Book Review – The Hellblazer vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire

  • Title: The Hellblazer vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire
  • Author: Simon Oliver
  • Artist: Davide Fabbri, Philip Tan, José Marzán Jr., Karl Kesel, Carrie Strachan, Elmer Santos, Tony Aviña, Sal Cipriano
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: John Constantine, Mercury
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/14/2018

John Constantine and Mercury head to Paris to locate the journal of Jacque Henry, in order to find out more about the D’Jinn. This entire graphic novel is pretty much the search for the McGuffin of Henry’s journal. The flashbacks tell the story of Henry’s journey in the Arabian desert where he encountered the D’Jinn and saw the aftermath of the D’Jinn killing his mate on the same journey. Constantine and Mercury follow leads, fall into traps, and escape while getting closer and closer to the journal. The journal, it turns out, is being guarded by Dante who is guardian to his young sister, Samantha. The D’Jinn go after Dante, but he escapes with Sam and they also go on the run.

Constantine and Mercury eventually meet up with Dante and Sam, but they are followed and confronted by a D’Jinn. Constantine sacrifices himself so Mercury can take the journal, and escape with Dante and Sam. And, of course, Constantine isn’t actually killed by the D’Jinn – he somehow manages to escape, happy to no longer be on the trail of the journal.

Although the summary seems pretty simple, Constantine The Hellblazer is a great book, and this volume, part of DC’s Rebirth line is no exception. I read this story twice and really enjoyed it. I look forward to the next volume.

Please also read my review of The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth.

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Book Review – Bombshells vol. 2: Allies

  • Title: Bombshells vol. 2: Allies
  • Author: Marguerite Bennett
  • Artists: Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Sandy Jarrell, ML Sanapo, Juan Albarran, Marguerite Sauvage, J. Nanjan (colors), Wendy Broome (colors), Jeremy Lawson (colors), Wes Abbott (letters)
  • Characters: Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Mera (Aqua Woman), Zatanna, John Constantine, Amanda Waller, Stargirl, Supergirl (Kara Starikov)
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/23/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Bombshells, a series based on World War II-era Bombshell-style statues (don’t judge), is an incredibly good series. Volume 2 opens with the Smoak family being evicted from their tenement apartment by a racist landlord who doesn’t want Jews and their “illegal immigrant” family in his building. The Batgirls, a group of young women, arrive to help young Felicity and her family escape, taking them to a safe house to start over. I believe this is the first time we’ve seen the CW’s Arrow’s Felicity Smoak in the DC Universe – even if it is in a historical timeline.

The Batgirls are leaving when one spots a corrupt cop, who’s rounding up young children and handing them over to an orphanage for payments. One of the Batgirls recognizes the name of the orphanage as being the one she and her brother were sent to – a prison for kids. She got out and intended to apply for guardianship of her brother as soon as she was old enough. They run into two more young women, both of whom have connections with the orphanage and organize a break-in.

Upon entering the orphanage, they find horrible conditions – children forced to work in a basement sweatshop – creating instruments of war, a headmistress who is a racist xenophobe who supports the Axis and is sending her weapons to them – and a horrific giant war robot to boot. But the Batgirls succeed in releasing all the children. The next day, one of the new Batgirls, Bette Kane, takes her majority at her family’s company – she clears out people like her aunt who ran the evil orphanage, and promises her company will help Gotham – from building real affordable housing to re-settle refugees from the horrors in Europe to helping unfortunates in the city, and beyond.

Meanwhile, in Greece – Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman confront Baroness Paula von Gunther and her Tenebrae troops.

Stargirl learns from her mother who her father really was – a British Lord who did a tour of Russia in 1923. Kortni’s mother met him in St. Peterburg and the two fell in love. But their relationship wasn’t approved of – the young Lord returned to England, and Kortni’s mother was sent to Siberia where she met and fell in love with Kortni’s adoptive father. The flashback panels are beautifully drawn and colored. This comes up because Kortni’s mother has heard from her father and wants her to meet him. Kara feels a bit left out in all this – but wants to be happy for her sister. Kortni, who now knows her name is Courtney Elizabeth Whitmore, meets her father, Samuel Whitmore. But Samuel Whitmore has grown rich by selling arms. Furthermore, he must have had an inkling of his daughter’s existence – because he has a pink princess room for her, filled with toys. Kortni is having none of it, though, because she was an experienced fighter, even before joining the Bombshells. When Whitmore threatens to keep Kortni locked-up to “keep her safe” she rebels and leaves to find her sister.

