Hellblazer: Hard Time
Brian Azzarello, writer,
Richard Corben, artist
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 2000)

I usually enjoy Hellblazer collections. I don't follow the monthly series, but whenever a new collection is on the shelves, I'm among the first in line to read the further adventures of John Constantine, the resident attitudinal mage of the DC universe. Unfortunately, Hard Time was a horrible disappointment.

The book begins with Constantine's admission into a tough American prison after being convicted of murder. It begins a lengthy tale about prison violence, in-house gangs, racism, guard brutality, murder, suicide and anal rape. Through it all, Constantine breezes along with a sneering grin and a strong need to feed his nicotine addiction, and, yes, we're treated to a host of his usual "magical" mind games which keep him from becoming a victim.

But it's an ugly story, through and through. I certainly believe there's a place for ugly stories in this world; they often need to be told. But this is an ugly story without a point beyond an attempt to shock and disgust readers -- there's no effort here to create awareness or affect change. Writer Brian Azzarello seems to have no real goal here beyond getting his readers to say "yuck" ... and a rich character such as Constantine deserves a better writer at the helm.

Artist Richard Corben's work is suitably ugly, but that's no recommendation. Characters all look warped and twisted, including Our Hero. Half the time, everyone seems to have the Joker's thick, grinning mouth.

I am sure there are plenty of real and important stories to tell about the American prison system. I'm equally sure that any number of powerful stories can be told in a prison setting. But I prefer stories with a point beyond grossness. This one fails the test.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Hard Time from Amazon.com.