Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back To Basics--Hellblazer #147

Looking back over some of my old posts, I see that its been more than a year since I've done one of my series of posts on the 147th issues of a comic series lucky enough to have lasted that long.  There doesn't seem to be a resounding outcry amongst my readers for a new installment.  However, I've got this pile of borrowed Hellblazer comics, including #147, that I've had for several months and its long past time I returned them to their owner. 
Hellblazer #147 contains the second installment of "Hard Times," the inaugural storyline of writer Brian Azzarello's two and a half year stint on the title.  Much was made at the time of Azzarello being the first American to chronicle the ongoing adventures of John Constantine.  Many wondered if he would be able to accurately depict the London setting that had become so integral to the series.  In what could be perceived as an admission that his critics were right, Azzarello took Constantine out of his familiar environs and sent him on an extended tour of the colonies.  More charitably, this move can be seen as an attempt to breathe new life into the series by taking the character out of his comfort zone.
In "Hard Times," Azzarello throws Constantine into a very unfamiliar and hostile setting--an American prison.   The story begins in #146 with Constantine arriving at the prison.  His reasons for being there aren't yet revealed, and, quite frankly, when they are in #150, the final issue of the storyline, I didn't quite buy them.  That, however, is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
A con named Traylor takes a liking to "Connie" (For some reason, I'm attempting to be as delicate as possible here, but if you've ever seen any prison movies you probably know what I mean by that.), and gives him a tour of the place, introducing him to the various prisoner cliques.  After using magic to put an end to Traylor's advances, John begins to develop a rep as being dangerous. In part two in #147, representatives of the aforementioned cliques have decided that something's got to be done about Constantine, so they go to Stark, the lifer who runs the prison from his cell, to tell their tales of their encounters with the Englishman.
When Alan Moore introduced Constantine early in his run on Swamp Thing, it was as an enigmatic and possibly dangerous character.  However, once Constantine graduated to his own title, and after more than ten years and lengthy runs from Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins, the mystery was pretty much gone.  Familiarity dulled Constantine's edge.  Azzarello attempts to bring back the mystery in this issue by showing John Constantine as seen through the eyes of people who've just met him as,  In fact, until the last page of the issue Constantine doesn't actually appear except in flashback in the tales of his fellow prisoner.
Though, as I stated above, I found the storyline as a whole disappointing, Hellblazer #147 is a very good single issue and works as a reminder of what makes the character of John Constantine so cool.

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