Hellblazer: Damnation's Flame
Garth Ennis, writer,
Steve Dillon, William Simpson
& Peter Snejbjerg, artists
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1999;
reprinted from Hellblazer
issues 72-77, 1993-94)

He's back on his feet, but that doesn't mean John Constantine is back at the top of his game. Newly recovered from a lengthy bout of homelessness and alcoholism, he jets to New York City to take his mind off the world for a while.

That's a mistake, because Dr. Midnite lives in New York, and he carries a heavy grudge against Constantine. Using voodoo magic, he sends the English mage on a witchwalk through the dark side of America, where he meets a startling array of lost souls. One of them, however, is on Constantine's side -- not for any love of Constantine, mind you, but for their shared hatred of Midnite. (It's a shame, I think, that this portion of the story ends with Constantine breaking a promise to help one of those souls.)

Then there's a flashback to 1980 and the first meeting between John and Kit, through John's friend and Kit's lover Brendan. There's no story here, just a lively interaction between old and new friends, and it's a pleasure to read. The artwork is jarring, however -- after 100-plus pages of Steve Dillon's brilliant work, the switch to William Simpson isn't as easy on the eyes. The pages lack Dillon's depth and richness of detail, and the characters all have wide mouths, thin lips, slanted eyes and cocked heads.

It's a relief when Dillon picks up the pen again in the present, when a chance of fate directs Constantine to Dublin, where he stumbles upon Brendan's ghost. Again, there's no real action here, it's just a reunion of friends involving several pubs, countless pints of Guinness and some meaningful -- and meaningless -- conversation.

The final section marks Constantine's long-overdue reconciliation with Chas, one of his few unmagical friends and the one Constantine has abused and mistreated more than most. It largely involves a flashback to a magical encounter which, everyone believed, cost Constantine his life, and it includes a wonderfully odd funeral service for him -- which, of course, he crashes at the end. Peter Snejbjerg takes up the artistic duties for this one and, while he's no Dillon, his sparse, rough approach suits the strangeness of the tale.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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