It's been a long time since I last saw John Constantine; strangely enough I stopped reading the series around the same time Delano left all those years ago. I like to put this weird coincidence (him as the writer and me as the reader both finally returning to the character) down to chaos magic, synchronicity grooves and weird voodoos, but that’s just me.Hellblazer: Pandemonium is a true graphic novel. Written by Jamie Delano, who launched the original series, and illustrated by Mark Simpson (aka Jock) this 126-page hardback celebrates 25 years of the character since his first appearance in Swamp Thing. For me, many of the so-called graphic novels on the shelves these days simply don’t warrant such lush formats or are simply over-priced reprints. Hellblazer: Pandemonium meanwhile is a satisfyingly original piece of work, a book you really need to sink your teeth into and one I'd be more than happy to part with my hard-earned cash for.
The story opens with John up to his usual tricks, leeching off of associates and lurking around London. He’s moved with the times it seems, developing a taste for on-line gambling and square mile apartments. Experiencing disturbing, prophetic dreams John wanders a London landscape, omnipresent CCTV cameras following his every move. Our favorite modern magus is soon lured (dick-first mind) into a honey trap by one Aseera Al-Aswari, a Muslim woman with both dubious connections and intentions. John, against his best efforts, is soon whisked away from his safe European home onto the broken streets of modern day Iraq as a “Special Interrogator” on behalf of the secret services. It seems there is a subtle battle in progress over the rich crop of souls the conflict in the country produces, with both Gods and Demons wanting the market share. Into the middle of all this strolls John, who finds himself putting his gambling skills to good use in what can only be best described as the ultimate poker game.
Delano's writing is superb on all fronts. Constantine's internal dialogue - cruel, cynical and humorously - (spelling/grammar) dark is great. I'd forgotten what a loveable, sly bastard he was. While some might find using Iraq as a backdrop slightly obvious these days Delano doesn't over egg the goose, steering away from preaching the political rights and wrongs of the occupation and instead focusing on the impact on the individual. We're seeing this through Constantine's eyes remember. It is what it is; John's stuck in the fuckin' middle and needs an out. I have mixed feeling on the art. I understand this is Jock's first internal work using the technique he usually employs for covers and I’m not sure if it’s a success or not. While I did enjoy the art, which is almost abstract in places, it won't be to everyone’s liking. It’s certainly visceral, and captures the coarse, harsh reality of the environment to great effect.
All in all, even if you’re not a reader of the regular series, I’d recommend picking this up – it’s a solid story celebrating one of the best characters in mainstream American comics.