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Justice League Dark and Constantine

Justice League Dark finally made it to stores in its physical form (as opposed to digital-only crap) and one version includes a John Constantine figurine!

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When this line of DC animated moves started, many of the releases had a Best Buy exclusive version, packed with a little figurine of one of the main characters. Eventually, that sort of release expanded to a non-chain-exclusive thing, and the figurines changed, matching a line of figurines one could buy separate as well.

Now we seem to be back to the rectangle-base "generic" figurine…only significantly larger than the early ones.

And while I wouldn’t have necessarily been all that interested in yet another Batman…and wouldn’t really care for a Zatanna…John Constantine was an on-site no-brainer for me (not having actually known ahead of time which character would get a figurine this time around). Granted, a Deadman or Swamp Thing would be very cool…but with a 12-year-old Keanu Reeves film, a one-season tv series, a guest-starring role on Arrow and apparently an upcoming animated series of his own…Constantine would seem an obvious choice.

And frankly…I really like this figure…it’s easily one of the most impressive to me, particularly in size.

Perhaps I’ll actually get to watch this film this weekend!

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Meanwhile…Constantine’s got a whole shelf of books to hang out with…

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The Weekly Haul – Week of October 12, 2016

This week proved to be another "small" week for me, though also "key" and "expensive" in others.

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Firstly, yet another week with a new Superman comic (Action Comics, specifically)…I’d have to dig back, but I’ve gotta be getting close to the half-year mark of the week-to-week actively wanting to get the next Superman-related comic out that week, just for the next bit of story. And unlike even the New Krypton stuff (which PALES by comparison to Rebirth!), this is a FUN excitement, a new/updated status quo that I like and am not just going with. And rather than tease me with pseudo-triangle-numbering, the two main Superman books are just coming out, telling solid stories, and now with this issue of Action we’ve even got footnotes again–referencing the sister title (Superman) as if BOTH TITLES are actually taking place in the same timeline, part of the same universe, etc! We also get a nice reference to another series that means next issue will be interesting as well…

I was going to hold off on Supergirl, but that cover just grabbed me! Not so much the rendition of the character herself (this art style is not very much to my liking for her) but the Cyborg Superman, and the promise of potential that it holds in that image.

And I pulled the trigger on the Hellblazer volume to get that outta my system…I don’t think vol. 15 is due for another few months, and unfortunately, I worry too much about stuff going out of print these days, thanks to Marvel refusing to keep anything in print all that long or predictably. This volume is also a bit more of a "key" volume than I’d considered initially.

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With Hellblazer vol. 14: Good Intentions, these new editions have fully caught up to where I came into the series back in 2001 (just over 15 years ago!). This single volume combines three previous paperbacks, as it collects Hard Time, Good Intentions, and …Freezes Over. Sixteen issues in one volume; three story arcs…plus material from Vertigo Secret Files: Hellblazer.

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Now begins the steady march through as the new editions finish, and hopefully over the next several years, we’ll get a full Hellblazer library of volumes that actually look like the single series that they are, and allow one to–in this format–have the entirety of the 300-issue 25-year series.

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Even if the new, numbered editions do not end up spanning the entirety of the run…I do have–with the probable exception of the Hellblazer: Bad Blood mini–the run between the new editions and the smaller "original" editions.

The Hellblazer: Rebirth

hellblazer_rebirth_0001Writer: Simon Oliver
Artist: Moritat
Colorists: Andre Szymanowicz and Moritat
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Moritat
Associate Editor: Jessica Chen
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 2016
Cover Price: $2.99

It’s kinda hard to believe it at this point, but I’ve been a fan of John Constantine–the Hellblazer–for 15 years now. I was introduced the character barely halfway into his 300-issue run with Vertigo (around #160) and have followed off-and-on ever since, as well as backtracking. With the new editions of the collected volumes combined with what I already had, I have the entire series–and several of the spin-offs–on my shelf (though I still have some reading to catch up yet fully). I checked out Justice League Dark at the dawn of the New 52, specifically for the "DC Universe version" of Constantine (who had just earlier that year been re-introduced into the DCU proper in the Search for Swamp Thing mini during/following Brightest Day). I checked out the first couple issues of last year’s DC You launch, and had previously checked out the first issue or two of the previous Constantine series.

