Hellblazer: Rise & Fall #1 Review

by Nick Devonald on September 01, 2020

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colours: Diego Rodriguez
Letters: Deron Bennett

Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 is the start of a three part miniseries for DC’s Black Label. We’ve absolutely loved the recent Hellblazer run from Simon Spurrier here at CTG, and as a long time fan of the Vertigo series have been excited to delve into more John Constantine. The first thing which was a little jarring was the continuity. It’s not part of the current series, case in point being Chas is very much alive and well. Which is fine, except why bring a character back to his bare roots and reinvent him to be more in line with the original and most successful version of the character only to ignore it for a second series? But perhaps that’s merely nitpicking, and since comics regularly change continuity or aren’t canon etc etc we should ignore that and take the story at face value. And if we do that it’s a good, fun outing very much in the spirit of John Constantine. Only it feels more like DC’s New 52 John than the classic Vertigo or newer Black Label Constantine.

It’s also apparent that it’s not written by a Brit, there is something inherently British about the character which Spurrier manages to capture but Tom Taylor doesn’t quite capture the same way. John’s Liverpudlian background is very much a focus for the story, but it feels incidental rather than relevant. And the other area which the series pales in when compared to Spurriers is it feels like an entertaining story rather than an important one. Simon Spurrier feels like each issue has an important message to share, a look at deeply important issues. None of this is to say that Rise and Fall is a bad comic. Far from it. But it isn’t fair to compare the two series. Fans expecting more of the ongoing (albeit not renewed) series aren’t going to find what they want here.

So all of that aside, what’s going on with this comic? It’s a good look at what makes John Constantine tick, all of the guilt which has festered in him over the years and made him into the man he is today. It’s also an entertaining look at John as a teenager, and the events which lead to him becoming the man he is. And that part of the story is great. It’s just that Tom Taylor doesn’t get the character in the same way that Simon Spurrier does. He tries to make him into a bit more of a sympathetic character when in reality John is a bit of a bastard.

Moving past that and we have quite a good story, and the horror elements work really well. There’s plenty of mystery involved, and this first issue does a great job of laying all the pieces out, and while the bigger picture isn’t obvious yet there’s enough there for the reader to follow along. The mystery involves rich men falling from the sky, with Angel wings attached. It’s a unique story and immediately captures the readers attention. And the fact that it ties closely into John's past and a mistake he made in his youth makes this a personal story for him.

The art from Darick Robertson is excellent. There are echoes of the late and great Steve Dillon here, who had a successful run on the character with Garth Ennis once upon a time. But he also makes his own mark upon the character. Teenage John is instantly recognisable and the reader will be in no doubt about who they’re looking at. Robertson manages to capture the look of arrogance that adult John will one day have, and does a great job of it. He does a great job evoking characters feelings through their facial expressions and that helps to bring to life the horror elements of the story. There’s a sequence towards the end of the comic which is fantastic and couldn’t be recreated very easily in any other medium. Diego Rodriguez’ colours are likewise great. They really add to Robertson’s art, and are really important for setting the tone of the story.

An entertaining story featuring John Constantine, the biggest issues that this issue, and the miniseries at large, face are the comparisons with the ongoing Simon Spurrier Hellblazer. Unfortunately in comparison this series really pales. Released at a different time, without that immediate comparison, it would do better.

Our Score:


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