Tag Archives: Alan Moore

Review: “John Constantine, Hellblazer: Bloodlines” by Garth Ennis, John Smith, William Simpson, Steve Dillon, Sean Phillips, David Lloyd, & Mike Hoffman

Title: Bloodlines
Writers: Garth Ennis & John Smith
Artists: Will Simpson, Steve Dillon, Sean Phillips, David Lloyd, Mike Hoffman, Mike Barreiro, Kim DeMulder, & Stan Woch
Series:  John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume VI, Issues #47-61)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2013

Ummm….yeah, I have no idea what’s up with that cover. It appears to be Constantine standing over a demon he’s beaten to death with a crucifix. Just so we’re clear, that never happened here. Which is kind of a shame, now that I think about it….This is mostly a patchwork anthology, one-offs and shorter story arcs. Most of them were good, a couple not so much.

When last we left our antiheroic mage, he’d just conned the three princes of Hell into healing his fatal lung cancer lest they be forced to go to war over his soul. Needless to say, they’re not too happy about being outwitted by a mortal…. Constantine’s going to have to get back in the saddle pretty quickly, though, as the magical catastrophes aren’t taking a break. First up, its stopping a pair of poltergeists after an insurance scam turns deadly. Will Simpson’s art is great in part one (The Pub Where I Was Born), but I wasn’t a fan of Mike Hoffman’s in the second half (Love Kills). Next Constantine explores the “real” meaning of Christmas (i.e. getting hammered and laid, possibly but not necessarily in that order) in Lord Of The Dance. It is alleged that the titular song (“Dance, then, wherever you may be….”) was not originally about Christ but about a pagan spirit of revelry, who was in effect neutered by the coming of Christianity to the British Isles. Steve Dillon’s art was good, and I managed to be (mostly) unoffended by the slurs against my own worldview. It’s par for the course when reading certain series…. A couple days later in Remarkable Lives, Constantine is summoned in the middle of the night to a darkened park where he finds none other than the King of the Vampires trying to recruit him. Obviously, that goes real well…. Will Simpson once again handles the art, and does an excellent job of it for the most part. This is followed by the only story in the book that I actually disliked, Counting To Ten. John Smith serves as guest writer, while Sean Phillips handles the pencils. Honestly, I’m not sure I get this story even on a second read-through. Something with a dead woman who isn’t dead, and a friend of Constantine’s in need of an exorcism. There’s no tie-in to anything else, no payoff or fallout from the events therein described. I’m gonna try and pretend it never happened…. Next up we get the closest thing to a main story this volume offers, the four-part arc Royal Blood. In London, the Caligula Club caters to the every twisted, perverted whim of the rich and famous, from bloody cocktails to catfights all the way to matters of the occult. Last night they summoned up the demon responsible for the Ripper killings, and it possessed the heir to the throne. Now  they’re loose on the streets of London, and the body count is rising….Will Simpson’s art is excellent, if morbid, and I have to wonder if Ennis consulted Alan Moore about using the plot of From Hell as backstory. This Is The Diary Of Danny Drake was a particularly disturbing tale, drawn by the legendary David Lloyd, featuring a man being haunted by his diary. Yeah, you read that right. It makes sense in the story, kind of. Mortal Clay/Body And Soul features Steve Dillon back on the artwork, this time exploring a shady munitions testing firm that’s graverobbing to help provide test corpses. Problem is, they’ve made off with the corpse of Chas’s uncle, and that’s got Constantine after them…. The two-part tale Guys And Dolls sees the First Of The Fallen put in place the first elements of his latest scheme to lay low our favorite antihero, this time using a young succubus of Constantine’s acquaintance. Trouble is, Chantinelle has no interest in revealing just how she met Constantine, as that conversation would go very poorly for all involved. Seems she’d fallen in love with an angel a few years back, and Constantine managed to save her skin. But can he do it again? Find out in She’s Buying A Stairway To Heaven! I look forward to seeing what happens next as Constantine readies for war with Hell once more….

CONTENT: PG-13 grade profanity, missing R-rated by the strategic placement of word bubbles. Some moderately explicit sexual content and nudity, including a shot of Constantine’s ass as he uses a urinal. We all needed to see that…. Strong, gory violence, frequently disturbing. Strong occult content, par for the course in this series.

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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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Review: “Neonomicon” by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

I recently introduced myself to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, both because I was planning to read Neonomicon, Alan Moore’s tribute to Lovecraft and the first winner in the newly-created graphic novel category of the Bram Stoker award, and because I have another Lovecraft tribute anthology I won through Goodreads. I figured I should read the real thing first on general principle. I’ve decided not to give a simple overall star rating to this book because my opinion is very complicated. I’ll rate it a bit more in-depth and discuss several different factors instead.

