Hellblazer stories never quite seem to work when they’re not based in London (or, at a pinch, Liverpool or Newcastle). There’s no real reason why this should be, but nevertheless, many a writer has fallen foul of the trap of losing momentum on a promising run by shifting geographic location in order to tell more of the sort of story they personally had in mind (it’s why the book should really, in a post-Ennis age at least, only be written by Londoners. Preferably Londoners who originally come from Liverpool. Cough.), and it’s certainly one that Peter Milligan’s done here, with “India”. It’s not been a terrible arc, and it’s had its moments (as well as, at least, being something of a refreshing and eye-opening change of scenery for an American comic), but at times it hasn’t really felt all that Constantineish.
In wrapping it up with this issue, however, he does rediscover a bit of spark – and not just because of all the exposition that handily explains the bits from earlier that were a little tricky to follow. Pushing a storyline in which Constantine’s generally wandered about not really getting a handle on what’s going on – or doing much about it – into its endgame finally allows the character to display more of the attributes that make him. The Phoebe saga has turned Constantine back into something of a down-at-heel mage, unable to function at his best due to the blindness of obsession (something of a reversal, then, of the way Andy Diggle’s run had represented an attempt to return him to his “I know more than any of you ha ha ha” roots) – but here, at least, he’s able to demonstrate that when he puts his mind to it, he’s still a force to be reckoned with. His dispatching of the Colonel Burke demon, in particular, is a classic bit of Constantine lateral thinking, and for some reason it’s simply amusing to see him utter the line “Damned bad show” (and, presumably, with the affected accent that would imply).
In the wake of John’s obsession with Phoebe (now hopefully at an end, although the shock of that character’s all-along intended purpose and lifespan still resonates), meanwhile, it’s good to see a potentially much more interesting character begin to establish herself. It’s another one of those Hellblazer rules that whichever writer comes onto the book will bring with them their own smart-mouthed female sidekick/potential love interest/mild antagonist/all of the above (for example, whatever happened to Mike Carey’s Angie Spatchcock? Or Ennis’ succubus Ellie?), and to begin with, Milligan’s effort – Epiphany – was little more than an annoyance. But she’s developed over the course of this arc, showing genuine concern for – rather than mischievous teasing of – Constantine, and gets to play an important role in its resolution, as well as trading barbs in some of the issue’s wittier moments (although if Milligan’s run has lacked anything so far, it’s been that in general – there’s not been quite enough of the book’s characteristically sharp wit among the darkness). It’s unclear at the end if she’ll be sticking around much longer, but that’s not as unappealing a prospect as it was previously.
Indeed, now this arc – seemingly an important chapter in the overall story Milligan has planned for Constantine, but far from the most essential read in and of itself – is over, things look quite bright. No slight against Giuseppe Camuncoli, who turns in as solid a job as he usually does on this book (although I can’t help but feel the colouring work isn’t quite suited to the tone and feel of the story – it should have been a bit grimier, really – and his version of John is occasionally far too young and handsome-looking), but following his work earlier in the run, I’m excited to see Simon Bisley back next month. Milligan, meanwhile, is yet to set the world on fire, but nor has he really dropped the ball yet, and if the stories have been slightly underwhelming, at least the character work is good. If a slightly more relevant theme or point could emerge, though, it could be even better.