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Best Shots review - Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 "a frustrating read"

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

A few familiar elements from Hellblazer runs past come back to haunt the old son in Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1. Though the pairing of superstar writer Tom Taylor and The Boys co-creator Darick Robertson is a novel one, Rise and Fall #1 reads a bit rote - especially if you are a hardcore Hellblazer person.

Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 credits

Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez
Letters by Deron Bennett
Published by DC/Black Label
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Tracking a mystery involving false angels, demons, and zombie children that stretches back all the way to John's childhood, Tom Taylor looks to tell an 'epic' Constantine story. Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff feels and reads similarly to other stories, particularly Garth Ennis' 'Rake at the Gates of Hell' and 'Son of Man,' both of which also involve fallen angels and demonically-returned children. But more than that, this first issue reads a lot like a weak cover version, slapping at the voice and tenacity of Constantine without ever really feeling like the real thing. Couple this weakness with the slightly static and less expressive than usual artwork from Robertson and Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 does a lot more the former and too little of the latter.

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

All this said, however, Tom Taylor starts on a really good path. Aided by John's narration, Taylor, Robertson, and colorist Diego Rodriguez remind readers of his gut-wrenching origins. It is a fairly charged scene, and one tempered with a bittersweetness thanks to Robertson's high expressive takes on John's parents. Taylor also starts to touch on a neat take on Constantine, positing him as a person defined by his first 'guilt' as his mother died giving birth to him, thus setting him up for a life in the shadow of that death.

It's an effective feint and one Taylor further leans into as we follow John into adolescence. Obviously we know the 'gag' around John's associates and how vulnerable they tend to be - something Taylor goes and makes further explicit through dialogue. But this opening with John as a child neatly reforms that, giving it a more personal stake and weight on Constantine that I feel could be a real boon for the title should it plan to explore that a bit more.

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

But as we go further into his adulthood, the cracks of Rise and Fall #1 become more apparent. For one thing, you can very much tell this was written by a non-British person. Though Taylor's Australian attitude and rakishness comes forth a few times in the script, there is always something off about John's voice and narration outside of the opening scenes. In the latter half of the comic especially, the narration takes on a far more expository bent and leaves behind any attempt at flavoring it, which in turn makes it read a bit scant. 

Worse still are the familiar reading elements of the main plot, which finds John connecting with a former childhood friend in order to get to the bottom of a rash of 'angels' being killed after John saw another childhood friend who was killed after he attempted a spell in his youth. Much, if not all of this, feels cribbed from other runs. The set-up of John's past haunting him is fairly stock standard at this point, but then to be further cluttered with story elements that have already either been featured in runs or consisted of the whole plots of runs is a real let down. 

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

And unfortunately, Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez don't do much to set Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 apart stylistically. Of the two, Rodriguez certainly shows up a bit more, injecting a moody, almost griminess to the title with honed earth tones, rich swaths of reds, and an all-around muted, but engaging color scheme. Robertson, however like Taylor, starts great but starts to play the same song over and over. Setting the bar with the opening, Robertson details a lot of nice expressions and character interactions that feel and look 'real.' Or at least as real as they can on the page of a comic.

But as the issue rolls on, we start to see a repetition to Robertson's efforts, especially when people are smiling. Though effective in the first few sequences, intercut with rousingly tense set-piece splash pages like young John being swept to a river and the first discovery of the 'angel,' readers will start to notice how similar the character models are - even into adulthood. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tighter expression shots of John, which look almost indistinguishable from him as a child, save for the size of the models.

Though a good introduction to new readers into John Constantine, Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 is a frustrating read. The potential is there as is the freedom allowed by Black Label, but as an opening issue, Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 reads like a weaker tea version of the Vertigo heyday.