Tag Archives: Garth Ennis

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: Dangerous Habits” by Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, William Simpson, Sean Philips, Steve Pugh, & Dave McKean

Title: Dangerous Habits
Writers: Jamie Delano & Garth Ennis
Artists: William Simpson, Sean Phillips, Steve Pugh, Dave McKean, Mark Pennington, Tom Sutton, Malcolm Jones III, Mark McKenna, Kim DeMulder, & Stan Woch
Series:  John Constantine, Hellblazer (Volume V, Issues #34-46)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2013

I’d kind of prefer to review this one as two separate volumes, because midway through the book the entire production team changed. This is tied into a single collection largely for convenience, but its pretty much two separate stories. I was less a fan of the first half, which is where it lost a star, but the second half was probably the best bit of the series I’ve read to date. Remember the Constantine film with Keanu Reeves? Yeah, I know, you were trying not to. Sorry. Anyway, they pulled a significant number of the subplots for the film from this volume–specifically, Constantine’s fatal lung cancer. It was resolved a bit differently though….

We start the book with Jamie Delano firmly in the seat as writer, with a  rotating roster of artists. Following on after the events of The Family Man, Constantine’s in a rough place emotionally–he’s just killed a man, which is never easy, and to top it off his estranged father was one of the casualties. Catching up with Marj and Mercury, he tries to lose himself in their nomadic lifestyle, but only manages to pull Mercury into his nightmare flashback to his childhood. I wasn’t a huge fan of this three-issue arc, drawn by Sean Phillips. That wasn’t really Phillips’ fault, mind you, though I wasn’t a huge fan of his art either. It was more about the dark and depressing tone. I know, I know, it’s a horror book, what do I expect? I just didn’t like it. Sue me. Steve Pugh then takes over the pencil as we meet Martin, a sensitive young vegetarian, and his sadistic butcher of a father. Of course their paths are bound to cross with our protagonists, though this particular two-issue arc is more focused on Mercury than it is on Constantine. Again, not a huge fan of either the story or the art, at least a little because I wasn’t all that engaged. Martin was kind of pathetic, literally, and I happen to be pretty disdainful of the vegetarian propaganda that was most of this tale. Also, I’m pretty sure that the butcher in the tale needs to be arrested for a whole multitude of crimes, from domestic abuse to health code violations. Pugh continues to draw the first half of the next arc as Constantine attempts to explore his missing half, the Golden Boy, his twin brother who died with their mother in childbirth. The second issue, drawn by Dave McKean, gives us an alternate universe where the other twin lived. Far more successful than the John Constantine we know, he has managed to come out ahead in several of the same conflicts that our John only barely survived, even saving some of his friends along the way. Now he leads a pagan commune, their wise and beloved Magus, but even still he is haunted by the spirit of his lesser, sickly brother who died in the womb. The art of Dave McKean is a bit of an acquired taste, since it is so weird, and I’m not really a fan. I do have to admit that it fits the series well, however, and this tale seems to have achieved a legendary status among fans of the series.

Immediately following on (and with no real transition from that really strange ending) Garth Ennis takes over the writing chair, with Will Simpson picking up the pencil. So what do you do when you’ve just been handed the lead writing position on a well-revered title? Well, if you’re Garth Ennis you promptly try and kill the main character….Those thirty silk-cut cigarettes a day have finally caught up with our favorite anti-hero. He’s dying of lung cancer, and there’s not a thing he can do about it. Not a one of his magical tricks can save him. It’s far beyond his power, and there are very few beings he can turn to for help. Even fewer who would be willing to do anything…. This arc is hands-down my favorite so far. The first issue as Constantine tries to wrap his head around his own impending mortality is incredibly poignant, and the consistency of having a single artist (and a good one at that!) really helps the series in my opinion. I think my favorite bit was the second issue of the arc, though, as Constantine visits an old friend in Ireland and ends up having an ill-fated meeting with one of Hell’s rulers, the First of the Fallen. (I presume this is Satan, though I’m not sure how that jives with Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which are supposedly in the same universe.) There should be no surprise that Constantine manages to wiggle out of his predicament–the series ran until just a couple years ago, after all–but knowing that doesn’t detract at all from the impact of this story. I look forward to seeing what happens next as Ennis adjusts to his new job….

CONTENT: Some grotesque and gory violence. Some strong profanity, especially of the British variety. This time the sexual content was largely implied as opposed to explicit, but it was there nevertheless. Obviously there is quite a bit of occult content, as you would expect from this title.

