honestly not sure how to describe. It’s not traditional pencils, but too precise to be watercolors…anyway, it’s pretty distinctive. I’m not artistically hip enough to say more than that, and add my opinion that it worked incredibly well for the Hellblazer universe.

CONTENT: Again, no “f-bombs” that I can recall, but just about every other profanity to be found on either side of the pond. Strong sexual content, including brief nudity. Strong violence, occasionally horrific. Angels and demons are characters, and the protagonist is a magician/wizard/sorcerer/whatever. I’d say that counts as occult content, even if he doesn’t do much magic this time around.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume IV” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Jordi Bernet

Title: American Vampire, Volume IV
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque, Jordi Bernet, Roger Cruz, & Riccardo Burchielli
Series: American Vampire (Volume IV, Issues #19-27)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

My library finally got in the next several volumes of American Vampire, among other things! So that’s awesome, and has the side-effect of placing a large stack of graphic novels next to my bed for the immediate future. Since this is a series, this review will unavoidably offer some spoilers for previous volumes (Volume I/Volume II/Volume III). You’ve been warned….

This volume contains three different stories from the world of American Vampire. First off, we have The Beast In The Cave, which shines a light on the relationship between Skinner Sweet and Jim Book before the one became an outlaw and the other became a lawman, starting with their childhood as near-brothers and continuing into their actions in the Indian Wars. Turns out, Skinner Sweet wasn’t the first vampire forged in the New World. That honor goes to Mimiteh, the young native girl who played Sacajawea to an expedition led by a pair of vampires. The experience proved…transformative. Now rogue Apache leader Hole In The Sky plans to unleash Mimeteh and her fury on the Cavalry forces hunting him. If she cooperates, that is…. On the whole, this was good stuff. It was good to see some more of the backstory between Book and Sweet before their eventual parting of the ways, and Jordi Bernet’s artwork was a good match to the general feel established by Rafael Albuquerque–enough so that I didn’t realize it wasn’t him doing the work on this particular story. You could, however, argue that Mimiteh and her story somewhat undercuts the significance of the events in the first volume and steals the thunder from Sweet. Oh well, moving on.

Returning to the forward-moving portion of the story, i.e. 1954, we meet young vampire hunter Travis Kidd in Death Race. Kidd is on the hunt, taking down vampires wherever he can find them, nest by nest, always looking towards the day he finds himself face to face with the man he holds responsible for the death of his family: Skinner Sweet. Throw a pretty girl and the Vassals Of The Morningstar into the mix, and things are about to heat up…. This story was decent, if a little disjointed due to all the flashbacks. I like the character of Travis Kidd, and hope he shows up again in future volumes. I could have done with a little more explanation of how Sweet survived his apparent demise in 1945, but I suspect that may be a story saved for a future flashback session while Albuquerque catches up on his penciling.

Rounding out the volume, we have an adventure with Calvin Poole in The Nocturnes. You may remember Poole from Volume III, he was the young African-American Marine that went in with the Vassals Of The Morningstar to clean up the vamps on Taipan. When we saw him last, he was lying in an army hospital as a surgeon dug the fragments of a glass vial out of his chest. A glass vial which Pearl Jones had sent with her husband Henry in case of emergency. A vial that contained just enough of her blood to turn a man into a vampire….Now Poole works as a taxonomist for the Vassals, identifying what species they’re dealing with in a given situation. Today, however, Poole is taking a day off to go see his brother play a gig in a sleepy little Alabama town. Turns out, however, that Alabama is generally not a healthy place for a black man in 1954. And this particular town? It’s worse than usual. A decent story focused on an interesting side character, marred slightly by the artwork in my humble opinion. The first half of the two-part story, penciled by Roger Cruz, was decent. It was noticeably different from Albuquerque’s style, but aside from that there was nothing to complain about. That’s not even necessarily a problem. For whatever reason, however, Cruz didn’t draw the second half. That torch was passed on to Riccardo Burchielli, who either failed or never even tried to match Cruz’s artwork. It just didn’t work for me somehow. Maybe you’ll disagree, I can’t say.

CONTENT: As I’ve stated before, Vertigo comics are not for kiddies. R-rated language. Bloody, disturbing violence, as you should expect from a comic with the word “vampire” in the title. No overt sexual content, but there is some nudity. Mimiteh doesn’t wear a stitch of clothing outside of her origin flashbacks, and we get a nightmare-image of Calvin Poole’s wife naked and covered in vampire bites. I have no idea what that’s about, I imagine we’ll find out in future volumes. There is some implied sexual content, but nothing explicit. Mimiteh spent her childhood first as servant then as wife to a French trapper, who then sold her services as a guide to the vampire exploration party. You can draw your own conclusions as to how old she was when her duties changed, since she never says. You can also draw your own conclusions as to what Travis and Piper have been doing all night in his car before he takes her home at the beginning of Death Race.

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Review: “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” by Agatha Christie

Title: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (AKA The Boomerang Clue)
Author: Agatha Christie
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Berkley, 1992 (Originally 1934)

If you’re going to read a mystery novel, Agatha Christie is one of the great masters (mistresses?) of the genre. I’ve not read a lot of hers, so far only this and the first two Tommy And Tuppence books, both of which I liked. This particular book wasn’t her strongest showing, but it was still a very fun read.

