A slight change this week for our usual feature in which we dig out a back issue from our collections to review – as the comic featured here never actually ended up being published. Nevertheless, it’s well worth taking a look at, because… oh, just read on…
The fact that Neil Gaiman had the temerity to bring his Sandman story to an end in 1999 left DC and Vertigo in something of a quandary, as they now had a ready-installed market for a comic, but nothing to sell to them. The spinoff series The Dreaming was their first attempt at sating those fans, but after enjoying little success with it as an anthology series spotlighting a variety of characters – with vastly differing levels of profile – from across Gaiman’s world, they handed it over to Caitlin R. Kiernan, who somehow managed to get twenty-odd issues of overwrought masturbatory fan fiction published as an “official” comic. That didn’t stop them having another go at the anthology format, however, and a bunch of occasional Sandman Presents-branded miniseries kicked off in 1999 with Love Street, a three-parter by Peter K. Hogan which featured a teenage John Constantine and tied briefly into Dream’s imprisonment by Roderick Burgess.
Despite gleefully tearing apart Garth Ennis’ Hellblazer continuity by putting Constantine in London a full year younger than the Ulsterman had posited, it was an enjoyable enough read, and this reader was sufficiently impressed by it – and, more significantly, by some of Hogan’s excellent Dreaming issues – to be excited by the prospect of Marquee Moon, a follow-up set at the height of London’s punk era, again featuring Constantine and his infamous band Mucous Membrane. Sadly, after the initial solicitations, the series was never heard from again, apparently consigned to some cosmic dustbin. Until last year, however, when first the entire script – and then artist Peter Doherty (not that one)’s fully-inked pencils appeared online at Roots of the Swamp Thing (albeit with an accompanying blurb that claims the comic is from 1997, which I believe to be two or three years earlier than the actual date).
And what a great loss the comic – a one-shot, as it turned out, rather than a three-parter – turned out to be. It’s arguably a more entertaining read than Love Street (though not quite the equal of Hogan’s terrific four-part Dreaming story “The Lost Boy”, which I positively urge you to track down), although perhaps that’s because I’m naturally more drawn to a story that features a cameo appearance by the Clash than I am to one rooted in sixties hippy culture. But it turns out to revolve not so much about Constantine (who really gets more of a cameo appearance himself) as it does around spinning out of the single-issue Sandman story “The Hunt”. Telling the story of the “missing link” from that tale – the daughter of Vassily and mother of the unnamed granddaughter – it’s a pleasant surprise that the connection works so well, and in Tamara, Hogan does a good job of creating a strong individual character that shares believable characteristics with both of Gaiman’s originals.
The story itself is perhaps a little straightforward – you’ll be able to figure out the identity of the mysterious other “wolf” long before Tamara does, and it feels like there’s a bit of a jump to get the two characters together that never feels satisfyingly filled in (at what point does he stop being an arsehole? And come to that, what does Vic do so wrong that gets him the “haha, loser” status in the closing “Where are they now?” sequence?). But it’s an enjoyable enough romp through the lives of a ramshackle late ‘70s almost-successful London punk band, and Constantine’s appearance – in full-on twat mode but with an excellent nod to his supernatural savvy – is a joy, even if we have to ignore that Hogan again willfully pitches him as a Londoner rather than the post-Delano Scouser that he really should be.
Doherty’s art, even in black-and-white, is more appealing here than his earlier arc on The Dreaming, although in fairness that might just be partly down to him having to draw less grim subject matter. His characters aren’t always the most pleasant to look at, but he does a good, arrogant young Constantine, and also does a particularly good job of capturing Vassily from Duncan Eagleson’s original. Also, despite his storytelling being a bit one-note and static, he’s a good choice for this by virtue of his skill at getting the various animals to look right – and there’s strong photo-referencing at play for his London locations, even if the same can’t really be said for his Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.
All in all, as ultimately inconsequential as the story is it’s certainly one of the stronger Sandman spinoffs, which makes it all the more baffling that having got a finished script, pencils and inks (the latter courtesy of D’israeli), Vertigo decided against publishing it after the departure of editor Alisa Kwitney. Still, for anyone with an interest in any or all of the Sandman universe, the Hellblazer universe or simply good comics set in punk-era London, there’s plenty to enjoy, and it’s well worth taking a visit to Roots… in order to check it out.