John Constantine: Hellblazer has taken us through many seedy aspects of England, but in issue #7, the beginning of a new arc, we go somewhere new: Billingsgate Market, a fish market in Canary Wharf.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #7
Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Aditya Bidikar (Letterer), Aaron Campbell (Artist), Simon Spurrier (Writer)
June 23, 2020
The issue opens with narration from an unseen source. It details a man, the narrator’s beloved, a “great man… fond of smoke, fond of shadow.” The page ends on a panel showing John Constantine from behind, collar turned up and a cigarette in his mouth. “Oh–he’s imperfect,” reads the narration. “He’s made mistakes.”
Turn the page and it’s revealed that the narration isn’t speaking of John Constantine. It’s speaking of a fishmonger — a fishmonger with a curious necklace. From his neck dangles a pink conch shell with an unmistakably yonic shape.
The narrator, at this point still unknown, walks us through the trials and tribulations of her poor, put-upon lover, the fishmonger. He’s younger and less experienced than the other fisherman, and they’re unreceptive when he challenges their beliefs. They swallow up the xenophobia delivered to them by the member of parliament speaking from the TV, who suggests that the ever-present bogeyman of “The French” is responsible for the lack of fish to be caught. Nobody wants to hear about his suspicion that they are actually to blame; it’s easier and less frightening to blame French interlopers.
But what about that mysterious shell charm? Who is the narrator? And why is John Constantine involved at all? The answer to all three is that our narrator is a mermaid, and this is the sort of grisly mermaid story that hearkens back not to Disney but to Hans Christian Anderson and folkloric stories of selkies, echoed in modern storytelling like Alyssa Wong’s “The Fisher Queen.”
What does a fisherman want with a mermaid? The same things that every man has wanted from his female partner throughout history, with the politically infused commentary we’ve come to expect from this team. The horror is the actions that occur within — grisly violence, yes, but also the trickle-down of hateful rhetoric spewed by those in power to the working class, which begets the grisly violence. Those who stoke the hatred reap the benefits of power and profit and never see the consequences. That’s horror.
Simon Spurrier’s writing this issue is a wonderful mixture of opaque and obtuse narration from the mermaid, horrible propaganda speech from the member of parliament speaking on TV, and thrilling vulgarities from the fishermen. Throughout the series, Spurrier’s dialog has been equal parts musical and crass, and this issue follows suit. “I think fishing’s fucked because we fucked up the fish,” has a nasty little melody to it, as does “Old Frogfish McGreasyhair.” Though Spurrier does sometimes stray into wordiness — which is fine by me, a lover of flowery prose — his dialog is always fun to read. Where else will I find the phrases “A holy convergence!” and “nobbin’ a mermaid” on the same page?
As in previous issues, Aditya Bidikar’s lettering is key to the dialog succeeding. Not only does the sound effects lettering add a wonderful haunting quality to the page, but the use of italics, sizing, and bolding helps guide the reader through the sound of each speech bubble as well. Every bit of space is used to its fullest potential, with smaller text in larger bubbles lending the words a sense of meekness and more cramped lettering giving the reader the impression of a speaker becoming increasingly unhinged. Because Spurrier’s work is dialect-heavy and sometimes wordy, Bidikar’s lettering allows the reader to understand what’s happening even if they’re not familiar with the phrasing.
Aaron Campbell and Jordie Bellaire are no less important to this issue’s success. The final page is a haunting one, a mixture of ethereal beauty with gruesome violence. Campbell’s often wonderfully grainy, textured linework meshes well with the loose, flowing lines required by the scene, and Bellaire’s wonderful use of blues and reds emphasize the horrible nature of what’s occurred there. On the one hand, it’s beautiful; on the other, it’s painful, the vibrant red drawing the eye and suggesting both burning pain and the redness of blood. The artwork throughout is beautiful and eerie, but the final page encapsulates how well this team works together — Spurrier’s whip-smart dialog, Bidikar’s distorted and onomatopoeic lettering, Campbell’s mastery of both smooth and gritty linework, and Bellaire’s purposeful use of color come together to showcase the highlights of this series on one single page.
In short, Spurrier, Campbell, Bellaire, and Bidikar excel in John Constantine: Hellblazer #7, crafting an incisive, grim, and grisly horror story with a final page that will leave you shuddering.