The first of two issues of “Hellblazer: City of Demons” shipping this month, the debut introduces what looks to be the plot of the mini-series in a roundabout way on the final page with the majority of the issue focusing on John Constantine’s life in jeopardy and, possibly, his soul, too. Since “Hellblazer” is a comic often focused on longform runs by creators, the occasional mini-series that wouldn’t fit into the production schedule of the ongoing makes a lot of sense, especially when it involves a chance to see Sean Murphy’s art for the next few months.
Murphy is no stranger to Constantine, having drawn two issues of “Hellblazer” in 2008; His take on the character is a strong one. What attracts attention most of all is the way that Murphy draws Constantine’s face: hard, dark, carved out, and carved up with scars from his life. Has that natural charm, but also a look of a man that you shouldn’t cross, who seems to live in the shadows with tiny, evil eyes. There’s a creepiness to Murphy’s Constantine while maintaining his punk/rebellious attitude somehow visually.
The opening scene, in particular, allows Murphy to show off his ‘creepy bastard’ John Constantine as a couple of teens try to rob him as he smokes outside a pub. Not one to be trifled with, Constantine turns it around on them only to be hit by a car and nearly die. From there, his soul/spirit scrambles around the hospital, convinced a demon is trying to mess with him. It's exactly the sort of John Constantine story that practically runs itself. If there’s a weakness to this comic, it’s that lack of meat to the story. Putting down the issue, you’ll remark that it was a solid, but standard “Hellblazer” comic.
Si Spencer has a good handle on Constantine’s voice and the way he’d react in this sort of situation. Constantine’s narration is engaging and easy to get pulled into, and a Bill Hicks reference early on never hurts. There’s a well executed twist near the end that turns the opening scene on its head to provide a glimpse into not just the teens that tried to rob Constantine, but their parents as well.
Where the issue excels, besides the art, is in playing upon Constantine’s history, so that his getting hit by a car and separated from his body must be a plot by a demon. His paranoia and mad scrambling is entertaining as it leads nowhere. There’s an undercurrent of John Constantine as an old man who’s been through too much to not see everything that goes wrong as a plot by someone to screw him over. That interpretation of the character is a genuinely interesting and new one that I would love to see touched upon again.
“City of Demons” #1 is an entertaining beginning to a spin-off mini. If there’s one character that can carry the occasional mini-series or one-shot outside of his ongoing series, it’s John Constantine. Si Spencer and Sean Murphy set a good example and the conclusion of this issue shows a promising premise for the remaining four issues.