Hellblazer #194 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling
Story title: Ward 24

Written by: Mike Carey
Art by: Leonardo Manco
Coloured by: Lee Loughridge
Lettered by: Clem Robins
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Vertigo/DC

Last issue John Constantine managed to save the world by using our old friend Swampy as a diversion to the Devil so allowing his niece and her friends to launch the counterattack (all of which acts as a nice segue into the new, excellent Swamp Thing series). However as all good turns deserve another at the end of the issue we saw that Constantine fresh from his confrontation with the Devil in hell has lost his memory. We rejoin him walking round a shell-shocked London recovering from the events of the last arc trying to piece together his life. Of course when faced with the gloriously efficient and professional British public services he soon ends up where he belongs.

There’s a definite change of pace this issue with the quasi-superheroic tone of the cosmic crossover battle with the Devil replaced with a more claustrophobic, naturalistic and horror tone. This is largely due to Carey deciding to focus on Constantine’s struggle to put his life together again with Carey’s characterisation being very effective in showing the emptiness, confusion and fear that his amnesia has brought him. This is added to by the evocative picture of decay and chaos that Carey brings to the emergency ward where Constantine ends up; with the abundance of patients, the overworked staff and Constantine’s fellow patients (with one in particular) creating a truly horrific place in an entirely naturalistic sense. Not that the supernatural is ever far away with Carey subtly and expertly hinting at some supernatural force in the background then bringing it crashing into the foreground in a wonderfully realised and malevolent (if a tad predictable) scene that acts as an excellent cliff-hanger. In many ways the writing is an improvement over the last couple of issues with the less bombastic nature of the scenario forcing Carey’s scripting and characterisation to be tighter than previously whilst the lack of the most evil thing in creation makes him have to graft for his spine-tinglers.

However, the improvement in the writing is nothing compared to the improvement in the art. Whilst I have nothing against Frusin in fact I quite enjoy his art the lack of detail in his art was beginning to seriously and negatively affect his ability to correctly and effectively convey any characterisation or other nuances in the script (also does the world (or Vertigo for that matter) need another Risso clone?). Manco on the other hand has quite a traditional style in the vein of David Lloyd with a naturalistic, detailed approach to his linework. This is coupled with some simple yet excellent characterisation Manco uses the very things that Frusin often overlooked i.e. facial mannerisms such as the eyes and the mouth to give the reader a full picture of what’s going in the mind of the character. In addition he has suitably grim attitude to backgrounds and a very claustrophobic approach to page layouts to make me wish that he was the permanent artist on this title.

This is a very good issue that marks a total departure from the cosmic nature of the past couple of issues to a more intimate horror. There’s a heavy focus on Constantine, which is good as he’s always an enjoyable character. Whilst there’s a lack of action in this issue with the majority of the issue given to exploring his amnesia and setting up the serve at the end the writing remains tight and never feels padded. Couple this with very effective art and you have a very good issue that just maybe may save this title from my monetary enforced cull of my pull list…

(Looks at bank balance)

Okay it won’t but that’s nothing against this comic, which you of all (with money) should be reading.