Meanwhile, Mera is called to investigate a disturbance under the sea – it’s a Kraken-like creature, with god-like powers, and it’s in league with the Tenebrae. Mera fights and nearly loses but is rescued by Supergirl. They proceed to London, along with the other Bombshells to stop the Tenebrae attack on the city (the Tenebrae allies include the Kraken, Edward Nygma, the Baroness, and the like). Even Zatanna helps, although still stuck in the Joker’s Cabaret in Berlin – with encouragement from rabbit-form John Constantine, using her magic to win the battle for the Allies. The Bombshells succeed – but not without cost. Mera is missing, presumed dead, and also lost her powers by attacking the Titan Kraken, Kortni sacrifices herself to save her sister, and although Zatanna’s spell works – she and John are caught by the Joker’s daughter. At first, it appears she strangles rabbit-John. But John is rescued – and both he and Zatanna lose their powers.

Bombshells is a wonderful book – great story, great takes on the characters, a wonderful ode to female empowerment. But the book also has beautiful art throughout, especially on the full-page splash pages, and incredible, incredible color. I’m enjoying this series very much.

Highly recommended.

Read my review of Bombshells vol. 1: Enlisted.

Book Review – Bombshells vol. 1: Enlisted

  • Title: Bombshells vol. 1: Enlisted
  • Author: Marguerite Bennett
  • Artists: Marguerite Sauvage (Art and Colors), Laura Braga, Stephen Mooney, Ted Naifeh, Garry Brown, Bilquis Evely, Mirka Andolfo, Ming Doyle, Sandy Jarrell, ML Sanapo, Marc Derring, Wendy Broome (colors), Doug Garbark (colors), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colors), Wes Abbott (letters)
  • Characters: Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Mera (Aqua Woman), Zatanna, John Constantine, Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Stargirl, Supergirl (Kara Starikov)
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/08/2018

“I would do the right thing. I cannot sit idle, awaiting the next blow… I would not be indifferent to the suffering of strangers.” – Wonder Woman

DC Comics’ Bombshells is awesome. This is the first volume of the series, and I certainly hope there is more because I absolutely loved it! The simplest way to describe Bombshells is that it’s like an alternate reality Birds of Prey set in World War II, but with Amanda Waller in charge (as in Suicide Squad; rather than Oracle/Barbara Gordon being in charge as in Birds of Prey). This particular volume is all about set-up, showing our women as heroes in their own right before being recruited by Amanda, or finding their way to Amanda’s “Bombshells” group. Kate Kane is the Batwoman, interpreted a bit too literally as she is on the Gotham Knights Women’s Baseball team, and in her off time she beats-up criminals in Gotham with her baseball bat. Interestingly enough, she also saved the Waynes, preventing Mr. Wayne from being killed by a street thug. Kane is, also, as in the current DC continuity, a lesbian. Kate also inspires a very young Barbara Gordon to become a heroine, since she witnesses her actions.

Wonder Woman’s origin is the traditional one, Steve Trevor, an American spy, crashes on Paradise Island, and despite the warnings of her mother, Diana decides she must join him and fight great evil in the war against Hitler’s intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and racism. It’s Diana who recruits Mera, the “Aqua Woman”. Steve informs Amanda, and she asks the two to join her Bombshells group.

Meanwhile, Amanda has already sent Kate into the lion’s den in Europe to find out more about La Contessa Selina Digatti – The Catwoman. It’s Alexander Luthor who picks up Kate and takes her to the Contessa’s party, all the time trying to convince Kate how war is good for business but that America shouldn’t challenge Hitler. Luthor basically is just as xenophobic and racist as ever.

