John Constantine: Hellblazer #3 wraps up the story of Peckham Rye, but not without enough loose ends and plot hooks to keep readers on the line for the next issue.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #3
Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Aditya Bidikar (Letterer), Aaron Campbell (Artist), Simon Spurrier (Writer)
January 22, 2020
The issue opens right where the previous one left off, with Constantine mid-argument with the horrible old racist who hangs out in Peckham Rye Commons. Turns out the angels that have been flaying K-Mag’s buyers are tulpa magic, a Tibetan-inspired manifestation infused with the man’s passionate interest in William Blake. More specifically, his interest in Blake’s nationalism and Christianity, which manifests as “angels” that execute those who don’t meet his standards of purity and “British”-ness. That is to say: K-Mag’s marginalized Ri-Boys, addicts, and people of color.
Hellblazer has never been a subtle series nor Constantine a subtle character, and Spurrier’s dialog lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that this is true of the new series as well. Constantine’s biggest assets in this story are not his magical abilities, but rather his ability to tell the truth without pulling punches and to lie with reckless abandon. It’s gratifying to see things laid out so clearly—when racism and xenophobia and nationalism appear in speculative fiction, it’s often allegorical. In John Constantine: Hellblazer, it’s not the angels or the tulpamancy that’s the real issue, it’s the racism, the hatred. There’s no guesswork in it. The magic has to be stopped because it’s dangerous, but it’s dangerous because nationalism fuels it.
Constantine’s sequence of lies and truths play out in fragments. He revisits a number of characters and unlikely allies he’s encountered throughout this first arc, all of them folding neatly into place to help execute the real hinge on which the narrative turns: saving Noah.
Noah is already in trouble with K-Mag for his failure to stop the killings in the park, and things only get worse for him this issue as he struggles to assert himself to save his position—and protection—within the Ri-Boys. Though all the nameless addicts and others the racist in the park has attacked are victims, too, it’s Noah who is caught most directly in the issue’s vortex. He can’t leave the Ri-Boys without losing something dear to him (and potentially his life). He can’t stay in the Ri-Boys or he’s just more grist for K-Mag’s haruspex mill—either now, as he fails to defeat the Peckham Rye angels, or later, as he undoubtedly gets handed another impossible assignment.
The park racist’s xenophobia isn’t the direct cause of Noah’s struggles, but it is a symptom of it. From the first issue of this new series—The Sandman Universe Presents—it’s been clear that England’s fear of outsiders would be a key player in the conflict. Magic, sure, angels, yeah, and lord only knows what other horrors the series’ future holds, but xenophobia and racism are at its center. Constantine, a white man, has to challenge these ideals or by default he supports them.
Thankfully, this is something the John Constantine: Hellblazer series understands. Though I have yet to see the payoff I hoped for in the previous issue, the clarity of storytelling—in both art and writing—and lack of subtlety work in the story’s favor. There is no time to be subtle about the poisonous ideologies of nationalism and racism; they must be named and addressed, not tiptoed around and pointed at only through allegory.
This theme is abundant throughout the issue, including in Aaron Campbell’s stellar artwork and Jordie Bellaire’s colors. Campbell has a real gift for facial expressions; strip the dialog from the page and you can still track a character’s emotional journey by watching the shift in expressions. Characters’ faces are drawn with exquisite detail, including the Peckham Rye racist’s—the difference is that he, unlike the others, seems to primarily show rage through his expressions. Later in the issue, his emotions change, but his expression is still hidden behind his beard and glasses, both barriers between him and the world.
Bellaire’s colors continue to shine in this issue, with far more bright, saturated tones and vivid, energetic scenes that are almost difficult to look at in their intensity. Again, this works in the issue’s favor—on the whole, it’s brighter and easier to see the details, but the details are where everything gets particularly grim. Knowing the origin of the racist’s powers doesn’t make them any better, and Bellaire carries the theme of fire throughout the revelatory scenes with similar red and orange tones in flashbacks, in magic, and in the man’s ginger beard, refusing to let the reader forget, even in moments of sympathy, the anger and violence he carries within.
The issue ends with a neat little setup for what’s to follow, ensuring that the events of this first arc, though they’ve come to their conclusion in many ways, won’t be forgotten. Constantine is far from “the best version” of himself, but with a remarkably small Constantine-caused death toll and an almost uplifting ending before a final, last-minute twist, John Constantine: Hellblazer #3 is an excellent ending and setup for the arcs to follow.