Hellblazer #262

Posted by on May 14th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Giuseppe Gamuncoli and Stefano Landini, colored by Trish Mulvihill, cover by Simon Bisley; $2.99

Nice work on the demon’s face. Placeholder Vertigo has got its bright spots, just like always. But it’s still dull, and it hasn’t changed. Twenty years ago and now, this type of Vertigo gives you sherbet colors, airy panels, lots of people with long legs. They talk supernatural smart talk, and pretty soon unexpected ideas will bubble into being. But the ideas stay unbubbled, the pages never develop any forward bounce. There are always too many captions and balloons, even when there aren’t that many. You turn the pages, look at a panel with a girl’s cheekbones, wait until you’re done.

When you get up, it’s been like sitting at the hair-cutters’, if you go to a semi-hip place that somehow hasn’t changed since Tom Foley was speaker of the House or Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show or Gorbachev was nervous about Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I mean, it’s been a lot of years. Back when I tried Shade, the Changing Man, Arsenio Hall was going on.

Perennials. John Constantine has another girl he’s interested in; hence he’s alarmed at various machinations that run counter to her safety.

The issue’s gimmick, not much explored, is that the multi-faced blue Hindu demon is also a bigoted colonel from the Raj. A special bindi (forehead mark) acts as tracer so the demon can stay on top of his prey. Not a bad idea, but it’s used for a damsel-in-distress situation, standard issue: “Meeta … would you mind …” And then she’s set up with her dot and the demon’s after her.

A good bit. John Constantine is battling the demon, and meanwhile his thoughts tick along in little boxes beside his head. The demon gives it to him good, and we get the following sequence of boxes:

I catch a stench of stale semen and tobacco.

Christ.

I hope that’s not me.

Maybe you thought he meant the demon! But you knew Constantine was a randy guy with a lived-in suit of clothes. Consider the real-life odds that he would have an embarrassing smell. Dried semen — the joke’s on him, and it’s the same joke that Alan Moore played on Rorschach and Nite Owl so long ago: What if people really went around in costumes?

That what-if underpins a lot of current-day superhero output, and often enough it’s funny, but I don’t think superhero readers are surprised by it anymore. More like the idea has been written into the ground rules, a necessary late-life addition to keep superheroes interesting for adult readers. But apply the same what-if to a non-superhero and you can still get a jolt, an idea jump, small as it may be. Vertigo traffics in idea jumps, and here’s one that can at least goose a page in a so-so issue.

Joint, prick, semen. Though I like the semen joke, I also think the script uses the reference as a shortcut, kind of an edgy-uncanny equivalent of Comedy Helper. If you need to be offbeat fast, take some minor item or reference that is recognized as being a bit over the line. Then stick it into a routine situation and hope that the situation thereby becomes nonroutine. Constantine and his swami pal do some expository dialogue, but meanwhile they pass a joint back and forth. Constantine thinks back to an old foe and it’s “that fiend dog with a big prick.” And when Constantine smells something nasty, it’s semen.

Image © 2010 DC Comics

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