Although the brilliant Constantine: The Hellblazer only lasted about a year, John Constantine returns to comic books this month in The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1.
The idea behind the DC Comics Rebirth event is that every character in the DC Universe gets a sort of reset, a new story arc that pretty much disavows what happened in the New 52. For the most part, Rebirth has done a lot to bring excitement back to DC’s superheroes.
However, John Constantine isn’t a superhero, and his story didn’t really need a reset, and therein lies a big problem with The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1.
The writing by Simon Oliver isn’t bad, and it’s likely that the story will improve in later issues. It’s also nice that John returns to his roots here, back to London, and the dialogue and story definitely feel more British. However, the plot behind why John left London in the first place, as well as the explanation about how he managed to return, feels abrupt and forced and doesn’t work with what fans previously knew about the character. The changes here don’t feel as organic as those in other Rebirth titles.
One thing that Constantine: The Hellblazer did well was to acknowledge John’s past with the Justice League subtly: here, it gets thrown in readers’ faces with familiar DC Comics superheroes putting in an appearance in several panels. John never really fit in with the whole Justice League concept, and it still doesn’t feel right here.
There’s also another problem, one that plagued previous iterations of John’s various comic books: there’s a no cursing rule that prevents John from being, well, himself. The little pentagram symbols representing the curse words are still a big letdown for fans who know John from his Vertigo days. It’s not like this is a kids’ book, after all.
Although the artwork by Moritat feels like a throwback to those old Vertigo books, it also doesn’t work as well as the art from the previous Constantine title. It still looks good — and it’s nice to see John looking a lot like Matt Ryan, who portrayed him on television — but it doesn’t feel actually new (but again, that’s perhaps the point with this Rebirth book).
Longtime John Constantine fans will find this issue disappointing, although new readers will probably find some satisfaction. Here’s hoping that things improve for John and this book in future issues, and the chances of that happening are likely.
The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 is available now everywhere comic books are sold and online.