In Russia, two very special women are joining the “Night Witches” – female Russian pilots who specialize in night raids. These two women, Star Girl (Kortni Duginovna) and Super Girl (Kara Starikov), have special powers – Star Girl with her staff of power and Supergirl basically like the Supergirl we know: super strength, immune to bullets, the ability to fly. The two, however, discover that the “enemy camp” they were sent to destroy is actually a Russian Prison Camp for political prisoners staged to look like a Nazi forward camp. They realize this and stop the attack, then discover their own parents in the camp. The women’s father had been a scientist and cosmonaut and now was speaking out against a particular general who was too zealous in his persecution of anyone who disagreed with what the Russian government was doing. Unfortunately, they are attacked during their escape attempt and the women’s father is recaptured. Supergirl, Stargirl, and their mother escape and find the English ship where Mera is meeting with Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller. Diana, Wonder Woman, is also nearby, but in custody, because she insisted on a group of captured Nazi soldiers stand trial rather than be executed by Steve’s men immediately. Amanda has her doubts about recruiting two Russians, and the Russians do not want to wear a uniform of American iconography, but one gets the feeling all that will be worked out and the two recruited as Bombshells.

Zatanna is trapped in Germany, working at a Cabaret, run by the Joker’s daughter. John Constantine is in the audience, though he is turned into a rabbit (who talks, smokes, and whose yellow fur resembles his trench coat). The Germans have raised a demon, who asks for the dead in return. The demon can make zombies. John both warns Zatanna of the dangerous supernatural “stuff” going on, and encourages her to escape Germany. Zatanna has no love for the Germans – but she’s trapped, in no small part because with a Jewish mother and Romani father – she’s dead without the Joker’s daughter’s protection.

Speaking of the Joker, Harley Quinn is working as a psychiatrist, when she learns “Mr J” may be alive. She meets up with Poison Ivy and the two set off to find him.

I loved this book! The art is truly beautiful. The writing is strong and meaningful. The story is very much an introduction to all the characters and their own environments and theaters in what will no doubt be a very far-reaching story. I just simply loved it and I want more. I hope future bound volumes are forthcoming.

Comics these days are very much a cross-medium media, with ideas from films and animated media crossing over into on-going books, and ideas from books becoming animated and live-action movie, and Bombshells is no different, as the origin of this series was actually a series of collectible statues of well-known DC female heroes done in the style of World War II pin-up girls. And while some of the art has that style – this is not an exploitative series at all! It’s brilliant – these are all strong women in extraordinary circumstances who will no doubt be fighting the war just as men would. I think it helps considerably that not only is the first volume written by Marguerite Bennett, one of comics’ most talented female writers, but the art and colors are also, for the most part, by women. This no doubt put a check on any possible exploitative aspects of the story, given the inspiration, and gave power to these extraordinary female characters.

Highly Recommended, and I simply cannot wait to get more!

Book Review – The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth

  • Title: The Hellblazer vol. 1: The Poison Truth
  • Author: Simon Oliver
  • Artist: Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Sal Capriano
  • Line: Rebirth
  • Characters: John Constantine, Chas, Mercury, Swamp Thing, Abby, Clarice
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/15/2017

The Hellblazer vol. 1 The Poison Truth collects The Hellblazer Rebirth and the first six issues of Hellblazer. The opening story has John Constantine returning to London, a city that’s deadly to him because of a curse. With some last minute assistance from Mercury, a psychic, John is able to defeat the demon and lift his curse. There’s a dicey bit where the curse affects all the people in London, but John is able to reverse it. Now, permanently in London, John is living with his friend, Chas, and his wife. Swamp Thing calls in a marker with John and gets his friend, Mercury, to travel to The Rot to seek out Abby – avatar of the rot. With Swamp Thing as Avatar of the Green, they travel to the Rot. This poisons Swamp Thing, though Mercury is able to travel through a wormhole to another dimension. Trying to find Abby, she fails in that but finds a Djinn instead.

Meanwhile, John visits Clarice, who warns him he’s wanted – later we find out she’s also working with a Djinn, and the Djinn want Constantine.

