Hellblazer 234-237: Joyride

Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: DC/Vertigo

I’m something of a newcomer to the exploits of John Constantine, having started off on the stories by Ennis, then followed those with the run by Mike Carey. In the process I came to notice the art by Leonardo Manco on the All His Engines story arc. It was the first real portrait of Constantine that I thought matched Steve Dillon’s. Both artists convey the mix of idealism and cynicism present in Constantine, but Manco gets across a sense of grubbiness that Dillon doesn’t; as if what Constantine’s involved himself in over the years has left its mark. Having heard he’d become the regular artist on the title I decided to give it a whirl, starting with Andy Diggle’s issues, which were also receiving a positive buzz.


Love it or loathe it, the internet is here to stay and for every foul-mouthed screaming nutter, there tends to be a lot of more balanced people online. It’s from these people you find out about stories and titles you may not buy otherwise. So it was with Hellblazer, a lot of people started commenting on Diggle’s writing and Manco’s art. The two together were apparently a winning combination. Still, even allowing for the positive feedback I couldn’t see how Diggle was going to do anything with the character of Constantine given where he was at the end of Carey’s run. The short answer to this mystery can be given by a quote from the Godfather: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. So it is with Constantine, he swore off magic but just can’t resist the call back, especially not when magical abuse is involved, which is the case with this arc.

Having given Constantine his sense of confidence back previously, Diggle has him investigating odd events on a south London housing estate that’s literally falling apart. While looking up an old acquaintance, who turns out to be dead, he decides to hang around and see what happens. Meanwhile a bunch of tearaway teenagers go for a joyride and smash into a buggy, killing the kid in it. The kid’s father goes after the gang and, while in hospital recovering from the resultant beating, he’s made a strange offer. The offer is for him and his wife to move to a village, a new start, all paid for. He isn’t interested – he wants vengeance, he’s told that’s included too. Meanwhile something odd has happened to the gang, the driver doesn’t recall the joyride, and later one of them gets a text from another, meets him and gets a hammer in the head!

Meanwhile to find out what’s going on, Constantine impersonates a police officer and one of the officers finds a lodestone. Back with the gang, one of them has vanished then they find the text message. Elsewhere the couple have moved to the country and it’s all a little too nice. Back in the city Constantine investigates the lodestone and is ripped out of his body, regaining control just in time to avoid a train! He figures that’s as good a declaration of war as any, and obtains further details from a contact at the British Museum.

In the village, things are unfolding in a weird way. Everyone is new and a little too sociable, so what happened to the previous occupants? Despite this the husband is introduced to their benefactor, Lord Burnham. He’s questioned about what happened, and about his need for vengeance. While this is in flow Constantine is locating the lodestone’s origin, which turns out to be the village. In the village, in a cellar is a larger lodestone that enables possession of others from afar, in effect to joyride them. They possess two members of the gang and kill the other, then decide to kill the kid’s sister.

Unfortunately vengeance isn’t the solution the man thought it would be, but when he tries to confess to is wife Burnham is possessing her too. He’s trapped and can’t do anything, until Constantine shows up. They go into the cellar and Constantine is told a mass suicide is planned, that the village is to be blown up. He escapes by use of magic but only just gets out in time as the place explodes. Meanwhile the social turmoil has effectively deteriorated the Hunger Hill estate past the point of no return, and it’s scheduled to be demolished and developed, the developer being a company owned by Burnham who’s also the Housing Minister!

This really is a very dark story, with a darker end, but I get the impression it’s really Diggle’s opening shot and that Constantine is going to be crossing paths with Burnham again; at least I’d hope so. Manco renders everything perfectly, from the atmosphere of the estate and the couple’s initial grief and desperation, through to Burnham’s callous manipulation of them. In the middle of it all though is John Constantine, perpetually hacked off, cigarette always in hand, determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The central concept of joy-riding that drives the story is an idea both inspired and disturbing in equal measure. I don’t recall coming across the notion previously either, yet it’s one of those ideas that as soon as you read it – it seems blindingly obvious. At the same time we’ve a new villain who is a perfect adversary for Constantine, who doesn’t care for the authorities much at the best of times, but especially when one of their number is playing games with people’s lives on a grand scale for their own gain.

Suffice to say I’m now quite hooked on Hellblazer, good as Diggle’s first couple of stories were, they don’t compare to this twisted tale. I can’t wait to see where he takes the title next, although the solicit indicates there might be a change of tone after of these four issues, as Constantine has to deal with the small matter of a smoking ban – oh, that’s going to be good, now when is the next issue out again?

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  • Ben Crofts Ben Crofts is resident in Essex, works in London and has found comics and philosophy mix surprisingly well.