Back in the UK after years away, John decides it’s time to get back to basics. And that means looking good – yes, the old trenchcoat stays, but underneath, a natty new suit, pocket hankie optional. Sadly, the smart look lasts about as long as it takes him to step outside his new flat.
‘Fan’ barely covers it. Tommy has studied for years to protect Britain from mystical threats in John’s absence, and while the old Hellblazer can’t take Tommy’s yoga magic and hipster ways seriously, the newcomer’s actually not been doing too badly. And he can recognise an encroaching threat. Legend has it that if crows ever stop visiting the Tower of London, England is doomed.
Now read on. Seriously, if you like fun, superbly crafted comics and you’ve not purchased this issue, buy Hellblazer #4. DC’s Vertigo imprint is no more, but Simon Spurrier is writing a John Constantine series that recalls the glory days of Delano and Ennis. Our hero swears, he smokes and he’s seen it all before… or so he thinks. Debuting character Tommy Willowtree has a line in magic that’s brand new to John, Paranomancy, and it’s rather brilliant. Jaded John is finally surprised by someone and it’s a delight to behold. I can only hope Tommy survives his debut storyline, because he could prove a breakout character as John did following his first appearance in Swamp Thing – not necessarily a series star, but certainly a useful player in the theatre of DC Comics.
But if he could lose the man bun, that would be great.
The first three issues of this new series formed one story, this latest instalment links to the underlying threat raised there – it seems Spurrier is building an epic out of smaller storylines, which is a great choice from my point of view. Relatively pithy tales in different milieus – last time it was inner city drugs gangs meet William Blake, here there’s a more pastoral feeling, despite the setting still being London. I don’t think Spurrier is going to bore us anytime soon, with his well-crafted plots, gift for character work – two new supporting players have been introduced since this run kicked off – and knack for humour. The writer engages with issues facing post-Brexit Britain, notably the Othering of immigrants. And Spurrier is a real wordsmith, if you enjoy well put-together dialogue, replete with gorgeous words and phrases, familiar and obscure, this is for you.
Regular artist Aaron Campbell is away this issue but Matías Bergara does a bang-up job, his refreshingly naturalistic linework making the moments of mystical madness pop. The gnome elemental – or as John puts it, ‘turd goblin’ – is suitably Slimer, the crows creepy as heck. Bergara’s storytelling is first rate, working from and complementing Spurrier’s script.
Regular colourist Jordie Bellaire is a big part of the visual success of this issue, her light palette in the first half suiting the vibe Tommy brings to the book, with darker tones and more intense brights underlining the direction of action.
Aditya Bidikar letters with confidence, and he gets to pull out more festive fonts towards the end as John gets a gift or three. Kudos, too, to Maggie Howell and Chris Conroy for their editing excellence.
And how about that beautiful cover by John Paul Leon, with Tommy taking not just centrestage but totally stealing John’s thunder. And so he should, The puppyish Mr Willowtree could well prove the character find of 2020! And if not, well, he’s a great addition to the world of John Constantine.
For however long he survives.