This book has some truly remarkable art – I love the colors, and how the colors reflect each world. Mercury and Chas are interesting foils for Constantine – though I think his character needs even more people around him. Swamp Thing’s view of the world – as three plains of existance: the Green, the Red, and the Rot; or the worlds of Nature, living beings, and all dead creatures, is fascinating – as is his trip through the Rot, and Mercury’s failed attempt to find Abby (avatar of the Rot). But London has it’s own color scheme, Swamp Thing’s pages have their own color scheme, and Mercury’s trip to another place looking for Abby has it’s own pastel colors. Meanwhile, Clarice is working with a Djinn and trying to unite London’s mobsters.

I did have to read the book twice because parts of it were somewhat confusing, but it’s a good start, and I will certainly look for the next volume. Recommended.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 4: The Apocalypse Road

  • Title: Constantine vol. 4: The Apocalypse Road
  • Author: Ray Fawkes
  • Artist: Edgar Salazar
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/07/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Constantine Volume 4: The Apocalypse Road is the fourth and unfortunately, final volume of the New 52 Era John Constantine (Hellblazer) comics and graphic novel series. Fortunately, Constantine has been introduced again in DC Rebirth – but the first graphic novel collection of the newest series won’t be available until April. DC has, however, also collected the various Vertigo Constantine stories – so there is more to look for coming or available if you like the character and want to see different takes on him.

This story picked up after the cliffhanger from the last volume. John finds himself on an alternate Earth – an Earth where “John Constantine” isn’t a Mage of the Third (or as John says in this volume) Fourth Order. Rather, this alternate John is a rock musician. Mage John’s parents and his friends are still alive as well. Mage John is shocked by all this. However, no one is likely to survive for long – this alternate reality’s Earth has been invaded by aliens, aliens using an atmospheric gas to produce feelings of doom, depression, and helplessness to make it easier to subdue the population. And once that is done, the planet will be turned over to Darkseid to destroy at his leisure.

As John’s coming to terms with that, and meeting himself and his friends, and seeing his other path as potentially better but doomed – they realize he is a mage. At first full of anger, everyone from John’s parents, to his friends, to the other version of John, begs him to help them escape. Reluctantly, John agrees, but explains that Magic Always Has A Price. Unfortunately, no one really understands what that means. Mage John ends up paying a terrible cost, and makes a horrific sacrifice. However, his spell works and nearly everyone makes it back to our Earth. Unfortunately, Darkseid follows. John then pulls out the second spell in his pocket, metaphorically speaking. With it he manipulates Darkseid and saves our Earth. Again, the costs are very high.

At times this last graphic novel in the series felt a bit rushed; as if, knowing the series was cancelled they tried to wrap-up any loose ends. But it’s still one heck of a roller coaster ride and nothing that happened felt out of character. In fact, some of the darkest moments of the book were that devastating because they felt so realistic to the characters and their behavior. I highly recommend Constantine both this book and the entire series, and it’s companion series, Justice League Dark.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire

  • Title: Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire
  • Author: Ray Fawkes
  • Artist: ACO, Jay Leisten, Edgar Salazar
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/26/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This is the second time I’ve read Constantine Volume 3: The Voice in the Fire and I enjoyed it very much. The novel opens with John Constantine in a mental battle with Spellbinder. This is a battle John wins, getting Spellbinder secretly on his side in his on-going battle against The Cold Flame. However, we also discover how John became a mage in the first place and just what it cost him. John has been through some horrible experiences. Yet, he helps another magician to confront her demons, then helps the “demon” to realize his missing girlfriend has always been there waiting for him.

Technically, Constantine is supposed to be “recruiting” for the Cold Flame – in reality he’s trying to get as many mages and magic users secretly under his wing as possible to challenge and destroy the Cold Flame. And so John goes to Hong Kong to confront Graceful Moon. She draws her power from luck and good fortune – but her secret, magical empire has drained the luck and fortune of everyone in Hong Kong – making it an extremely unlucky place to live. The sequences in Hong Kong have some of the most amazing and colorful art. It’s truly beautiful. Constantine manages to defeat Graceful Moon and reverse her fortunes.

