Hellblazer vol. 1 (#25 – 26) – Grant Morrison

3 out of 5

Of Grant Morrison’s 90s Vertigo / DC output, I’ve often felt that what he was trying to accomplish would get gummed up by mismatches with artists. Doesn’t mean they were bad artists, by any means, and I’m sure he chose just as many that he was editorially stuck with, just as I’m sure some perceived visual hiccups were also part of Grant’s teething process as a script-writer, but a lot of his books from this era read one way, and look another way. His two-issue fill-in on Hellblazer, for instance, is a pretty engaging (and dark) tale that is, fittingly for its time period, a Thatcherism snipe, while also poking at more general authority / religious figures, but when it descends into its more poetic, nightmarish section – a good 2/3rds of the issues – David Lloyd’s stiff, heavy style is just a poor fit. The bookends, in which Constantine arrives at and departs a small English town, are perfect: these take place in “reality,” with straight panel lines and regular dialogue, and Lloyd’s unique coloring / shading sensibilities are perfect for the sober, acerbic tone. But trouble arrives when the story turns: a traditional, pagan celebration taps into something in the town as they don various garish masks, encouraging them to unleash secret desires – violent ones, sexual ones, power-seeking ones. A local military testing facility offers up a bleak promise… Here, panels go askew, and Morrison slips into more lyrical, wandering prose, and Lloyd simply can’t keep up: his stiff lines are still stiff, and his purposefully flat coloring doesn’t offer enough dynamics to flip-flop between sequences. Again – Lloyd is, for most intents and purposes, a good artist, and possibly Grant either left the script too open or didn’t guide it properly to effect a more tense, horrorful tone, but the concept definitely gets watered down in the mix.

Some reviews have suggested that there’s an unfortunate plotting similarity with a Jamie Delano set of issues that’d come almost immediately prior to these: The Fear Machine. I haven’t read those, but a quick summary suggests the core idea of repressions coming to the fore is there, and Delano also tied this to the military, but I think there’s an interesting tweak in Grant’s tale that makes it a bit more frightening (a bit less literal than Delano’s tale sounds like it might’ve been); it would’ve been cool to either see that bit get another issue to flesh out, or to see the whole thing rendered with a more fitting visual style.