Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 Review: An Appropriately Horrifying Origin Story for DC’s Least-Favored Magician

This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on September 1, 2020.

John Constantine works best when walled away from the standard tropes of DC Comics’ publications. The continuity of Hellblazer’s first volume was an impressive thing, but it never interfered with telling new stories—miniseries and original graphic novels from the era fit into the canon comfortably without any concern for when or how. Emphasis on a specific origin story or central supporting cast don’t do the character any favors either; just maintain the abusive childhood and his best mate Chas. While John may be bigger than life, his life is much more human than the cape wearing protagonists who share comic book shelves. Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 showcases an appreciation for what has allowed the largely amoral magician to continue inspiring new stories of horror and dark fantasy for decades. The debut issue from Black Label may contain the elements of an origin story, but it fits well within the nebulous charms defined by Hellblazer long ago.

Rise and Fall ties John’s present to some of his earliest misadventures—the death of his mother in childbirth and a school days trip resulting in one drowned classmate. These ghosts from the past bubble up when John is pulled into an investigation of winged corpses resembling angels dropping onto London, which reunites him with a fellow survivor of their classmate’s tragic death. These notes build a quick portrait of the character as someone constantly plagued by guilt, preferring to flee its influence than confront past trauma. It’s a familiar element for the character, but also one of his most humanizing foibles, and it makes Rise and Fall #1 function well as a character study. The mystery of dead elites, on the other hand, rests to the side waiting to be explored in future issues and largely disconnected from the events of this issue.

Whether or not writer Tom Taylor successfully manages to intertwine this mystery and its connections to class in England with the rest of this story remains to be seen, but even without that cohesion, Taylor’s debut writing Hellblazer summons plenty of the magician’s charms to the fore. London is a character unto itself filled with long shadows, looming buildings, and a cold wind of apathy summoned by artist Darick Robertson’s depictions. The ghosts of the city are both literal and metaphorical, and together they create the sense that this world is only a shade past our own. Constantine’s internal life is rich and dour with the contrast between his puckish charm and haunted psyche offering readers plenty to consider. These many elements combine to provide a haunting effect perfect for fall reading.

Robertson realizes this even darker vision of London brilliantly. His character’s faces bear shock, pain, and terror in a visceral fashion—one that makes Constantine’s first moments on earth excruciating to witness. Sequences of dark swirling water and bizarre crime scenes don’t require excessive gore to convey the ugliness of these specific moments. Robertson has excelled at infusing the absurd with humanity and the horrifying with hints of reality throughout his career, and his arrival on Hellblazer reads like a perfect fit from page one.

From the reference to a Doctor Delano forward, Hellblazer: Rise and Fall reads as though it could have been lifted directly from the original series’ 300-issue run. It captures the elements of its protagonist and style of storytelling that transformed a supporting character in Saga of the Swamp Thing into a DC Comics icon. There are hints at modern themes and more specific additions to be revealed in later installments, but issue #1 is focused on establishing tone and style above all else, and it succeeds in doing exactly that. Taylor and Robertson, both immense talents, bring their own perspective to this idiosyncratic corner of comics and reveal a clear understanding of what makes it work. Old fans of Hellblazer and new fans of John Constantine alike are bound to enjoy this tale of the magician’s early misdeeds and modern misadventures in a London that feels every bit as dark as the world outside our windows today.

Published by DC Comics

On September 1, 2020

Written by Tom Taylor

Art by Darick Robertson

Colors by Diego Rodriguez

Cover by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez

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