Monday, November 23, 2009

Exfanding Review: Hellblazer 27

Hellblazer: Hold Me coverIn an effort to fall back in love with comics, Alex has decided to go back and read all of the old books that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. Today, Alex reviews Hellblazer, issue 27 from DC's Vertigo line, written by Neil Gaiman, and with art by Dave McKean.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I figured this post might be able to serve two purposes. One, to achieve the whole rekindling of comics loving that's explained in the fancy, italicized bit above. And, two, to give a holiday shopping suggestion for the fanboy/girl who has everything.

Well, seemingly everything, anyway.

Today, I'd like to talk a bit about my personal favorite issue of Hellblazer--issue 27, entitled "Hold Me." It's one of those stories that is recognizable to most fans just by mentioning the issue number. Kinda like Incredible Hulk, number 181 is instantly recognizable to any Wolverine fan, or Detective Comics, number 27 is to any Batman fan.

It's an important number, 27. An important issue in the history of the John Constantine character, and really a watershed moment in modern comics storytelling. Written by Neil Gaiman and published early in 1990, "Hold Me" is everything that's good and right and proper with comics.

It's a beautifully told story dealing with difficult, mature themes and high concepts. The art is non-traditional, as one might expect from the brilliant Dave McKean, and the whole package challenges the boundaries of an art form that is too-often labeled by its inundation of brightly colored super heroes and convoluted cross-overs.

And it's one of those books that anyone with even a passing interest in comics should read at some point, no matter how difficult it may be to find in print.

Which leads me to that second point I mentioned up top, there. Hellblazer 27 is an incredibly difficult book to find in the back issue bins. If you see one, grab it. If you see one for under $20, see if there are more copies tucked away elsewhere in the store. And grab them, too.

The book itself was under-ordered, and short-printed, apparently. Those two things, combined with the high profile creative team and the loyal fanbase for the character, add up to one tough book to come across.

Now, it is collected elsewhere, in a book from Vertigo called Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, which is a collection of all the short work the author did for Vertigo across many different titles. And, while the other stories are all good, some require previous knowledge of obscure characters to be appreciated fully. Still, a good, solid book from one of our medium's very best.

But, trust me, the book is worth the price tag for the inclusion of "Hold Me," alone. Yes, it's that good, and no, I'm not exaggerating. I bought this book for the express purpose of (finally) being able to read the mythical Neil Gaiman issue of Hellblazer that everyone seems to know, but can never seem to find.

And when I opened the book and read the story--a one-and-done tale about Constantine that requires absolutely no prior knowledge of the character other than that he's into the paranormal--I was not disappointed.

"Hold Me" is the story of a dead and forgotten homeless man, whose spirit comes back to haunt the living tenants of a rundown apartment complex. Every time this restless spirit touches a living, breathing human being, he kills them.

And that's all I'm going to say about the plot, because anything more would be spoiling it for you.

But I will say this. The story manages to be heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and in 22 pages, Gaiman and McKean say more about John Constantine than many other writers managed to say in multiple-issue runs on the book.

In my mind, this issue stands with Garth Ennis' early Hellblazer work as a definitive take on the character, and on his world.

But, more importantly, "Hold Me" is the perfect comic to give to someone who has never read comics, and has zero familiarity with the character. All you need to know starts on page one, and ends on page 22.

So, if you can, find and read a copy of this issue--either by searching eBay, or by picking up the collection. I think it'll be well worth your while.

--- --- ---

So, two comics down in this new, old comics venture of mine. The stack of new books stays ominous and looming under the bed, and my new comics purchases last week totaled five books.

I mentioned in response to a couple of comments from last week's Waiting for that I walked into the shop and really felt nothing in the way of excitement. Typically, I look forward to Wednesday as The Day of every week, and last week it was just kinda...there.

Nathaniel and I went to the store together, and we spent just about 15 minutes inside. The shop was dark, as it always is later in the day, but there was no spark there for me. No inherent enthusiasm built up throughout the day. It was just a dark, kinda depressing place on a late November afternoon.

I don't like this.

Not one bit.

I'm going to keep reading, and I'm going to keep hoping that something catches, and ignites my love affair all over again. And I wish that this was one of those things that I just know will end with, "And then I learned to love comics again! Yay!"

But, like my job search is proving on a daily basis, happy endings aren't always in the cards.

Keep reading, true believers.

I know I will...

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