Hellblazer: Original Sins

Life is tough when you’re being tempted by both heaven and hell, and it is even tougher for John Constantine who is constantly at war with both sides.

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Living in murky England in the 1980s was no walk in the park, Margaret Thatcher was in power, the miners were striking, we were at war over the Falkland Islands and unemployment was at an all time high. Throw in being a conjurer, getting haunted by the spirits of your friends who have perished – partly due to you – and battling demons on a daily basis and you have the life of John Constantine. A black-magic vigilante who takes it upon himself to send evil back to where it came from, the fiery pits of hell; a place he has visited on numerous occasions.

Hellblazer: Original Sins collects together the first nine issues of the John Constantine comic book series, and also issues 76-77 of the Swamp Thing tie in story. Constantine has been playing around with black magic for almost 20 years, and although he is still very powerful, he is a man at the end of his tether. Back when he first started it was exciting and helped him in his sexual endeavours. But now his goal of protecting people, whilst claiming a little something for himself on the side, has lost all meaning. Most of his friends are dead, something they do a great deal of reminding him that he was partially to blame, and he is looking at the worse half of thirty. Hellblazer: Original Sins takes you on a journey as Constantine attempts to get back on track and fulfil what he first set out to do, and the introduction of the character ‘Zed’ is what gives him that passion again. Throughout the nine comic books you are greeted to several different stories which depict Constantine attempting to write the wrong, although in parts his heroism is questionable. From fighting the Hunger Spirit that is terrorizing London to watching a Vietnam war veteran carry out his violent missions once again in a small town in present day. However there is an underlying story which flows throughout all nine issues, a plan that could alter heaven and hell, a plan only Constantine can prevent.

A lot of people have delved into the realm of black-magic, and have in turn been sucked in by its powers, never to return from the grim world of darkness. Constantine has found a balance in which he has dipped is hands into this dark world just enough to understand its powers – or at least enough to get some sex out of it – but not too much to let it take him over. However, although he may not know it, he has been lured in and hell has its grip over him due to the lifestyle he has chosen. Many friends have been lost along the way, and although every person he saves may get him that little bit closer to heaven, one day hell will rise up to claim its prize.

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Constantine is quite an arrogant grubby b*****d, but you can’t help but love him. Be it his bright blue suit, his tough guy don’t-give-a-crap persona or pure golden locks there is just something about this character that invites us in, perhaps it is the same thing that attracts most of his love interests; his ability to fend off evil. It is never really revealed if the tough-guy attitude is just something which Constantine puts on for the public, but one thing is definite, he certainly can love and care for family and friends, as we discover in Hellblazer: Original Sins.

Although on the surface he is a simple man – he likes to eat curry for tea, lives in a run down flat and he drinks and smokes plenty. He is however feared by humans and demons alike, for humans it is his mysticism, but for demons it is mainly down to his cunning and trickery, as he tends to play most of them for fools to ensure he gets what he wants. Saying that, it is this very same witty attitude that has got him to be so liked by most, including demons. As he would be a vital asset to their ranks if he joins them and not to mention, a load off their minds.

What really captured my attention, other than Jamie Delano and Rick Veitch’s compelling stories, was the artwork and images of Hellblazer: Original Sins. John Ridgway, Alfredo Alcala and Tom Mandrake’s creativity and colour palette is just magnificent, although the drawings are simple at times, the rough pictures tie-in with the gritty setting of a decaying England, and then they suddenly jump straight to detailed graphics bursting with colour; which are almost futuristic in their style. The switching of the panel direction for most pages is also a nice little treat, as it takes you away from the typical left to right page structure which is seen in most comic books.

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For any fans of the 2005 film Constantine that starred Keanu Reeves, who are looking for the motion picture in comic form, you aren’t going to find it here. Although the film was based on DeLano and Veitch’s work, all that is really the same in the film is that the main character is called John Constantine, there is a Papa Midnite character in it and there are demons. I actually enjoyed the film, however it would have been made better if they hadn’t based it on Constantine. They could have just used the same plot that the film has, created a different main character and they would have had a brand new film.

Hellblazer: Original Sins is a gold mine for dark fantasy and horror, with a dash of comedy thrown in as well. You are literally left yearning for more as the last page is flipped, because the story is not concluded and continues on in the next graphic novel.

