Hellblazer #191 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling
Title: Staring at the Wall – Pt. 3 of 5

Written by: Mike Carey
Art by: Marcelo Frusin
Colored by: Lee Loughridge
Lettered by: Clem Robins
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC/Vertigo

In the first two parts of this storyline we saw Constantine organise a group of psychics to defeat the Shadow Dog who has been stalking his girlfriend’s brother. However, it turns out that he’d been tricked, as the in-law was just a host for the real danger, a danger that the Shadow Dog had been trying to protect the world from. We leave with Constantine’s enemy unveiled, mocking him for being arrogant and naïve.

This charge dominates the issue with friends/allies chiding him for his arrogance and his enemy mocking him for it. Carey uses the reactions of those involved in the ill-judged séance, of his girlfriend, of his spectral ally (being new with this arc I have no idea who he is) and his enemy to broach the question that has dominated superhero comics since Watchmen. Namely, do (super) heroes fight for good or for ego?

Carey pulls no punches in asking and answering this question. Showing how Constantine reacts to his mistake with an additional challenge for him to overcome to be the hero of the hour, only to discover the rug being pulled from underneath him by his erstwhile allies. Carey shows this with flashbacks to the aftermath of the séance where we see the allies of Constantine each take their pot shots at him with both the spectre and his girlfriend drawing blood in well written exchanges. He also shows Constantine’s current situation, which is predictably most men’s refuge from trouble, getting hammered at the pub.

However, in a clever move Carey does not allow the issue to mimic Constantine in focusing entirely on him. Instead, Carey commits his dissection of Constantine’s character amid the backdrop of the consequences of his actions, all of which continue the hints given at the end of 190 that the threat he faces is his worst yet. We see scores of people being possessed, and being used either for the villain to flex his muscles or more often to taunt Constantine.

Carey’s grasp on the character of Constantine is impressive, being able to show him in an extremely unfavourable light by how stupid his actions were, the arrogance of his immediate reaction and his eventual decision to drown his sorrows away whilst still portraying a likeable character. This is down to the loveable cockney rogue quality that Constantine, which Carey is able to capture in Constantine, mostly due to his apt dialogue.

Carey’s storytelling is excellent with him juggling the multiple threads in this story expertly with the flashbacks subtly introduced. He also excels in the introduction of the villain, whose identity he has been hinting at all the way through. Whilst its not the most original of villains, Carey delivers a memorable (if traditional) version that makes a convincing, leering and gloating Goliath to Constantine’s David. The villain is a perfect foil to Constantine and it’s completely believable that he is able to get underneath his skin so quickly and easily.

In this Carey is aided by Frusin, who improves this issue to deliver art that rises above its Eduardo Risso influence. Frusin seems more at home in depicting the demonic, delivering atmospheric depictions of demonic possession and a fantastic rendition of the villain. He also has added more detail to his linework in regards to humans, which increases his ability to convey Carey’s characterisation. The best example of this is Constantine in the pub, where you can just see the lines etched all across Constantine’s face.

A special note should also go to Loughridge’s colouring, which manages to correctly…er colour a variety of different locations requiring a varying colouring tone. He also shifts his palette for the flashback, an excellent move that stops there being any confusion between past and present.

A good issue, as Carey allows the gothic/magic mumbo jumbo (which he does well) to take a back seat as he delivers a characterisation heavy issue showing Constantine almost drowning amid the condemnation raining on him from all-sides and introducing a brilliantly characterised enemy.