I bailed out on "Hellblazer" halfway through the Garth Ennis run, and I haven't picked up an issue of this series since. I can't really blame Ennis. His work on the title was quite good, but I moved on to other things and never bothered to look back. But how could I resist "Hellblazer" #245 when it's written by one of the best current writers in American comics, Jason Aaron? I could not. Especially when I found out that the story would deal with John Constantine's days as a member of Mucous Membrane. Punk rock plus Jason Aaron? How could I go wrong?
"Hellblazer" #245 lived up to my expectations and then some. It reminded me how good this series used to be, and it made me want to go back and reread all the back issues. I have more than enough to do these days, so any comic that makes me want to dig through the longboxes for extra reading material is a pretty extraordinary comic.
And Aaron does it all without John Constantine, really. Constantine only shows up on the final two pages of the issue, and yet "Hellblazer" #245 is absolutely a classic John Constantine story. It's about the legacy of the character, the impact of the character, even when he's not actually around to participate, himself. Perhaps it's good precisely because Constantine isn't featured. Or perhaps it's good because Jason Aaron knows that horror comes not from abstract ghouls, but from violations to the natural order. And make no mistake, this is a horror comic, not just because of the twisted imagery of a man fornicating with a maggot-drenched dog carcass, but because that man dreamt he was with the girl of his dreams. The juxtaposition of the idealized dream and gruesome reality is more than just a cheap shock.
Aaron deftly uses a low-budget cable documentary crew as the portal into Constantine's past, allowing for bits of interviews and narration to be spliced over the actual events as the crew investigates the mysterious events at the Casanova Club, circa 1978. In many ways, "Hellblazer" #245 is a sequel to "Hellblazer" #11, the issue in which original series writer Jamie Delano finally showed what happened in Newcastle in the early days of John Constantine. Until issue #11, Newcastle had been a mysterious part of Constantine's past. Something so horrible that it led to him becoming the cynical bastard with the trenchcoat who lurked around in the swamps. In Newcastle in 1978, at the Casanova Club, the members of Mucous Membrane faced a horror beyond rational explanation, and it changed everything forever.
With the help of some wonderfully expressive artwork by Sean Murphy, Aaron connects the dots between 1978 and 2008. The canine monstrosity of "Hellblazer" #11 is echoed in the carcass of the dead, molested dog, and the junkyard cars of the older story are here again, stacked higher -- rusted piles of memory and abandonment.
"Hellblazer" #245, part one of Jason Aaron and Sean Murphy's two-issue stint on the series, is smart, funny, horrific, and vicious. It's a punk rock comic for the 21st century, and you can pick it up and enjoy it without ever having read a "Hellblazer" comic in your life. But if you have read "Hellblazer" #11, the reading experience is even richer.