Publication: VERTIGO COMICS

Graphic Novel: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1

Teams full of heroes have been getting people giddy for over 50 years, what could be better than seeing your favourite heroes all grouping together to rid the world of evil, and one of the best platforms to portray these stories is through comic books. Comic books have brought some of the best crusaders to life through their pages, such as The Avengers and the Justice League of America. However, before these two super-teams were formed, and even before the first avenger (Captain America) was born, there was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.the-league-of-extraordinary-gentlemen-bookStraight from the mind of Alan Moore, one of the greatest writers of our time, comes a story which unites together some of the most famous literary characters from the 1800s: Mina Murray, Alan Quatermain, Hawley Griffin, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Captain Nemo and Mr. Edward Hyde. The year is 1898, and Mina Murray is given a mission by Campion Bond (an ancestor of James Bond), who works for a man known simply as ‘M’, to track down and recruit the other members of the team. For there is evil afoot, and the league are the only ones who might stand a chance of stopping it. It seems that a contraption called the Cavoret, which enables flight, has fallen into the wrong hands and must be returned to the proper authorities by any means necessary. However in a world where the characters from authors imaginations actually exist, there’s no telling what could be waiting around the corner as they embark on their adventure.

What was great about reading this graphic novel, was the fact that it had so many different literary references throughout, on every page there would be a symbol which linked to another famous story, even something as simple as a painting or a wall sign. A few examples include the ‘Rue Morgue’ street sign in Paris, which is taken from Edgar Allen Poe’s 1841 short story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, and when Bond is briefing the league of their mission, past leagues can be seen in paintings on the wall which include other famous literary figures, like Lemuel Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels and Natty Bumppo from The Leatherstocking Novels.

Another incredible read from Alan Moore who has brought us so many great graphic novels: V For Vendetta, Watchmen and From Hell, to name a few. He always uses such in-depth and thought-provoking story lines, which help the reader to delve into the plot more and connect with the characters, maybe even enticing them to research about the novel after reading it. One of the great aspects about Moore’s work is that the artwork always differs between novels, but fits together so well with the impression which the story gives off. This time Kevin O’Neill (2000 AD/Marshall Law) is the man behind the artwork, the images constantly switch between highly detailed drawings to blocked shapes representing the characters, but it works really well due to the Victorian theme which is present throughout. The dark, sombre colours match the tone of the story, and are suddenly thrown vibrantly bright during the violent action scenes, and when something is obviously out-of-place in this time-zone. It paints a picture of how is would have felt to live in that era and uncover something so unknown, that it would be a bright vision of the future.hydeFrom start to finish The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen kept me gripped to the storyline, maybe it’s because I enjoy a plot with some history behind it, and Alan Moore had obviously done a lot of research prior to writing it. It is a graphic novel which Moore’s previous fans will love, and will be enjoyed by an audience with a passion for literature.

Publication: TITAN BOOKS

Character Back-stories:

Miss Wilhelmina (Mina) Murray:

Mina Murray was a character in the world-famous 1897 novel, Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Her fiancée, Jonathan Harker, had a rather frightful encounter with Count Dracula in his castle but managed to escape to Budapest where he met up with Mina. Once her lover had recovered, they return to England and formulate a plan with Abraham Van Helsing to destroy the prince of darkness. However in the process Mina is bitten, and destined to turn into a vampire unless Dracula is destroyed, they succeed and the curse is lifted. Mina and Jonathan are married soon after, making her Mina Harker. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen however, Jonathan Harker has passed away, and Wilhelmina has changed back to her maiden name of ‘Murray’.

Alan Quatermain:

Alan Quatermain was the lead character in H. Rider. Haggard’s 1885 book, King Solomon’s Mines, and many novel’s after that as well. He is an English, professional game hunter who prefers the plains of Africa to the civilization and cities of Britain, therefore he spends the majority of his life in Africa. He is referred to as Macemazahn by the natives, which means ‘watcher-by-night’, and on occasions is accompanied by his two helpers Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, also by his African friend Umslopogaas. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Quatermain is a tired old man who resides in Egypt (check) and is addicted to Opium, whilst barely conscious and in Opium withdrawal he asks for Umslopogaas, and babbles about the diamond mines.

