Sunday, July 25, 2010

Floppies for Trades 3: Hellblazer: Hooked

Hellblazer: Hooked
by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini, and Simon Bisley

So I love me some Hellblazer. I was recently shocked to discover how many issues of this book I have in my collection. It’s been so long since I found it worth reading that I guess I just forgot how very good it was for so very long. When current series writer Peter Milligan came on-board, though, I picked it up again for his first story arc. I quite enjoyed it at first, but the bloom came off the rose fast, and I wandered away from the book again.

I came back to the series recently, though, for Milligan’s Ghost of Sid Vicious story, illustrated in fine form by Simon Bisley, and have stuck around since. It’s not the best Hellblazer ever, but its been entertaining, and poses some interesting moral quandaries for Our Bastard Hero. I’ve been enjoying it enough, in fact, that I decided to go back and pick up the stuff I missed. That more or less starts here, with the Hooked collection.

“Hooked” is a story about addiction. Constantine opens the story with two of them: one to some magical goo he got from Julian (a demon who’s currently wearing the form of a 13-year-old schoolgirl), and another to Phoebe, a good lady doctor with a perverse streak and a wicked sense of humor. Poor ol‘ John‘s head over heels in love with her, and they seem a good match… Except that his black magic bullshit inevitably creeps into the lives of anyone he gets involved with. Phoebe can’t handle that, and has broken up with him.

As per usual with Our John, he attacks both problems at once with lies and subterfuge, and very quickly gets in over his head. Desperate for Phoebe’s love, he goes to Epiphany Greaves (alchemist and daughter of an over-protective London mobster) for a love potion. And now we get to the sticky bastard part. Love potions are a weird fiction staple, and are usually played for laughs. But when you get right down to it, when you take the love potion idea seriously… It’s horrifying. It’s the emotional equivalent of a date rape drug, and Constantine knows it. But he slips it to Phoebe anyway, because he’s hooked on her (and thus the book was named!).

From there, everything spirals out of control. Before it’s all said and done, we’ve got a graveyard full of accidentally-resurrected English noblemen, Our Hero is wanted for murder, and Ephiphany’s mobster dad is screaming for his blood. Very bad things happen to all the wrong people, and Constantine tries to make it right even as he fixes his own problems. It’s all good horrible fun, and pretty entertaining, but it also feels just a tad hollow in the end. Constantine’s scheming keeps me from feeling the depth of his obsession with Phoebe, or the gnawing pain of his addiction. His actions seem too calculated for his desperation to come across properly, and it takes some of the bite out of his predicament.

Even then, there’s still acres of interesting territory to cover in the initial premise: trapped by twin addictions, Constantine’s immediate solution isn’t to beat those addictions, but to spread them around. That, ultimately, is even more bastardly than his use of the love potion would be normally, and I like that nuance. But it kind of gets lost in the shuffle as events escalate in the back half of the story. Granted, everyone involved has more important things to worry about at that point, and John’s obsession with Phoebe does promise to play out further in the next storyline. So I can’t complain too bitterly.

On the artistic side of things, we’ve got the Italian art team of Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini. They have a solid, if mostly unremarkable, style that gets the job done. I like it, more or less. But the final two chapters of this book, both of which are sort of epilogues to “Hooked,” are drawn by Simon Bisley, and those are a horse of a different color. This is a restrained Bisley, doing work that’s far more detailed and realistic than the insanity he’s usually known for. I mean, everything’s still pretty crazy, with big meaty slabs of men and a hypodermic demon that could have come straight off a heavy metal album cover. But for Bisley, that’s restraint. He’s using a very soft grey line and shading; it looks like they’re reproducing his pencils. Whatever’s going on, the look suits him, and the book. As with the Sid Vicious story, Bisley’s art steps the whole production up a notch, and I really wish he could do them all. But such is not the way of monthly comics. Ah well.

Overall, Hooked is an entertaining bit of horror noir. Magic gets done, people get killed, and Constantine walks the fine line between bastard and hero. It’s good pulpy horror writing that aspires to greatness, but doesn’t quite make it. But on Hellblazer, that’s good enough for me.

Grade: B

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