Neither of those overly grabbed me (and having the Vertigo Hellblazer stuff all in collected editions, I was content to pass on single issues for eventual collected volumes) and I was even going to pass on this issue for the moment (It’s part of a bundle I pre-ordered but still have a couple weeks to wait on arriving)…but I have "history" with the character/title, and seeing the "original" Hellblazer logo used here grabbed me enough to "double dip."

And while this is still a John Constantine–a Hellblazer–that IS set in a world in which Shazam and Wonder Woman exist as well, it also references back to key elements of the Vertigo series, establishing that this is a Constantine that has been impacted by those developments, and not just grabbed from his pre-Hellblazer stage.

In short, he’s back.

After an adventure "banished" in the US due to a curse placed on him by a demon, John returns to London, reunites with his best mate Chas, and sets about dealing with the curse. Of course the demon shows up, as well as another figure from Constantine’s past (that I am not sure if I know or not, or SHOULD know, but whatever), and things are dealt with in "typical" Constantine fashion.

The character appears younger here than I recall him from the Vertigo series, yet the visual style "fits" what I’ve grown used to over the last several years’ worth of stuff in the New 52. The art for the issue works well with the story mixing both the rough "darkness" in tone with something that definitely takes place in a world with super-heroes around.

Story-wise, I really very much appreciate things here, that this ‘feels’ like the version of the character I’m used to. Yet, this is not marked as a "mature readers title" nor is it part of a "mature readers line," therefore certain "language" is "bleeped out," but it’s not hard to fill in the blanks in reading…which is a nice compromise and something I have zero problem with. Often, certain things are all the more effective being "implied" than explicit…including language.

This issue seems like a "bridge" issue, moving from the most recent ongoing into this new "post-Rebirth" series that retakes the simpler Hellblazer name and general-ish status quo. As such, it is also very nicely self-contained in a way that seems like it’ll work very nicely for a reader continuing on from the last series as well as a lapsed reader that hasn’t seen the character since the Vertigo run ended…and funnel both sides into August’s ongoing.

That said…this seems a great issue for fans of either version of the character, and instills a definite confidence in me for the ongoing. That I’m not familiar with the writer is fine by me…I’m more interested in reading about the Constantine character than I am in reading _______’s version of the character. This even works as just a random one-off issue where you don’t really have to have read anything recently before, and it has an actual "ending" without pulling a "To Be Continued…" or cliffhanger on the reader.

I definitely recommend the issue, and look forward to the ongoing series…though I’m not 100% "sold" on whether I’ll opt to follow it as single issues or wait for collected volumes. I’ll be happy to–and presently look forward to–the singles as long as I’m getting the bundles, and will take it from there.

Constantine: The Hellblazer #1 [Review]

constantinethehellblazer001Going Down

Writers: Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Ivan Plascensia
Cover: Riley Rossmo
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
Group Editor: Brian Cunningham
Assistant Editor: Amedeo Turturro
Editor: Andy Khouri
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 2015
Cover Price: $2.99

I was planning on skipping this. I don’t much care for a watered-down version of the Vertigo/Mature Readers take on the title character, gave up on Justice League Dark early-on for not “starring” Constantine, and generally figured there’s more “history” for the New 52 Constantine than I really care to spend money playing catch-up on. But…this is a #1. New creative team (far as I’m aware), and it’s “only” $2.99. So I figured I’d check it out, give it an issue or so to show me what it’ll be…might as well for the price.

We open on a naked Constantine in a store, using his abilities to “con” a fresh set of clothes out of the employee. When John’s ghost-friends cause a stir, he ultimately finds himself in the company of a female demon who he finds is arranging to have a “soul farm,” so he winds up working the situation to a fairly predictable conclusion through his usual means.

Of course, that “usual” is based on my knowledge of the character from the past, from the original Hellblazer title (that was part of the initial Vertigo line and long anchored the imprint until a couple years ago) moreso than I know of the “mainstream” New 52/DC version.