Captain Nemo:

The character of Captain Nemo comes from the 1870, Jules Verne novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Nemo is the son of an Indian Raja and is a scientific genius, and through his genius he created his submarine, the Nautilus. Which allows him to roam the deep seas, as he attempts to reap his vengeance on the British Empire. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Captain Nemo is written slightly different, instead of his hatred for the British Empire, he is instead attempting to save it. In the graphic novel, among his crew is ‘Ishmael’ from the book 1851 book Moby Dick. The word Nemo derives from the Latin term for no-one, when Quatermain is drifting in and out of consciousness he asks Captain Nemo who he is, and he replies “No One.”

Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde:

The character, or rather characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are world-famous, even if you have not read the 1886 novel – Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – by Robert Louis Stevenson, or seen any of the film adaptations, you still will have heard the stories. The story goes that Jekyll has always lived with the feeling that he is fighting between the good and evil inside himself, so to make himself a better man he creates a potion which should take away these evil urges. However the serum does the exact opposite and unleashes the evil, transforming Jekyll into the monstrosity known as Mr. Hyde. As Hyde, Jekyll becomes violent and cruel, causing havoc in the streets. After taking the serum many times Jekyll realises that he no longer needs it to transform into Hyde, he just needs something to tip-off his rage, and after he murders a man he becomes an outlaw in England. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Dr. Jekyll has fled to Paris, where Mr. Hyde has began to raise hell. Hyde is even stronger and more ferocious now, however after a sedative and a talk they persuade him to aid them in their mission.

Hawley Griffin:

Hawley Griffin is actually the only character in the novel who is not taken straight from a book, although he is based around a familiar story. Alan Moore took the name ‘Griffin’ from the main character in H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel, ‘The Invisible Man’, and the name ‘Hawley’ from the infamous Edwardian murderer, Dr. Hawley Crippin. The character of Hawley Griffin in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen seems to based on a man who, after The Invisible Man was killed by a mob, stole the invisibility formula for himself.

Graphic Novel: Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness

Marvel’s ideas for their comic books have gone above and beyond wackyness in the past, and just when you think that it can’t get any crazier than their Marvel Zombies series, they create one of the greatest crossovers in comic book history. Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness.Marvel_Zombies_Vs._Army_of_Darkness_Vol_1_1

This is a crossover which, until now, only occurred in a fanboy’s dream. For those unfamiliar with the Army of Darkness, it is the army of Deadites (demons) from the Evil Dead film trilogy, which are constantly awoken by the Necronomicon – the book of the dead, and then sent back to hell by the film’s protagonist ‘Ash Williams’. Throughout the films Ash cuts off his hand after it gets infected by darkness, and replaces it with a chainsaw, which is then replaced with an artificial metal hand. However he keeps the chainsaw, and, along with his boom-stick (double-barrelled shotgun) he rids the world of these evil creatures.

Now Ash has fallen through a hole in the sky, and into another universe, quite similar to his own. There is only one major difference, this universe is inhabited by Marvel heroes, and after Ash gets a warning that the Deadites will soon arrive and destroy this world, he realises that it is up to him to warn the Earth’s crusaders about their impending doom. Assuming that he is a complete nut-job, the heroes ignore him, until they realise that he was babbling the truth, but by then it is too late.

Set just before the first Marvel Zombies comic book series, this one shows something that the other did not…the actual infection spreading, and then the world’s population being devoured by the heroes. Which was great because most of the time, in something zombie themed, the best part is seeing the outbreak happening, as oppose to what happens afterwards. It also brings along with it the humour of Ash from the Evil Dead films – his overly arrogant macho-ness and his famous catchphrase “gimme some sugar baby”, although this time spoken by a zombie, the boom-stick makes sure that he does not speak it again.

Ash teams up with the only heroes left: Scarlett Witch, Dazzler and unfortunately Dr. Doom. Together they attempt to stop the infection by using the Necronomicon, and save what’s left of humanity. However a huge twist in the story, forces Ash to work together with an enemy which fans of the films would never think was possible.marvel-zombiesarmy-of-darkness-20070306024243797-000

The Karate kid himself, Ralph Macchio, once again is the editor. However this time it was written by John Layman, rather than Robert Kirkman. Before you feel that there might be some slight disappointment, have no fear because Kirkman was the consultant, so he oversaw the entire thing. The images, by Fabiano Neves, are once again rife with colour and detail, down to the last blood-seeping scar, and the vast landscapes which sometimes take up entire pages are just breath-taking. There is so much going on in the scene, you think that you have seen everything on the page and then discover something else going on.

