I have to hand it to Peter Milligan this month. With Simon Bisley stepping in for another guest stint on the art, the immediate (and obvious) thought would be to create a one-off story, one that could slot into "Hellblazer" any month as soon as Bisley was done. I'd expect nothing less, and be just fine with that.
What we actually got this month, though, was a curious hybrid. It's still an issue that stands on its own for anyone who says, "Wow, Simon Bisley" and decides to pick up the issue. But for people who've read Milligan's "Hellblazer" run up until now, it's actually part of his larger story, one that follows up on a nasty recurring villain, whose punishment turns out to be a joy for the hideous demon.
This isn't the first time we've seen John Constantine in jail -- longtime readers will immediately think of Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben's "Hard Time" five-parter -- but it still feels fresh and original from Milligan. The moment that Milligan refers to the demon Julian as one that was "screamed into existence" you realize this isn't so much a story about prison, as it is about being trapped with nowhere to run or hide. Both the caption on the cover ("Solitary") and the title of the issue ("Inside") reflect that; in many ways it's a story that could have been told on a drifting boat, or an isolated research station. With hundreds of people to prey on that cannot under any circumstances leave, Milligan's created a special little Hell on Earth for Julian to lord over.
This issue is also a nice reminder about how Milligan's been writing Constantine's wife Epiphany, and why she (against all odds) works so well in the comic. Constantine is ultimately the one who defeats Julian, but Epiphany allows him to take a shortcut or two in getting to that conclusion. In some ways she's almost deliberately flaunting the rules of the locked-location horror story, able to enter and exit freely and bringing things in and out that shouldn't have managed to speed up the process. In other words, she's got a lot in common with Constantine, while still managing to be more than just Constantine-as-a-woman.
Bisley's art is dark and dirty, a great match for Milligan's script. From the big bushy eyebrows (including one moment where he appears to be channeling his old Lobo character tweaks), to the terrifying glimpse at Julian's face with his big black eyes and dark, rotting teeth, every panel is drawn for maximum horrific effect. Brian Buccellato's dank and grim colors help here; I've heard the joke about "Vertigo brown" but this is a place where those dark earth tones are not just present, they're absolutely necessary. Only the cover of the comic is painted, but thanks to Bisley and Buccellato's collaboration, the entire comic comes across that way.
Milligan continues to turn out a strong "Hellblazer" run, and it's a pleasure to see him reunited once more with Bisley. Milligan and Bisley create creepy comics together, and this one is no exception. The next time they're ready to team up, I'll be waiting.