There's a stale air constantly surrounding John Constantine. Maybe it's the smell of cheap cologne (or maybe the need for it) and cheaper cigarettes, or maybe it's the odor of death and the supernatural places he's usually mired in. Then again, it could be all those weird word Britishisms he utters such as "sufti" (it means to take a quick look around), combined with his ruffled, just rolled out of bed look. With so many writers and artists handling and mishandling him, you'd expect he'd appear a little rough around the edges and surly in his manner at any given moment. Which suits him and us just fine. It helps cover the fact that, for an occult detective, he sure hates to resort to occult things to work out his problems.
Keep in mind this is the older Constantine, pre-52; the guy in the desperately-in-need-of-a-cleaning tan trench coat. The foul-mouthed guy who smoked too much, complained too much, and looked like sh*t too much because he constantly stepped into it--sometimes on purpose, most times not. He's also the Constantine who moved obliquely through his issues with sarcasm and dry wit and a strong sense of doing what's right first off, or making things right after the fact; although it may take him a little time to get it done. In-between those times the stories continued across issues, like loose threads waiting to pulled, then balled up together with one final effort. Only it never seems to end for Constantine does it?
This collection of issues 23, 24, and 28 through 33 spins his world directly, and adjacent to, the Family Man, a serial killing non-occult monster whose backstory crops up as explanation for his insanity, but we really don't care because he's so vile in what he's doing. Constantine unexpectedly crosses paths with him, doesn't realize it, and before he's onto the trail again he's already botched it badly, giving the killer his next full-course blood-letting.
Issue 23 sets up the Family Man's entry, issue 24 reveals how old friends can become new strangers, and the hunt fully begins in issue 28. Issue 23 is one of the oddest ones in the Constant One's aging run (definitely an issue Neil Gaiman would love). It bumps a real character of Constantine's acquaintance, who he's paying a casual visit to, with fictional characters unhappy with how much of a fictional character's traits said acquaintance has appropriated. Winnie the Pooh and his literary compatriots take action. Another pack of cigarettes is desperately needed to handle the situation, and maybe a few drinks wouldn't hurt, but Jamie Delano's dialog and situations get wilder and wilder. Ron Tiner's heavy lines and grainy scenes are hard on the eyes, but fit Constantine's world so darn well. Fu Manchu (looking very much like Christopher Lee) makes a cameo, as does Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, and a volume's worth of minor characters in the span of 24 pages, with nary a dull panel throughout.
Tiner receives an assist from Kevin Walker in the middle issues, but his pencils look better without the help, and Steve Pugh, Dean Motter, and Sean Phillips take over the art eventually. The differences are noticeable, but not distracting. Dick Foreman guest writes New Tricks for issue 32, wherein a dog and his master reverse roles in a Junk Yard, leaving a few characters in pieces. Bloody ones. I can't tell if it's Pugh's testy habit or the colorist, Ziuko's, failing, but white highlights and white halos around foreground elements kick this dog's story's panels here and there as only 1990s artsy indiscretions could. The play on words here involving "bulldog" and "Drummond," is a saving grace, however.
By issue 30 Constantine's Family Man dilemma is resolved, but issue 31 relates an after effect of one death that needs to be put to rest, and issue 33 is a tough one to figure out for both Constantine and us. It plays like a fill-in between more important issues, but you never can tell with Hellblazer's John Constantine.
And that's a good thing.
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