Hellblazer: Hard Time
The anti-hero star of the Hellblazer series is John Constantine, one of the most iconic non-cape wearing characters to come out of DC Comics. A Mancunian ex-punk chain-smoker with a long dark past, he doesn't say much, practices magic (though no-one is quite sure how or why) and has a tendency to drag his few friends in over their heads. He's about as far from Harry Potter as you can get.
Hard Time sees Constantine shoulder the load for someone else's crime and get sentenced to thirty-five years 'life' imprisonment in a US jail. From the word go he is viewed by both the wardens and the other prisoners and as a victim and a pawn in their political squabbles. The white supremacists, the Muslims, the Bloods, the bikers, the wiseguys - they all want a piece of this charismatic and innocent-seeming British guy, some of them literally. Without his tricks or his cigarettes, Constantine must do what he can to stay afloat in the prison's corrupt system, and the ensuing results are guaranteed to take the reader's breath away.Brian Azzarello (of 100 Bullets fame) has kept the Hellblazer dialogue sparse and taut, with no words wasted. The humour is as dry as ever and even Constantine's original creator, Alan Moore, has nothing but good things to say about his character in Azzarello and Corben's care.
Long-term fans of the Hellblazer series will be pleased to see that the ghosts of the friends that Constantine has allowed to die during his murky career are back, and that Constantine doesn't indulge in self-torment at any point in this story arc. His ethics may be a darker shade of pale but his will and confidence are intact.
Richard Corben's art is believable but expressive, with something of the Robert Crumb in its heavy lines and leering faces - the perfect foil to a pungent stand-alone prison story that Hellblazer fans should love and newcomers can afford to pick up without feeling lost in the plot. The Shawshank Redemption this isn't.
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