John then travels to a very dark, dense forest in Germany – to confront werewolves. That’s not really why he’s there, but it’s what happens. John’s also discovered that Zatanna has cast a spell on him to make him a better person. He attempts to have the spell removed.

However, just as the mage will cast the spell to remove Zatanna’s influence from John – at the Temple of the Cold Flame, Tannarak casts Papa Midnight’s “kill switch” spell to destroy Constantine. When both spells hit they cause John a lot of pain – but neither does what it’s supposed to – Constantine is hurled back in time to World War I where he meets an old mentor. The mentor tries to send him back, and sends Constantine to his own future instead. There, having seen a magical war – Constantine confronts and overturns Dr. Fate – taking his helmet.

As sketchy and episodic as The Voice in the Firesounds – I liked it a lot. Each of the stories was good. They were well-written and made sense in and of themselves and as part of a larger whole. The mages from issue 1 of Constantine are still serious threats (Tannarak and Sargon – and with Mr. E taunting Constantine from within the Moon Sword); and the magical war is a constant threat too. But these stories are tied together by filling in Constantine’s background. The more we learn the more it becomes apparent just what sort of horrible events John’s experienced. And this makes John a fascinating and sympathetic character despite his faults. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 2: Blight

  • Title: Constantine vol. 2: Blight
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Justice League Dark, Zatanna
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/21/2016

John Constantine is a fascinating anti-hero and a guy who just can’t win. Blight as a graphic novel is a little hard to follow because it ties in with other titles – some of which I’ve read, such as Justice League Dark and some I haven’t. The book opens with Constantine apparently having a nightmare – but then we learn that everything in his magical vault has been taken from him. The three evil magicians from Volume 1 are back: Sargon, Mr. E, and Tannarak. They are travelling the world offering independent magic users a choice: join the Cult of the Cold Flame or die and have their magic and very life absorbed by whichever magician confronts them. Constantine offers to join the Cult, but keeps his mind free by a little slight of hand with the Cult’s drugged wine. He then uses the one artifact of his (the Moon Sword) that the Cult hasn’t destroyed to absorb it’s magic to kill Mr. E – but instead of absorbing his magic himself, luckily Sargon and Tannarak take it instead. With Mr. E trapped in the Sword, Constantine asks to be filled in on everything. However, just then, Shazam (Billy Batson) touches Pandora’s Box (in events not depicted in this story).

The next volume opens with the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League from a parallel Earth) having taken over, our Justice League Heroes having disappeared, and a magic-dampening field having made it impossible for Constantine to track down his Justice League Dark or any magic users – good, evil, or indifferent. He and his new League, including Swamp Thing, Pandora, Nightmare Nurse, and Phantom Stranger are all John has now to fight Blight.

The next volume has John and his new allies brought to the border of Heaven where they encounter a ticked off Spectre and John has a weird conversation with God, who looks like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. After their conversation, the Angel Zauriel follows Constantine to Earth and John binds him in a circle in the House of Mystery. How Zauriel helps to defeat Blight is a story found in Justice League Dark and possibly other collections.

The next volume in this book has John and his new Justice League Dark in Nanda Parbat. There John discovers all the magic users are trapped in a magical torture machine, the Thaumaton Machine – behind this is Felix Faust and John’s one-time mentor and friend (now bitter enemy) Nick Necro. There’s a flashback explaining the background of Nick, John, and Zatanna, including the spell that ties the three together. Constantine and Necro fight both physically and using magic – it seems Constantine will win – when Swamp Thing explodes in the house and John is suddenly about to be sent to a very bad place. – along with every one else. And that’s the end of the book.

Constantine vol. 2 Blight is a good graphic novel, the art is incredible and the characterization is really good. However, the one negative is it’s a bit hard to follow – it’s intertwined to another story and it’s just becomes a bit frustrating to have stories disappear into the ether. Some are picked up in the Justice League Dark graphics, but some were covered in other books, I suppose. Still it’s well worth reading to pick-up some more detail in the battle against Blight and to defeat the Crime Syndicate and return the Justice League to Earth.