Comic Picks By The Glick

Hellblazer: City of Demons

June 1, 2011

So why run a “Hellblazer” story as a mini-series rather than in the series proper?  Looking at the various ones published over the years, it appears that most of them have a purpose.  From providing a tie-in to the “Constantine” movie (“Papa Midnite”), to celebrating an anniversary (“Pandemonium”), to scouting prospective writers for the series itself (“Lady Constantine,” and “Chas -- The Knowledge.”  And yes, I know that “Chas” writer Simon Oliver hasn’t tackled the series, but he was slated to before an argument about royalties from “The Exterminators” put an end to it.)  After reading this latest mini-series, it leaves me with the hope that artist Sean Murphy will eventually illustrate the regular one on a full-time basis as opposed to seeing Si Spencer write it.

“City of Demons” has John looking for a quiet evening with a pint at a local pub.  What he gets instead is accosted by two young thugs and run over by a car.  The ensuing trip to the hospital has him sorting out some of the local ghosts in his spectral form while his body undergoes surgery.  Though he winds up staying for a few weeks as part of the rehabilitation process, his troubles are only beginning.  Two of the hospitals doctors have gotten their hands on his “demon blood” and are now making plans to utilize it for their own ends.  These ends include infecting normal people with John’s blood and turning them into an army to take over London... and then the world!

And now, a few words about “Hellblazer” continuity:

For years it was something that you generally didn’t have to pay attention to because it was fairly self-contained in each writer’s run.  Sure they’d share characters and plot points, but everything you needed to understand them was always included.  Then Mike Carey took over and showed us that while he may have read Paul Jenkins’ issues, he missed some of the finer details -- like the fact that John doesn’t have “demon blood” in his body anymore.  This, along with his resurrection of other musty, finished bits of continuity like Nergal, drove me nuts and was one of the reasons why I considered his run to be the weakest in the series’ history.  Yes, I know I’m well into “comic book guy” territory, but I own nearly every issue of this series so I tend to take continuity issues a bit more seriously than I do with other titles.

That being said, even if you’re willing to over look the bit about the “demon blood,” this is still a pretty weak “Hellblazer” story.  For all the talk about the blood’s power, we never really get a sense of urgency as to the level of their threat.  That’s partly because the story itself feels quite fractured as it’s always cutting back and forth from John’s antics to the exploits of the people who are infected with his blood.  To be honest, those are some of the strongest parts of the book as they feature some imaginative bits of bloody horror.  Still, “City of Demons” also suffers from some seriously bland antagonists as the doctors masterminding the whole ordeal barely have any personality traits to speak of.  For a title that has produced some memorable villains over the course of its long history (Nergal, The Family Man, The First of the Fallen, Buer, Josh Wright, S.W. Manor... the list goes on) these two are barely worth mentioning.

Fortunately, we’re treated to some very creepy and detailed art from Sean Murphy.  Murphy has his own sharp, angular style that’s distinctive in its own manner and is well-suited to drawing both real-life and supernatural mayhem.  This is best seen as John hangs out with the other ghosts in the hospital, and when one of the infected decides that sticking white hot needles in his eyes isn’t preferable to spending an evening with his fiance's parents.  It’s great stuff, and while I wouldn’t want to see the current team of Guiseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini booted to make room for Murphy, he clearly shows that he’s an artist capable of hanging with the series’ best.

So if you’re looking for some good art in a horror story, then this might be worth picking up.  If you’re looking for a good “Hellblazer” story, then open the inside cover flip to the “Reader’s Guide” and pick a random volume.  Whatever you pick will likely wind up being better than this.

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