The art for this issue was a bit off-putting for me when I opened the issue…particularly as I wasn’t even sure the character on the first page was actually John Constantine or not. Granted, I’m not used to seeing the character in the Birthday Suit, and some of the blame probably could be placed on the writing as well, the issue opening as it did. Once things move along a few pages, the art grew on me a bit, to where I’ll accept it much as any other Constantine or Hellblazer artist. Though, with only this single issue, I cannot say I’m likely to count Rossmo among my favorite who’ve worked on the character. However, I can definitely say that I enjoyed a 10-panel double-page spread with a sideways layout…it was different, engaging, effective in conveying so much in that part of the story, and really stood out to me for not just being more of the same.

The story was pretty good overall, and other than the obfuscated colorful language, this really felt like it could be a Vertigo issue. Though we do get left with a cliffhanger, and join the story “in progress” in and of itself the issue does give a “complete” story: We’re introduced to Constantine, his ghost entourage, and see a bit of his personality and nature by his actions, obvious intent, narration, and characters’ commentary. We’re introduced to a particular threat/situation, see his reaction to it, and get a resolution. Then we’re given a question that (ideally) hooks us into coming back for the next issue. Or in short: this is an effective first issue, doing what I would expect of a first issue.

While a first issue is not much to go on, the fact that this issue is devoid of superheroes/superheroics (only a passing mention that they even exist) is a welcome thing. My hope with this title is that it’ll be DC‘s way to have their cake and eat it, too: a solo title featuring John Constantine, BEING John Constantine, without the superheroes’ interaction…just Constantine doing his thing in his own world of sorts. But he’s part of the “main universe,” too, and thus remains available for stories that would call for his brand of involvement. I enjoy seeing him dealing with the superhero crowd…but when I pick up a book starring him, I’m not doing so for superhero stuff.

This title’s “subtitle” of The Hellblazer seems tacked-on and like some afterthought given its size and rather obviously being “just” a font rather than a focused part of the title logo. That strikes me as being a sort of appeasement, like saying “Ok, ok, we get it, y’all want a monthly comic with Hellblazer in the title!” (Granted, I understand the title Hellblazer was only ever initially used because Hellraiser was not available).

As a first issue and not knowing how dark the title may go, how long it’ll last, whether it will cross over directly with and mingle with the superhero stuff…taken by itself I think this is as close as we’re gonna get to a return to the classic Hellblazer book. As a fan of that series, I do recommend giving this a shot. I suspect readers of the recently-ended Constantine will appreciate this as well. And overall–in this day and age of seemingly EVERYTHING being $3.99+, this is a $2.99 book for the moment, so I’d recommend getting this even just to “support” the price point if you’re a single-issue buyer.

I’ll probably be back for the second issue and go from there. For my $2.99 this time, the issue was definitely worth the purchase and read, and my buying any more issues at all will be due to this fact, as I’d had every intention of outright ignoring anything DC put out for the foreseeable future.

New (to me) TPBs to Start December

Along with new comics, this week I scored several bargain volumes:

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The Marvel volumes were all 90% off so cost me $1.50 to $2 each…less than HALF the cost of a SINGLE ISSUE.

And the Hellblazer volume I got for $5, less than 1/3 its cover price.

Everything in the photo above for basically the cost of 3 single Marvel issues.

Yet I’m probably most thrilled with the Hellblazer volume as it gets me one book closer to a full run of the Hellblazer trades, outside of the new “complete” editions being published every few months.

Updating the Hellblazer Library before Constantine

I virtually NEVER buy collected volumes “in-person,” sticking to single issues for in-person purchases, due to pricing. However, I have been quite highly impressed with the re-issued Hellblazer volumes the last year or two.

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This week, I picked up volume 8, which is a rather thick volume, and very certainly physically FEELS like a big book, well worth its cover price. As with the earlier volumes, this one is basically a merging of two of the “original edition” volumes into a single book.

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The new Hellblazer vol. 8: Rake at the Gates of Hell contains the issues previously collected as the un-numbered volumes Hellblazer: Damnation’s Flame and Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell. This volume is rather significant for ME, as the original Damnation’s Flame was the first Hellblazer book I ever read and it–along with a Secret Files and Origins issue–were my initial introduction to the series and the John Constantine character.

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Part of the heft of the physicality of the volume seems to be that the paper might be slightly thicker…or somehow less compressed. Even with less covers, this new volume is actually fatter than the two original volumes whose issues this contains.

