Overview

Hellblazer #232

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Hellblazer #232

Credits

  • Words: Andy Diggle
  • Art: Leonardo Manco
  • Inks: Leonardo Manco
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Story Title: Wheels of Chance, Systems of Control Part 1
  • Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: May 23, 2007

Andy Diggle’s second storyarc begins with John returning to an old-school haunt, although the place has a new look and a decidedly new purpose…or does it?

As with any opening chapter in a John Constantine tale, God only knows what’s really going on by the end of the issue. Here’s the general feel of what does specifically happen: John is staying at a very posh hotel, where he’s bleeding dry the casino within by "surfing the synchronicity wave," futzing with perception, and overall using his abilities as a con man and a magus toward some purpose far more nefarious than becoming rich (I mean, he’d have to be – otherwise what an odd story this would be!). The true identity of the hotel is revealed at the end, heralding in…well, that’s where it gets muddy and hard to predict.

The story is – as with Diggle’s first arc – well told, if not terribly reaching. Diggle’s first two issues comprised a surprisingly satisfying if un-ambitious little ditty, nicely atmospheric with an old-fashioned Eerie-style underlying concept, though with very Diggle-ish execution – overly wry, set-up dialogue that I personally disliked though I know others do enjoy. "Wheels of Chance, Systems of Control," then, seems to be the beginning of Diggle’s focus for his run, with John’s past coming back to the fore and the plot looking to veer into important, perhaps character-altering territory, which is a thing readers haven’t had since Carey’s run wrapped up.

A disappointing aspect to this issue is Diggle’s use of magic, which is excessively ambiguous; he allows John to manage feats of impossibility with only the vaguest explanations to accompany such moments, with the magic used inhibited only by the writer’s wishes rather than any sort of concrete system. The events, however, are tightly woven and self-contained while moving towards something bigger and perhaps even momentous on the horizon.

The most troublesome aspect, though, is that now – with this third issue – Diggle’s John has yet to come around as an honest character. Diggle’s grasp of the creepy and the con are strong, but his grasp of Constantine is thus far non-existent. The quips are there, as is the overbearingly caustic attitude, but these are nothing but the shell of the great English icon. While no one can fault Diggle for kicking things off with a plot-oriented short, due to so few writers ever bothering to explore Constantine beyond his exterior eccentricities, three issues gone without anything more makes me worry that Diggle will fall into this unglamorous camp of Hellblazer scribe. That fear stated, the reveal at the end of this issue may bring something solid and affecting soon; the following issue or two will ultimately tell.

Leonardo Manco continues on with his run, which looks to be as possibly long-running as Bagley’s over on Ultimate Spider-Man (we can only hope!). This issue is as perfectly suited to John’s world as all Manco’s previous. In fact, this issue is by far the very best Manco has achieved on Hellblazer; something in the script seems to have inspired him to put forth the very best storytelling layouts I’ve yet seen from the man, as well as an overall ambiance and architecture that’s somewhere between Jae Lee gothic and a photorealistic impression. It’s gorgeous, foreboding, and coupled by brilliantly subdued colors by Lee Loughridge, Constantine has never looked better or more apt.

Next issue, I think, will be the true ice-breaker, or rather the camel’s-back-breaker, as the resolution of this issue’s cliffhanger should give a clear idea of where Diggle intends to go, and hopefully bring him to focus more on John as an actual flesh-and-blood being rather than just the cardboard-cutout silhouette that’s inspired so many a lesser knock-off copycat. Still, while Constantine’s character seems thin, and the magic utilized slim, "Wheels of Chance, Systems of Control" is just as solid as the past two issues in terms of simple storytelling content, and that’s far from a bad thing. I hope for more, but could be content with less.

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