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The Hellblazer Collection

by: Wes

Born with a left eye that sees ghosts, demons, angels, and other assorted nasties that normally go unnoticed by the average Joe and lacking the guidance of a post-mortem Bruce Willis, a young John Constantine attempted to take his own life in order to escape the otherwordly horrors he glimpsed on a daily basis. He survived, but for his attempted suicide -- suicide being a mortal sin and all -- Johnny boy was damned to Hell, even though he's still alive and could theoretically redeem himself. So in an attempt to do just that, Constantine selfishly goes around blasting demons with a holy shotgun and various weapons of divine origin with intent to buy his salvation with the corpses of the damned. Adding to the urgency of his plight, he also smokes thirty cigarettes a day and is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer during the course of the film. Yay!

But this isn't a review of Constantine the movie -- this is a review of Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection, the main draw of which is the "official comics adaptation" of the film. I haven't seen the film. In fact, I don't intend to see the film at all, at least not until it ends up in Walmart's $5.50 DVD bin. Because while I can't speak for the original comics on which Constantine was based, I can sincerely say that the official comics adaptation sucked. And when the comic adaptation of a movie based on a comic sucks -- and I mean harder ''Whoa... cold.''than the vampires that the titular character apparently faced at one point in the comics -- it's safe to say that the movie isn't going to win any prizes either. I have no doubt that the Hellblazer series probably aren't too bad -- after all, in that brutal world of comics, John Constantine proved interesting and popular enough for the WB execs to greenlight a film about him -- but things must necessarily be left out when retelling the comic's story in two hours or less. Every now and then the films actually manage to retain something of the spirit of the comic and the heart of the characters -- like in the amazing Spider-Man 2 -- but more often than not the characters and story become scattered shells on a beach where CGI special effects represent sand and trailer-selling sound bytes replace the chirping of the gulls and the wash of the waves. But beneath these transparent sensory robes, the films are hollow, and that emptiness is painfully apparent when the story is translated back into its original medium and stripped of its silver screen enhancements.

So while the original comic may have been great -- spectacular, even -- if the film's only redeeming quality is its special effects, the old adage and programming rule generally holds true for the comic adaptation: garbage in, garbage out. Such is the case with Constantine. I'm not going to spoil the entire story for you, but suffice it to say that it's pretty horrid. In addition to the oh-so tragic deaths of Constantine's friends who, before their untimely demises, appear in roughly two panels each -- maybe they get more screentime in the movie, I dunno -- it strikes me as utterly ludicrous that major players would be so utterly ignorant of the rules of the universe. Constantine's trying to buy his way into Heaven with DEMON BLOOD, which, as the archangel Gabriel points out in bluntly telling him, "You're fucked," (yes, Gabriel is not only in the story, but uses foul language to boot!) is most certainly not the way through the pearly gates. Balthazar appears in the film, too, and at one point Constantine, before killing him, threatens to give him the last rites and thereby secure his admittance into Heaven -- a fate he does not want -- in order to gain his compliance. But apparently one has to ask for forgiveness too, so Constantine was just bluffing! Oh ho ho! But seriously, I'd think a fucking demon -- and especially one of Balthazar's rank -- would know something like that. And then when things get so muddled that it seems nothing could possibly tie up all loose ends and force a non-apocalyptic conclusion, a deus ex machina of the infernal variety is employed as Satan himself appears, barefoot and wearing a white suit, and promptly halts armageddon and removes the cancer from Constantine's body. Say it with me: "What the fuck?"

''I see dead people.''Still, even for a comic adaptation of what's probably a crappy movie, Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection was a pretty lazy outing. For starters, THE BLOODY CHARACTERS ROUTINELY REFER TO EARLIER SCENES THAT WERE NEVER DEPICTED IN THE COMIC. Now even in a film, this borders on unforgivable, but at least it makes sense there -- after all, many filmed scenes are left on the cutting room floor in post-production, and if later, necessary scenes featured references to those scenes that could not reasonably be edited out (and there wasn't the time or money to re shoot those scenes minus said references), a production team may be forced to release the movie with these references to absent scenes intact. It sucks, sure, but we can always hope for the extended DVD release. However, in a comic, there's absolutely no excuse for that sort of thing, especially given that all references to the nonexistent scenes take place in speech bubbles that could easily have been edited to contain dialogue that did not refer to events that were not depicted in the comic book. Hell, I would've preferred that they replaced all such instances with the word "whoa". Given that Constantine was drawn to look like Keanu Reeves -- a feat that apparently received more attention than anything else in this half-assed adaptation -- it would have been most appropriate.

Much like Constantine himself, however, despite being pretty awful, the book does apparently try to redeem itself. In addition to the film adaptation and an four-page introduction to the character of John Constantine -- which actually ends up being the best thing about the book -- the collection includes "three classic Hellblazer stories" by Neil Gaiman, Jaime Delano, and Garth Ennis. Now, this is all well and good, but since these stories are actually reprintings from the Hellblazer comics and aren't really standalone pieces, without knowing what came before and after in terms of story they ring pretty hollow. For example, I'm sure it was a big deal when Constantine was diagnosed with lung cancer in the comics, but without having seen him as this kickass demon fighting bastard, this development, much like its counterpart in the film's story, means little without the contrast that would make such vulnerability resonate with the reader. Moreover, two of the stories don't even reach a conclusion in this collection, sticking the reader with cliffhangers and advising him/her to pick up the other recently released Hellblazer graphic novels in order to find out how these episodes end! So while these additions might be a nice touch for a Hellblazer fan, for the novice reader they ultimately smack of the same flaw that tainted Constantine's actions. Sure, he killed demons, but he did so in order to buy his way into Heaven -- not because he wanted to do the right thing. Similarly, here, it's apparent that these additional stories are included not primarily to give the reader a more intimate acquaintance with John Constantine -- for that, they might have reprinted the issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing (yes!) in which Constantine first appeared -- but to sell the other graphic novels released alongside the film. And since ol' Scratch isn't here to revitalize Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection, like the titular character at the onset of the story, it's fucked.

-- Wes --

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