Reviewer: Jesse Baker
Story Title: Hard Time
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Penciled by: Richard Corben
Inked by: NA
Colored by: James Sinclair
Lettered by: Clem Robbins
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Brian Azzarello’s “Hellblazer” run is an interesting duck to say the least. It’s the only run in the series to gain major buzz during it’s original publication (Garth Ennis’s run on the book only became popular after “Preacher” became a big hit and that was after Ennis left the book) and one of the few runs on the long-running “Hellblazer” series to be completely collected in TPB format.
With the upcoming film version (entitled “Constantine” in order to seperate the film from the similarly named “Hellraiser” series), let’s look at the first Azzarello TPB.
The basic plot of this TPB (which is basically the opening chapter to a much larger storyline that runs the entre course of Brian’s Hellblazer run) is that John Constantine is in jail after being convicted of murder. Of course, being a Hellblazer story things are much more complicated than they appear. Constantine is actually innocent, as the friend he was convicted of killing actually committed suicide after Constantine refused to help him deal with an ultra-evil, ultra-vindictive millionaire that he robbed.
So a guilt-riddled Constantine is in jail and basically floating along, using his magic powers and conman skills to keep himself alive while pissing off everyone around him with his trademark arrogance. The story itself reads as a “jump-on” story for new readers, as much of the time is spent on the inmates reacting to Constantine’s antics as he ends up triggering a full-scale canibalism-filled riot .In the end, after hooking himself up to an electric chair and whining some more to an FBI agent who enters the prison to negotiate an end to the riot, Constantine gets convinced to use his power to stop the riot and is allowed to walk away from the prison.
OK, this is the first storyline from Azzarello’s lengthy Hellblazer run and besides serving as an introduction to the character of John Constantine it sets up the basis for the entire Brian Azzarello run. A basis which involves Constantine investigating the reason why his friend killed himself and the mess that follows when Constantine seeks to avenge his friend’s death.
The real star of this TPB though is Richard Corben, who’s artwork gives the story a very gritty feel towards it. Under Corben’s direction, the book has a very distinct early 70s underground comic feel towards it.