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Now, if I was looking at a Marvel volume collecting this many issues, or simply being this thick, I would certainly expect it to be–at MINIMUM–a $35 book, more likely $40, if not a $50 paperback. But here from DC (well, Vertigo) this is a “mere” $19.99 or to use my above rounding, it’s a $20 book. What makes that EXTRA appealing is looking at the two older editions that I bought over ten years ago.

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When I bought Damnation’s Flame back somewhere in 2003 or so, it was $16.95…and as that predated my online ordering and such, I actually paid cover price plus tax at Comic Heaven.

And in 2004 or so when Rake at the Gates of Hell was put out, it was itself $19.95. A $17 book and a $20 book–$37ish total–yet now in this new edition the entirety is only $20.

hellblazer_new_vol_8_f

Given that these new editions are actually NUMBERED and contain extra issues the original volumes did not (the original edition of vol. 1 did not contain the Swamp Thing issues, for example. Vol. 1 now has them so you’re NOT left on some cliffhanger that you have to leave the series of volumes to resolve. And this time through–at least so far, in July 2014–the volumes share a cohesive trade-dress so they actually look like a series.

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I’m still missing several of the later volumes of the series, though still filling in those holes, despite the chance that I’ll be double-dipping, “upgrading” to the new editions if the entire series actually gets collected. As-is, vol. 8 takes us up to #83…at this rate, I do imagine we’re looking at an eventual 30 or so volumes if these make it through to the 300th issue; possibly 31-32 if various specials and such get factored in, maybe more if any of the spotlight minis (Lady Constantine, Chaz, Papa Midnight) get mixed in.

The next question is going to be how to “recycle” my old editions. Sell ’em on eBay? Sell them as a lot? Sell them individually? With these new editions, those old ones are technically out of print–so based on the APPARENT “logic” of Amazon 3rd-party resellers, I should probably sell them for about $50-$140 apiece, right*?

(*Actually I’d consider looking toward roughly $10/ea if I could sell ’em all at once, maybe put that into the new editions of Preacher or even Lucifer, with Lucifer having the weight as I already have old editions of Preacher but have yet to read Lucifer at all)..

The End of Hellblazer

hellblazer200I was dismayed a couple months ago to learn that the long-running Hellblazer (I believe next to Archie, this is just about the longest-running uninterruptedly-numbered series out there, PERIOD, with Spawn and Savage Dragon from Image being the closer competitors to the claim). But that’s merely a principle thing to worry about…not than 300 is anything to sneeze at.

I’d fallen away from this title over the past half decade or so, maybe more…in a way, longer than I was following it, perhaps. But I’ve been catching up on the collected volumes–having long since decided I preferred to read about John’s adventures in larger chunks, rather than try to parse out the complexity via memory and a month-long gap between issues. My Hellblazer collection rivals my Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern collections, and even surpasses my TMNT collection.

But that’s still the surfacey stuff. Issue numbers, quantity of books on a shelf.

I worked at a summer camp in the summer of 2001, and while there, came across someone else who was into comics. While I was firmly “into” mainstream super-hero stuff…he was much more into the Vertigo-type books…Sandman, Preacher, Hellblazer, etc. Partway into that summer, he loaned me Damnation’s Flame, and I think I read the volume cover-to-cover in one sitting. Knew next to nothing about the character, but still followed along quite well, enjoyed the story…and I was thrilled when he loaned me whole stack of later issues–primarily from Paul Jenkins‘ run on the book. I devoured those issues, basically “maxing out” what my friend had with him (the rest of his collection being at home in Australia).

hellblazerrecentThere was a small comic shop near the camp, so I was able to get a couple of the then-most-recent issues at the time (in the #160/161/162 range). I believe there was also a Secret Files and Origins type issue out that made a huge difference for me filling in some gaps and adding to my immediate knowledge of the character. Not long after, knowing he might visit a comic shop while on a weekend trip, I’d given him some money, and my friend came back with the Original Sins tpb (the old version, now inferior to the most recent Hellblazer vol. 1).

So for the summer alone, I got to sample the earliest issues of the series, two “middle runs” in the series, and the most recent (Azzarello) issues. Back at school, while I’d largely let other comics “slide,” I began keeping up with Hellblazer for most of the following year; I particularly remember pulling a number of “quotes” from the issues, when I was “collecting quotes” from comics (stuff from narration or characters themselves that worked well outside of context as statements on life and such).

