Hello and welcome to this weeks edition of my year-long reading challenge in which I take a look at stories from comic books past and present. That’s 52 books in 52 weeks. The only criteria for the stories is that they had to be published between June 24th 1980 until the present, thereby covering the 34 years that I have been alive.
If anyone has any suggestions for stories that you would like me to cover sound off in the comments below.
At San Diego Comic-Con 2008, Vertigo Comics editor Karen Berger announced that a sub-imprint called Vertigo Crime would be added to the Vertigo roster. These books would be stand alone hardback graphic novels featuring stories by a stellar line of writers and world-class artists. These books were pulp style hardboiled crime fiction realised in gritty black and white.
The first two titles to be released under this imprint were Filthy Rich, featuring the talents of Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos, and Dark Entries. Dark Entries marked the first and only foray into comic books from one of Scotland’s most famous sons, Ian Rankin.
Rankin is an international best-selling crime writer whose novels sell by the boatload and have won him numerous awards. His most famous creation has to be Detective Inspector John Rebus. Rebus has been the protagonist in nineteen novels as well as numerous short stories. It could be argued that this creation kickstarted the genre that has come to be known as Tartan Noir.
You can be forgiven for thinking that for his first comic book work that Rankin would choose to go back to that same well of inspiration, however you would be wrong. Rankin chose to create a vehicle for one of Vertigo‘s most famous sons, John Constantine…
Words: Ian Rankin
Art: Werther Dell’Edera
Letters: Clem Robins
In 2009 the world is obsessed with the culture of celebrity and reality television. John Constantine survives day-to-day trying to block out the mind numbing chatter that consumes the lives of everyday British people. Little does he know that forces are conspiring against him to make him the most famous face in reality television…just not on Earth.
When a mysterious TV producer turns up in Constantine’s flat with a job offer that seems too good to be true then more than likely it is.
The pitch…a show that blends Big Brother, Fear Factor and Most Haunted. Toss a bunch of strangers into a house and scare the hell out of them whilst dangling a big secret prize sized carrot in front of them.
Everything is monitored and controlled by the producers from the outside but, and here’s where Constantine comes in, the house has taken on a life of its own. The producers want to send in ol’ John to investigate and see what’s going on. Suffice to say, John is sceptical about his use in this matter but the lure of a massive payout is just too tempting.
The contestants represent the usual combination of salacious hotties, nervous geeks, mysterious foreigners and tattooed troublemakers. Each one has been plagued with horrifying visions and no one seems to know how they got to the house.
In the process of his investigations, Constantine becomes increasingly aware that things in the house may not be under the producers full control. Eventually it becomes clear that the contestants are in fact dead and that the reality show is broadcast only in hell.
From here Constantine must help the other contestants face up to the reality of their situation and find a way to escape his new-found celebrity, before it damn hims to an eternity in hell.
For a first attempt at the medium, Rankin grasps Constantine’s character with confidence. His tale weaves mystery and satire together well, however, it could be said that there is a little over indulgence in the satire at times. It’s darkly comic throughout possibly at the expense of the horror. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is a failure on the part of Rankin’s storytelling I just feel that there is a little less suspense than you would come to expect from his work.
Dell’edera’s artwork is well suited to the tale. He presents John Constantine as a grizzled weary soul. Think young Sting (the musician not the wrestler) after a three-week bender and you get an idea of it. He effectively uses the black and white colour scheme to create a sparse and foreboding ambiance. The balance of the clinical white walls of the house against the vast sections of blacks that hangover the characters. It captures the claustrophobic loneliness of being trapped in a house with strangers. When Rankin’s tale takes its hellish twist Dell’edra steps up to the challenge and creates visceral horror that would be at home anywhere in the Hellblazer cannon.
If you are a fan of Constantine and the Hellblazer books then I suggest picking this up. I enjoyed Rankin’s take on the character and his depiction of Hell as vapid and celebrity obsessed as human culture was delightful. However if you are looking for a straight up horror tale then this may not be for you.
Thanks for reading folks, catch you all next week.