Bobby Jones is playing golf with his friend one misty evening when they hear a startled cry from the cliffs beside the links. Thinking maybe he’s beaned some poor stranger with his ball, Tommy goes rushing over only to find that a man has fallen over the cliff. By the time he manages to climb down and reach him, the man has time only to mutter “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” before breathing his last. Not exactly portentous last words, but relating them earns Bobby a poisoning attempt and sets him and his friend Frankie on the trail of a few very simple yet very important questions: was the poor man pushed? And if so, why? And who on Earth is Evans?

Like I said, this was a very enjoyable tale. I loved the characters, the setup was interesting, and the solution just as convoluted as you would expect coming from Agatha Christie. Bobby and Frankie definitely reminded me of Tommy and Tuppence, which is cool because I really liked them. Where this one I think fell a bit short was the overabundance of coincidences that led our characters to their goals. There are only a couple of really brilliant moments of deduction, such as [EXAMPLES DELETED]. In between are semi-miraculous occurrences, like Bobby inexplicably surviving a dose of Morphia that would kill a man his size ten times over or [EXAMPLE DELETED]. I enjoyed it, but there was a lot more deus ex machina than I would usually expect from Ms. Christie.

CONTENT: I don’t recall any profanity, and if there was any it was very mild. There’s some violence, not a lot, and a good deal of what would be classed “mild peril” for a PG-rated kids movie. No sexual content–Christie doesn’t even explicitly show the characters kiss–although there is some implication that a character being discussed was involved in an affair.

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Review: “John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins” by Jamie Delano & John Ridgeway

Title: Original Sins
Writers: Jamie Delano & Rick Veitch
Artists: John Ridgeway, Alfredo Alcala, Rick Veitch, Tom Mandrake, Brett Ewins, & Jim McCarthy
Series: John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume I, Issues #1-9 + Swamp Thing #76-78)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2011

I’m ashamed to say that my first real encounter with the character of John Constantine was the decidedly mediocre 2005 film. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the movie, but I was unaware at the time (the time being years later when I actually saw it, not when it came out) that it had very little to do with the actual character it was based on. Constantine is blonde and British, not brown-haired and living in LA. That’s Angel. I say my first real encounter, because he did feature in one of the early issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but I had no idea who he was at the time. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try this series for a while, so when I found the first volume at the library, I checked it out.

I can’t so much describe the plot to this collection, because there’s not much of an overarching plot to describe. The events described are loosely tied together, but at least for this first volume there’s no real resolution. (The library bought the first two volumes, so I’m hoping the overarching plot is resolved in the second one.) This is mostly about establishing the character and the world he inhabits. John Constantine is a powerful magician, but he doesn’t take much enjoyment in the fact. Magic and his own mistakes have cost him too many friends and loved ones, faces that literally haunt him both waking and sleeping. He’s a bit of a jerk–actually, more than a bit, and you could use stronger language if you wanted to–and has few moral qualms. About the only temptation he’s good at resisting is the temptation to walk away from a losing fight. Amateur magicians, the forces of Hell, the forces of Heaven, they all have a way of causing trouble. And Constantine just can’t help trying to stop them, whether it’s in defense of a friend or out of sheer curiosity. We’ve got a hunger demon, finance demons, a pedophiliac necromancer, time-slipped soldiers from the ‘Nam, the struggle between the Resurrection Crusade and the Damnation Army (the loose overarching plot that takes over halfway through), and a strange interlude featuring the Swamp Thing that I’m not really sure should have been included here. Constantine will take his licks and deal out some in return, even if it kills him. Or, more likely, even if it kills everyone he’s ever known….

I…had some issues with this. Some of these issues are clearly taste, while others are situational. Most frustrating for me, given my slight OCD over getting the whole story, is that this feels like you’re coming into the middle of the story despite it being the first volume. John Constantine was created as part of the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing, and this spins out of that with Constantine reeling from the events of a particularly casualty-heavy story arc over there that is never really explained here. Also frustrating for me is the rather cynical view implicit to the events here that the forces of Heaven are no better than the forces of Hell. In fact, I would almost say that the Resurrection Crusade is more sinister than the Damnation Army! At least the forces of Hell are upfront about it–they’re demon’s! What do you expect? Look, I get that some televangelists are/were money-hungry frauds that give the rest of us Christians a bad name. That doesn’t mean you have to have to feature only the worst of the lot. Now, I do admit that it was not Heaven itself that was portrayed as sinister, but rather some of their earthly human agents, who don’t necessarily represent the will of God. It just rubbed me the wrong way, I suppose. I’m hoping this is handled better in the future. We’ll see. I could also do without the gratuitous commentary on ’80s British politics and social issues. I get it, there wasn’t a single British comic writer that approved of Margaret Thatcher! Can you stop slapping me in the face with it?

CONTENT: Quite a bit of language. No uses of the “F-Bomb” that I can recall/find, but everything else is used, including a heap of British profanity and slang. Harsh violence, occasionally torturous. Strong sexual content, including a rape and the implication of pedophilia (portrayed as horrific in both cases, not glorified), semi-explicit without going so far as outright nudity. Strong occult content, which should be obvious. Demons, spells, necromancy….it’s all here.

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