I then took a year or so “off,” frustrated by the monthly grind of story chunks vs. entire stories. Shortly after graduating college, I re-visited a comic shop and found that the ENTIRE PAST YEAR was still available at cover price, so caught up in one fell swoop, devouring those issues and then staying on-board again for awhile. I also backtracked and caught up on the entirety of the then-available TPBs…and 2003 into 2004 kept up with newer TPB releases like Rake at the Gates of Hell, an Ellis volume, and a couple others.

When I began as a reviewer for comixtreme.com (now cxPulp.com), Hellblazer was one of the series that wasn’t being regularly covered, so I claimed it, and wrote a number of reviews as the #100s came to an end, and the early 200s. (In retrospect, it appears the only review that’s actually made it into this blog under the Hellblazer heading is a review I wrote over 4 years ago when the series hit #250).

I have a number of memories associated with certain periods of “binge reading” of Hellblazer –primarily that first summer at the camp, Autumn after college graduation, and a couple years later, spring before grad school graduation. I anticipate similar memories when I dive into a recently-acquired stack of TPBs, and catching up further beyond those.

I was thrilled a couple years ago, now, when Constantine showed up in the Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing mini though that turned out to be just a precursor to the New 52. I think I dropped Justice League Dark after only an issue or two for its then-distinct-lack-of-FOCUS on the DCU Constantine…which in retrospect will mean further volumes to acquired to also play catchup on Constantine. But really, I remember enjoying the notion that the Hellblazer Constantine was still around and a distinct character…while the DCU John Constantine was closer to the character’s original roots, and largely a different take on the character. I was actually interested in multiple interpretations.

lifeofwalt006While it may be a rush to judgment, it truly seems to me that cancelling the Vertigo title in favor of a new DCU title is a disservice, as it seems highly unlikely that the new Constantine will be more than (in a broad stroke) a “dumbed-down Hellblazer.” A tamed version without the “twisted” elements that were a distinct part of the character.
That the Hellblazer character was a chain-smoking, womanizing English con-man was somehow rather appealing to me as a reader–so much the opposite of myself. And if opposites attract…that would certainly explain some of it.

I picked up this week’s Hellblazer #300–the final issue of a 25-year run going back to 1988 or so–because it was the final issue. However, the issue seems to be part 3 of a 3-part story…and I’m painfully aware of the fact that there’ve been probably 70 issues of story progression and development since I last regularly read the series.

However, there’s still something familiar to it–I was definitely aware of a history to things…and where I expect some might be put off or disinclined to buy a single issue ending a series, for me it leaves me eager to catch up on the last few years of the series (and perhaps it’s also having that task yet in front of me that keeps me from being as discouraged as I’d otherwise be with the series ending). This was like skipping a couple seasons of a tv show I’d followed, but tuning in for the series finale and then realizing I actually did miss keeping up with the series and want to go back and watch the remaining seasons.

hellblazerlibraryI have to admit that I got to the end of #300 and thought “what? That’s IT?!?” And maybe it was stuff I missed from parts 1 and 2 of the story, or something simply totally going over my head, but the final page left me clueless–as of this writing, I don’t know what actually happened nor what it “means,” as a finale to the series.

I’d like to say that I’ll boycott Constantine #1 on principle–and maybe if it were just about anything else, I would–but I think it’ll depend on my mood the week the issue comes out; I’m not adding it to my pull list, but I may request the single issue be pulled for me, the week it’s due out.

I neglected somehow to mention another “period” of memories I hold with Hellblazer: shortly after I started writing reviews for cxPulp, I joined the staff of the university newspaper The Daily Kent Stater, and had the only in-print review I’ve ever written for a graphic novel where I reviewed the new hardcover OGN All His Engines. I also got to attend an advance screening of the Keanu Reeves film Constantine on a press pass…my only such experience to this day.

And perhaps that’s the more sentimental thing for me.

I joined the ride around #162, so have been around for 138 additional issues…close to half the run.

Here’s to hoping what comes next does some justice to the true legacy of Hellblazer and the John Constantine character.

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