This is a novel that comic and horror film fans alike will be drooling over whilst reading it. From the witty comedic conversation, although short, between Ash and Spider Man, to the classic comic covers which have been altered to display the Marvel zombies and Ash popping up in the background (the cover for the graphic novel actually being the cover from an Uncanny X-Men issue which the upcoming film X-Men: Days of Future Past storyline is taken from), these are just some of the aspects which make this such an enjoyable read, and impossible to put down.

Publication: MARVEL

Graphic Novel: Marvel Zombies

Taken straight from the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four, comes a spin-off depicting a universe similar to our own, with one major difference…it is inhabited by flesh eating ghouls.mz1

It started after Reed Richards’ (Mr. Fantastic) counterpart attempted to lure him into another dimension, however Magneto, who is still alive in this other dimension, succeeds in smashing the machine and closes the gateway. Protecting our world, but leaving himself stranded and at the mercy of the re-animated bodies of the Marvel heroes.

An infection has spread throughout this world turning people into the undead, no one was safe from the virus, not even the Marvel super-heroes, who, after turning into zombies themselves, proceed to scour the earth in search of survivors which they can sink their teeth in to.

As soon as I heard about this comic book series I knew that I would enjoy it, being a lover of Marvel Comics and anything zombie related, and it does not disappoint. The novel sort of turns the super-hero theme on it’s head, with the protagonists being turned in to the antagonists, however the personalities and emotions of the characters are still the same, it is just the hunger which has changed them. We still get the comical quips from Spider-Man, the leadership position from Captain America, the intelligence from Ant-Man and the bitchy arrogance from Iron Man. All your lovable heroes…with a slight twist.

It was obvious that this was going to be an enjoyable and exciting series when I heard who was behind the ideas for it: Mark Miller (Kick-Ass, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Wanted), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Ralph Macchio (who everyone should know as The Karate Kid). Beginning with a call from Macchio who knew that Kirkman was basically the go to zombie guy, after the great success of his Walking Dead series. Macchio explained that whilst Miller was writing his Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, he wanted to tell the story of this other universe, and have it be the best it could be. After much deliberation of how gory the series could be, due to it being a Marvel comic, the Marvel Zombies series was born. You can see the huge influence which Kirkman had on this project, the comics still had to have that element of being Marvel, but somehow be different. They are, in the way that the story is told through a view which Kirkman is known for, he wrote his Walking Dead series because, although he loved zombie films, he always wanted to know what happened afterwards. A film is limited to an ending, but a comic book series can carry on the story of survival, and Marvel Zombies shows this, everyone on this earth has been eaten, so the question is ‘what do the zombies do now?’marvel-zombies-2

Every part if this graphic novel was just perfect – zombie heroes fighting regular heroes, an all out brawl between undead heroes and villains, the attention to detail and humour of the gore used and the arrival of the Silver Surfer and a certain 28ft destroyer of worlds who attempt to rid the planet of this evil. Not to mention the artwork which was used for the five comic book instalments, original artwork from older comics such as Amazing Fantasy #15 (first appearance of Spider-Man) and Fantastic Four #1 (first appearance of Fantastic Four), and changed them to the zombie versions of the heroes and villains.

Anyone who is a fan of Marvel Comics will definitely enjoy this series, which continues with Marvel Zombies 2, 3, 4, 5 and one of the best cross-overs that could possibly happen…Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness.

Publication: MARVEL

Graphic Novel: Kick-Ass 2

The second edition of the popular realistic super-hero comic book series, delivers a fan-boys wet dream.

Following straight on from where Kick-Ass left off – Hit-Girl/Mindy Macready has given up her hero lifestyle for a normal life and Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski has recovered from his ball-busting injuries and continues to rid the streets of injustice.kick ass 2 graphic novel cover

With the success that the first graphic novel and the film adaptation had, the second had some great expectations to live up to. How do they accomplish this? How about a super-hero team? The aspect which comic book fans love to see, there is nothing better than seeing your favourite heroes team up to fight crime – The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Justice League – are just a few examples. The great thing about it happening in this novel is that we don’t know any of the heroes, so we are introduced to a whole load of new characters with different backgrounds. All with a personal back story of why they want to be a crime-fighter.