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Review: “The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank” by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

The Punisher: Welcome Back, FrankTitle: The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank
Writer: Garth Ennis
Illustrator: Steve Dillon
Series: The Punisher (2001 Series)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2002

Moving into the new millenium, the Marvel Comics character Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher, was not in a good place. Part of his problem was that he didn’t really fit with the rest of the Marvel pantheon of heroes and villains–he wore the standard-issue spandex, but that take on the character seemed just a little…..off. For the unitiated, Frank Castle was one of the last American troops out of Vietnam when we jumped ship, finally returning home for good at the end of his third tour of duty. Soon thereafter, he and his family are having a quiet picnic in Central Park when a gangland hit goes bad, catching Castle and his family in the crossfire. With his wife and kids dead and several new scars to add to his collection, Castle does what he does best: goes to war. This time he’s declared war on the entire criminal underworld, and he intends to off every criminal he can get in his sights. Except that a good amount of his time in the early days is spent chasing supervillains….Okay, yeah, they’re criminals, but there’s a question of tone here. Castle’s thing is guns. Doctor Doom uses an army of androids that look like himself. So he dresses like a superhero/villain to go after common criminals, and uses his very plausible military skills to take on a variety of superpowed beings. Are you seeing the disconnect here?* Sales fell, series were canceled, and in 1999 Marvel made the……interesting……decision to kill the Punisher and bring him back as a supernatural enforcer. Things looked bleak for Punisher fans.

Then, in 2000, Marvel relaunched the character with a twelve-issue miniseries written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon. And it was good. With just a throwaway line about how the Angels had found him less than cooperative and returned him to Earth as punishment, Frank Castle is back in the game and gunning for the Gnucci crime family. Gone are the white gloves and more “super-heroey” elements of the costume, in their place are trench coats and combat pants. The series thrives on a sense of dark humor running through. There are some real great moments here, including a gunfight in the morgue between a bunch of Gnucci goons and the Punisher (“Gunfight in the morgue, rule one: Don’t hide behind the thin guy.”), a wounded Punisher being pursued into the New York zoo by more goons (“I have a forty-five. He has a machine gun. The night goes downhill from there….”) and having to improvise ways to take them out using the animals–piranha, boa constrictors and even polar bears get pressed into service here, resulting in my single favorite comic book panel of all time….. (see below)Frank Castle punches out a polar bear.

This particular miniseries is probably best rated PG-13, although compared to a lot of the stuff that followed it was fairly mild. Profanity is missed out in the traditional comic book swearing form ($#!^), although it is always perfectly clear what this is standing in for–specifically, rather than “villain mumbles cursing” or however they wrote the scripts for the book in the 60s. There is no overt sexual content, although there are a few particularly sleazy insinuations made by one of the Gnucci boys in the first issue. Maybe other innuendos, nothing that stuck out at me. Violence, however, is another issue. This is a Punisher comic. People will die, in a variety of interesting and gruesome ways. As I said, PG-13–the violence is mostly seen in shots of Castle or the villains blazing away, silhouette shots of characters being hit, shots of the aftermath, or some combination thereof. I want to say its not graphic, but it is to a degree. Compared to some other Punisher I’ve read its not bad at all, but objectively its not for those who don’t handle gore well. Injured characters bleed. The art is moderately stylized and simple (see above), not photorealistic, but its there nonetheless.

For readers who check this out and like it, Ennis and Dillon continued the plot and revisited a number of the background characters with the ongoing series of the same name that started soon after. This mostly kept the same style and level of content as the miniseries. When that ended, Ennis moved on to writing the Punisher for Marvel’s line of MAX comics, not technically part of the main Marvel canon, but much freer with content restrictions (MAX comics were not sold at newsstands, and so were able to be essentially R-rated content-wise without getting into trouble). As I say, great writing, probably the best version of the character, but not for the faint of heart. Also, the 2004 Punisher film starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta draws a lot of subplots and background characters from this miniseries. A lot of people hate on it; I think its a great treatment of the character, personally. It is, however, VERY R-rated, so be forewarned.

I will say once again, this is a comic for adults, or at least for teens. Not a work intended for kids! But well done nonetheless.

*To be fair, there have been some great stories pitting the Punisher against supervillains. Frank Miller did some great things on his run with DareDevil, contrasting the two characters and their approaches to fighting crime. Also interesting, Castle’s most recent thing is tricking himself out with toys stolen from his enemies….His favorite is a Goblin Glider stolen from one of Norman Osborne’s old caches….

Also, it should be admitted that this is written from a bias of having read a lot of the more recent, grittier comics where Frank Castle takes on mobsters, drug runners, serial killers and sex slavers. I feel this is a better take on the character. It should also be noted that this is a much more adult-themed take on the character, getting Marvel’s equivalent of an R-rating.

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