In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always been partial to DC Comics. I began reading Marvel mutants and The Punisher but as I got older, I realized that comics weren’t really maturing with me. Sure, they got darker and grittier but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they became more sophisticated. Then I discovered the DC Vertigo imprint which eventually led me out of a snotty indie comics phase and back to capes and spandex. Even though these days I don’t care much for super heroes, I still love DC and Vertigo.
Employing novelists for comics seems to be in vogue at the moment. Michael Chabon had a run on Justice Society of America, Joe Hill does the ongoing Locke & Key series, Charlie Huston did Moon Knight and mystery novelist, Ian Rankin did this John Constantine one-shot for DC. In Dark Entries, the Hellblazer is brought in by a reality TV producer when a Big Brother style haunted house show starts to take on a life of its own. The contestants, looking for a secret room in a haunted house, are being haunted by their own demons before the show even has a chance to unleash their own manufactured haunting. Of course, this is a John Constantine story, so your expectations should be set appropriately and nothing is as it seems.
Dark Entries is the second in DC’s new Vertigo Crime imprint, a series of digest sized hardcovers that combine the sophisticated writing often associated with Vertigo books and pulp noir. It’s not exactly a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with John Constantine as it assumes that you know who he is (in a nutshell, worldly occult detective who knows everything and everyone). It’s also not exactly a crime graphic novel. Dark Entries was conceived as a five or six issue run on Hellblazer but wound up absorbed into the Vertigo Crime series. Yet, Rankin’s association with crime novels helps qualify this.
As a Hellblazer story, it’s pretty good. This is classic John Constantine, not to hijack the blurb by Warren Ellis or anything, but it is. Rankin has boiled off the extraneous elements of 24 years worth of continuity to craft a one-shot that gets the essentials of Constantine right. He smokes a lot, he always seems to know what’s going on, he’s wildly charismatic and the agents of Hell are always trying to get their hands on him. Rankin also takes this opportunity to build harsh criticism of reality TV which is alright with me since I also happen to think that reality TV is straight out of hell. To back it all up, Italian artist Werther Dell’edera draws the monochrome book as though he’s channeling the best of Dylan Dog. His art is outstanding with all the thin lines you’d expect from a European comic artist.
Graphic novels continue to find their way to mainstream audiences and much like Manga in Japan, there’s something for everyone. But while most adults discovering graphic novels tend to gravitate toward Art Spiegelman and Dan Clowes, Rankin and Dell’edera have created a book that is sophisticated enough to attract older readers as well as stay pulpy and comic book-y. It’s also a great Hellblazer one off that willl satisfy fans of the ongoing book.