This time the story follows Kick-Ass as he teams up with ‘JUSTICE FOREVER’, the new super-hero team which includes: Colonel Stars, Lieutenant Stripes, Doctor Gravity, Night Bitch, Insect-man, Battle-Guy and a duo called Remembering Tommy. Together they open a can of whup-ass on the seedy under-belly of their city. However it doesn’t take long before Chris Genovise/Red Mist, who now calls himself ‘The Mother-fucker’, hears about them, and because he is still pissed about Kick-Ass killing his dad, he decides to assemble his own team of criminal villains and plans his revenge. It also doesn’t take long before the right actions provoke Hit-Girl to don her costume again.

Mark Miller (The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Wanted, Nemesis, Civil War), John Romita Jr. (The Amazing Spider-man, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and just about every other Marvel Comic) and their team, bring back what made the first series of comics so great. Miller’s comedic but serious writing and super-hero quips mixed in with Romita Jr.’s colourful yet detailed artwork which shows the fast-paced, gory fight sequences so well, make this graphic novel such a thrill to read, for the mind and eyes.

What makes Kick-Ass stand out from many other comic books is the fact that it is all happening to an every kid who just really wanted to be a super-hero – no powers, no elite fighting skills (although they have improved in this one) and the costume is a wetsuit which he bought on eBay. It also shows all the problems, if someone did try this in reality, you would face; gangs, cops and real injuries.hit girl

Kick-Ass 2 differs from the first in one vital way though, it is much darker. The death-toll is phenomenal, and I’m sure the artwork has gotten a lot better with the realistic gore throughout.

This graphic novel is one of the best I have read and it was impossible to put down until I had finished reading it, I would tell anyone who was a fan of the first one, the film or any comic book fans in general to give it a read. You will not be disappointed, and will get everything that was great about the first one turned up about 5 notches. The story line will have you reading the pages as fast as you can to find out what happens next, as the enjoyably, dark and gruesome tale leads up to an amazing climax, and one of the best that I had read.

Kick-Ass 3, the final in the series, is currently being published.

Kick-Ass 2 (The Film) is out 16th August.

Publication: TITAN BOOKS

Graphic Novel: God Save The Queen

What starts out as a novel which appears to depict two stories simultaneously happening at the same time, turns in to something completely different as you read on.god

‘God Save The Queen’ is exactly what it says, the story is about saving a queen who has been over thrown, in the Faerie Kingdom. The novel switches back and forth to the kingdom and north London, where we find Linda, a rebellious teenager who gets tangled up with a group of druggies, and their new substance.

This is no ordinary drug though, it is called ‘Red Horse’, and is a mixture of heroin and human blood. It is a dangerous high, which Linda finds out, and transports her into the Faerie kingdom whenever she takes a hit. Making her see the devastation which has come to the land after the dark queen ‘Mab’ and her demonic helper ‘Puck’ have taken over from queen ‘Titania’.

The gang decide to visit the border between our world and the next, to get a first hand experience and the ultimate trip. After entering the kingdom, they realise that all is not well and attempt to flee the grief-stricken land. However in the panic, Linda is left behind, and through her short time there learns that she is actually half human and half fairy. Also that it is up to her to stop ‘Mab’ and her path of destruction.

The reader is taken from an everyday teenage-angst reality, to an outrageous and hellish fantasy world. The story is sewn together through the writing of Mike Carey (CROSSING MIDNIGHT, LUCIFER, The Devil You Know) and the talented fantasy painting of John Bolton (FABLES:1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL, THE FURIES). Bolton captures the images perfectly, linking the moods and emotions felt by the characters to the drugs and death scenes shown in the comic panels. The tone of the paint builds a darkened feel throughout the pages, which does not let up until queen Titania is returned to her throne.

The story has such potential to be great; a gripping storyline, unpredictable characters. However the novel seemed too short for the story which it was trying to tell, as though everything had been crammed in. There were certain parts which could have been a lot longer, and the ending just seemed too abrupt.

Saying that, it was still an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to any lovers of the mature reality/fantasy genre.

Publication: DC COMICS/VERTIGO COMICS