Jamie Delano has always felt a bit like the forgotten hero of Hellblazer, at least as far as the novel-length collections of the monthly comic are concerned. Although created by Alan Moore in the pages of Swamp Thing, it was Delano who wrote the first 40 or so issues of the monthly Hellblazer comic, setting both standard and pace for the perhaps more popular writers like Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis to follow later. Despite this, until recently, only one collection of Delano issues has been available in book form.
This volume redresses that balance, with four stories from the monthly comic (issues 10-13), an annual (number 1), and a two-issue mini-series (The Horrorist) contained within its covers.
To be fair, however, there’s a certain crudeness to the art in the regular issues that shows its age and more – the colouring looks so horrible by today’s standards that you’ll probably wish they’d left it black and white so you can better appreciate Rayner and Buckingham’s artistry. As the book goes on though, things improve, with David Lloyd’s painted work on The Horrorist looking as fresh and subtle as if it had been finished yesterday. It’s in this story too that Delano shines, perhaps suggesting that the intricate subtlety of his writing needed a standard of art that simply wasn’t available to monthly comics at the time.
The rest of the book focuses on some key moments that will echo through Hellblazer‘s pages in future books: a disastrous episode in Constantine’s early demon-busting career in Newcastle, which finishes off most of his friends; and an ancient ancestor of Constantine’s, who gets his magic power by keeping Merlin’s severed but animated head on a spike.
This makes it a key book for the collections of Hellblazer fans, though it certainly isn’t the best place to start if you were just thinking of dipping in to a little John Constantine.