Way back before I started reviewing John Constantine: Hellblazer, I was skeptical. My first review is, in large part, about that skepticism — I definitely didn’t expect that this series would become one of my favorite runs not just in recent memory, but ever.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #12
Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Aditya Bidikar (Letterer), Aaron Campbell (Artist), Simon Spurrier (Writer)
November 24, 2020
Maybe it’s actually being old enough to really get the politics. Maybe it’s actually living in the era being written about. Maybe it’s having the misfortune to exist in a year defined by society’s rampant inequality being the subject of mainstream conversation — compounded with the complete and utter botching of pandemic response. But the fury and spite carved into every line of Aaron Campbell’s artwork, the venom of Simon Spurrier’s words, the burning colors of Jordie Bellaire’s palette, and the deliberate, sometimes subtle and sometimes bombastic artistry of Aditya Bidikar’s letters, felt like they really spoke to me this year. I, too, feel furious and spiteful and exhausted with all of it.
This final issue wraps up the story of pride and guilt and fear that’s been brewing since the first issue as best as can be expected. And it is a satisfying conclusion — the themes of ideas and meaning have been twined throughout the story since it began. This final issue not only builds on the themes of this series, but themes present in Hellblazer since its creation, imbuing both the literal and figurative ideas with new life.
We know, at this point, that the old man causing all this havoc in London is a future version of John Constantine — a version of himself that, despite all odds, is happy. We also know that Constantine must give up his life whenever the older version of himself calls for it. We know that he has friends whose lives he wants to protect and we know that, because this is a Hellblazer story, something is going to go disastrously wrong.
The issue opens with Nat, who I would lay down my life for, and Tommy Willowtree, who I guess is okay now even if I will never fully trust him, investigating the corpse of Albion, a metaphorical giant representing England. Constantine and K-Mag, the haruspex/gang leader from way back in issue one, gaze at them through someone’s entrails. Bidikar’s lettering work once again amplifies this scene from merely functional to truly artful; the speech bubbles bleed off the panels and into the white space, then bleed again from page to page, to convey the distance between the events we’re seeing and the observers.
Things predictably do not go as planned. Willowtree’s spell fails, and he and Nat are surrounded by the members of Parliament who have been defiling Albion’s corpse. Somehow, things only get worse.
Issue #12 hinges on a few key Hellblazer themes: Constantine’s guilt, necessary sacrifices, and the consequences of magic. No character makes it out unscathed, and it is, as always, related to Constantine’s actions. But John Constantine: Hellblazer takes things a step further, comparing the guilt-ridden antihero to another version of himself, one that’s both happy and prideful. Under these unique circumstances, even a guilty conscience can be a weapon—but it’s a sword that cuts both ways.
This series is as much a continuation of the Hellblazer tradition as it is a commentary on the world and even on itself. At its core, it’s concerned with ideas of creation and meaning, fear and pride, guilt and sacrifice. Its conclusion is both narratively satisfying and devastating in its openness — I want so badly to know what this team had up their sleeve next, as the issue neatly ends the first arc while introducing a new mystery, a new problem, that may never be answered.
This series has been an excellent example of what Hellblazer is capable of, but also the unique talents of each of its contributors. Spurrier’s sharp script pairs an incredible array of expletives anchored in genuine emotional beats with a story that doesn’t flinch away from depicting the ugliness and beauty in humanity, and more specifically, in England. It takes guts to be this earnest, this cynical, and this appreciative, and Spurrier’s writing has both literal and figurative guts to spare.
In this final issue, Aaron Campbell’s detailed, gritty linework helps convey the seriousness of the tone alongside magic’s reality-bending nature. Though it can sometimes be tough to parse at first look — especially in the more visually chaotic scenes near the issue’s end — it’s worth spending time picking the images apart, especially on repeated readings. The story’s brisk pace and explosion of events midway through can easily carry a reader away, but it’s on rereads that you find how neatly it all fits together.
Bellare’s colors are similarly impactful in this issue. Though you might not notice them at first, her skill with lighting carries the issue’s grim tone. Light colors draw your eye toward where it needs to go. Rich crimson entrails contrast against dark, moody blues. Each color takes on symbolic meaning as the story progresses, until red becomes synonymous with trouble.
And Bidikar’s lettering continues to impress; the use of speech bubbles to convey not only literal but also figurative distance is masterful, as is his continued skillful use of bolding, larger and small text, and other tactics to ease the reader through Spurrier’s slang- and dialect-heavy script. Bidikar’s lettering isn’t merely functional — it’s fun. It’s evocative and interesting, telling the story through onomatopoeic visuals rather than just getting the established message across.
John Constantine: Hellblazer is a singularly good Hellblazer run, marred only by a few concerns that could have easily been addressed in later story beats and by its own premature ending. The last few issues have an unfortunate sense of being rushed; it’s not that there are large holes in the plot, but rather that not everything is seen to a good conclusion. Important events happen offscreen by necessity. Another two or three issues would have helped the series land beautifully, rather than with a bit of turbulence and a handful of unanswered questions.
Still. Better, I suppose, than to have a good thing for less time than I wanted it than to have nothing but mediocrity. John Constantine: Hellblazer should go down as one of the best runs in the series’ 40-year history. This team — including Matías Bergara, who also illustrated many of the issues — has created a legendary run that can truly stand among the greats, even if it ended far too soon.