Premise: John Constantine finds himself once again in prison. This time it's as a favour to his father-in-law to uncover the mysteries surrounding the occult activities that are driving some inmates to suicide.
Your eyes did not deceive you in the premise description. Comics' favourite bastard did, in fact, get married. This uncharacteristic direction came at a time when many readers were wondering what exactly is there left to do with a John Constantine who is a few years away from collecting his pension. The answer came in the form of wife, Epiphany Greaves. Before dismissing it completely, the motivations for this change have been natural and have never seemed forced. Under Peter Milligan's pen, Constantine has remained the same old quick-witted con man as always but with an added edge.
In this issue we see John Constantine incarcerated for the first time since 2000 when Brian Azzarello reinvented the classic character for the new millennium. Although this issue is nowhere near as groundbreaking, it does its best to deliver a typical Hellblazer standalone story. The standalones always follow the same formula: John Constantine finds himself in a nearly impossible to escape situation involving some sort of demonic entity, he gathers his wits and applies his wiles to screw over the demon in some way and he walks off into the sunset - cigarette in mouth and never short on clever quips. If this is the equation to create a quintessential Hellblazer story, then Peter Milligan follows it to a T in this particular issue. However, it's what he adds to this oft-repeated storytelling style that makes it stand out.
No stranger to the Vertigo-style writing, comic book veteran Peter Milligan does a fantastic job in capturing the title character's essence. Even his first appearance in this issue sets the stage for the character that readers have come to love as he nonchalantly quips “Fuck off” to his father-in-law who comes to him for help. Throughout the issue, Constantine is put through many devastating tribulations from torture to mental distress and yet always remains true to his core. If there is one thing that Milligan's Hellblazer run should be remembered for, it is for his ability to properly capture the characteristics of an older, more cynical magician who treads the line of moral ambiguity and who now has a silver lining (that of his new love life). Besides his ability to craft a great Constantine, Milligan expertly writes his prose in a manner that is reminiscent of the original Vertigo horror writers of the 80's such as Alan Moore and Jamie Delano. In this manner is he able to recreate the dark atmosphere of a typical Hellblazer setting.
The story itself poses a different situation. As it turns out, the issue's antagonist and cause of all its woes is an ancient Babylonian shape shifter named Julian, who had debuted previously in Milligan's run. The problem this poses is that no one cares. Julian isn't as memorable as any of the other “rogues” in the Hellblazer gallery and certainly lacks the presence required for someone to rival a character like John Constantine. Overall, the character's motivations and presence fall flat in a story where readers are asking themselves why they should care about prison inmates being tortured.
In terms of art, this might have been the single best looking issue of the month. Simon Bisley is in top form, even after having an illustrious career that would make any modern day artist envious. He does an exemplary job of capturing a grizzled Constantine who has been put through the ringer, stomped on, and then put through the ringer once again. Bisley even manages to do what Milligan was not able to which is to make Julian seem like a fiendish and imposing villain.
Overall, it wasn't the high point of Peter Milligan's run but at the same time not a low point. It is, actually, a perfect jumping on point for any prospective reader who is interested in reading about a married John Constantine.