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Hellblazer: Hard Time
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TIP JAR
JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER
"Hard Time" - Issues 146-150
Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Richard Corben
Covers by Tim Bradstreet
Vertigo (imprint of DC Comics)

I haven't been a reader of HELLBLAZER for all that long (perhaps the last thirty issues or so), but I LOVE where Chicago writer Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS) is taking this book.

Constantine creator Alan Moore (WATCHMEN, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) first envisioned the character as a con man. A master of magic that used the art to his own advantage. A manipulator. A bastard.

Yet, he's a man with a moral compass, if a somewhat skewed one. He takes care of his family, his friends. He generally keeps things in the right, and it's the bad guy that finds himself at the business end of Constantine's magic.

The five part story arc Hard Times instantly demonstrates Azzarello's desire to get back to these basics. At first, the story is told through the point of view of another inmate, who is sure John's sarcasm will get him raped, killed, or both. The inmate's "husband" takes a shine to Constantine, and his gang makes their move in the showers.

Constantine reduces them to a mass of gibbering idiots. Soon word gets around that he's not a man to be trifled with. While the various factions plot against him or try to recruit him, he happily makes enemies of them all. He becomes a puppet master of sorts, and before long even the mafioso on top of the food chain becomes nervous around him.

So they frame him for another murder, this time of a prison guard. Constantine is thrown in solitary confinement.

Yet, he still manages to keep on top of things. The story culminates in a massive riot in which the inmates take over the prison. When an FBI agent comes in to negotiate with Constantine, we soon come to learn why he's really in prison. While I won't spoil it for you here, suffice it to say it again ties back to that moral compass beneath Constantine's bastard attitude.

My only complaint with the arc is the ending. Yeah, the reason for Constantine being in prison makes sense. But the outcome of all the events that have occurred within the prison is wrapped up a little too easily and abruptly. Fortunately it doesn't quite kill the story, so I feel most readers will live with it.

The series is wonderfully illustrated by Richard Corben, known primarily for his DEN series of comics and his appearances in HEAVY METAL magazine. His chunky sort of style works well in the prison setting, and he does an excellent job capturing the extreme of characters' facial expressions. Tim Bradstreet provides the covers (and apparently will continue to do the HELLBLAZER covers). Personally, I prefer Bradstreet's black & white work, such as his illustrations in the White Wolf roleplaying games, but these covers are still rather attractive.

In an interview at Comic Book Resources, Azzarello expresses an additional desire to bring Constantine to the United States. Constantine is an Englishman, a native of London. For previous HELLBLAZER writers Warren Ellis (TRANSMETROPOLITAN, THE AUTHORITY) and Garth Ennis (PREACHER, THE PUNISHER) this wasn't a problem, as they are British authors. Azzarello, however, feels that American readers (the bulk of the HELLBLAZER market) will better relate to Constantine should his (mis?)adventures take place on American soil. Further, he admits that because he's never been to England, he wouldn't feel comfortable trying to write stories taking place there.

With Ellis's sudden departure from the series based on editorial disputes, Azzarello is a welcome replacement. His grim and gritty storytelling fits Constantine's character very well, and I anxiously look forward to the next story arc. I give Hard Time four rabid fanboys.

Rabid FanboyRabid FanboyRabid FanboyRabid Fanboy
This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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