First, the premise. This book collects both the earlier two-part story The Courtyard and its later four-part sequel Neonomicon, both written by Alan Moore and drawn by Jacen Burrows. Largely a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, the book is itself an entry into that luminary’s Cthulhu Mythos. In The Courtyard an undercover FBI agent Aldo Sax investigates a seemingly-disconnected yet identical series of murders that all lead back to a Lovecraft-obsessed subculture. Two years later the case is taken up by FBI pair Brears and Lamper as they are plunged headlong into this same subculture….with predictably horrific results.

Now, the analysis. As a tribute to Lovecraft, I give it four stars. As a standalone work, I give it two. Anyone familiar with Alan Moore or his body of work (you can see just from his Wikipedia article that he’s a brilliant crazy man) knows that he’s a deranged genius with a keen sense of how his work will be perceived….and not afraid to make a statement with it. It should also be noted (some will care, some won’t) that his work is increasingly sexually explicit. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen has an excellent concept*, and the first volume is good reading, but the sequence where they capture the Invisible Man haunting a girls’ school, impregnating virgins and being confused with the Holy Spirit carries a creepy S&M vibe completely aside from the fact that these girls are basically being raped. Subsequent volumes only get worse. In an attempt to “raise the literary status of pornography” Moore wrote Lost Girls, a graphic novel chronicling the erotic adventures of Alice (of Wonderland fame), Dorothy (of Oz) and Wendy (of Neverland). I haven’t read it, but I’d heard of its reputation. Neonomicon goes further, depicting graphically a woman raped by a fish-man creature as well as a more conventional orgy.

In Neonomicon Moore sets out to write a Lovecraft tale that is at once more faithful than most writers of similar works and goes beyond what Lovecraft wrote to reveal the world he envisioned. Lovecraft’s work is famously racist (a fact unnoticed in the collection I read, except for two notable instances), and while violently asexual carries on deeper analysis some disturbing sexual themes. Women almost never appear, and sex is never mentioned, but many stories deal with the inhuman spawn of humans and a wide variety of eldritch creatures. Most modern writers shy away from the sex and racism when they pay homage to Lovecraft. Moore decided to place it center stage.

The world Moore paints here is ours, one in which Lovecraft published his works, was unappreciated in his time, and has enjoyed a modern resurgence of popularity and respect. The bands in the club visited in both stories are named for HPL stories, and the entire environment is laden with references. I am very glad I read that anthology before picking this up, and wish I had managed a couple other stories that weren’t included (something about Red Hook is the only one I remember). Ostensibly, however, Lovecraft based his stories on real occurences. Trying to integrate this story into the Cthulhu Mythos might be difficult given the conclusion, but it at least proudly stands beside it and pretends it fits.

Was this a well-conceived HPL tribute? Yes. Did I find it completely repulsive? I must confess that I did. Apparently in Moore’s mind–or in his conception of Lovecraft’s, at least–the FBI is a bastion of racism and sexism. I was completely repulsed by the graphic rape sequence, but I will admit some well-executed elements of it. First, the facts. A woman is captured and forced to participate in an orgy before being raped by a large fish-man that is drawn to the group’s “orgone energy” (I can only assume its their sex hormones). I kept reading, expecting it to end that sequence much sooner than it did. There is lots of full frontal nudity and explicit/implicit sex during the orgy, and later we see her grabbed around the waist and taken from behind by the creature. Still later she gives it a handjob in order to spare herself a repetition of the experience. Repulsive and completely offensive to nearly anyone reading it? Yes. And yet I will give them a few kudos. 1: The rape was not eroticised. It was horrific, not arousing. 2: The character wears glasses or contacts, but is not wearing either during this sequence. The artist does some interesting visual things with giving us blurry panels from her POV to heighten the suspense of the creature reveal. The artist is incredibly talented throughout the book, but his work here was stellar. Both of these added to the artistic integrity of the book, and both served immensely to heighten the horror factor. This is, after all, a horror book.

Content: This is the most sexually explicit graphic novel I have ever encountered. As I mentioned above, there is a graphic rape scene that gets quite terrifying. R-rated language. Bloody violence. Lovecraftian magic, which is to say not really magic at all, but whatever.

*Every character that appears in the comic is a character lifted from Victorian literature, from Dracula to King Solomon’s Mines to The Pearl, which is basically the British 1890s version of Playboy.

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