Monday, April 13, 2009

Hellblazer - Dangerous Habits (Ennis Vol. 1)

Hellblazer - Dangerous Habits
By Garth Ennis

Let’s make this clear up front: Everything I know about John Constantine I know about from the Garth Ennis run. I hadn’t followed the series at the time I began to pick up these issues. Still don’t follow it. Hadn't yet read his initial appearances in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, either. Hell, Ennis, best known for his beloved Preacher series, might write Constantine way off character. I just don't know. All I know is, for me this is John Constantine. So take that into consideration as you read this.

Great as this run was -- and we'll get into why when I write about later volumes -- it doesn't start very strong. Dangerous Habits is a solid first arc marred by awful artwork. Here, Ennis sets up pieces he’ll play with for the duration of his run, most notably a bit of trickery with the Devil himself. Constantine finds out he has lung cancer. (Big surprise there, considering he's a bloody chain smoker.) He’s dying. He drinks, searches for a way out of it, drinks, comes to grips with dying, drinks, and makes a deal with the Devil. Sort of.

Despite Constantine already having a dense history in place by the time this starts, Ennis’ first arc is easy to dive into. You don’t need to know all sorts of back story. Who and what Constantine is is readily apparent. He's a grumpy Englishman who knows a thing or two about the supernatural. Easy. From the start you’re up to speed and following along without a hitch. This is a big plus for new readers. Good introductory volume.

The art is rotten, though. I’m sure the fine Will Simpson is well suited for a great many books, but this is not one of them. His storytelling chops are good, dare I say excellent compared to some of today's pretty-but-incoherent art, but his figure work is ugly through and through. I mean, honestly, this stuff is uglu.

Good, solid story, though. A classic? Maybe not. Compared to what comes later it a bit uneven. Weak spots and unsteady pacing keep it from being the gripping, tense read it could have been. It doesn't help that a bit near the end with a fellow cancer patient rings rather false.

Still, Ennis hits most of the right notes and gives us a plausible (for a title rooted in magic) out for the problems he sets up. Good start to what develops into an excellent run. Even better, this bookends nicely with the final volume in Ennis’ run. But more on that in a later post. Fine reading, this.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at and was also featured at

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