By Brian Azzarello, Marcelo Frusin, Guy Davis & Steve Dillon (Vertigo)
Brian Azzarello continues his blending of Noir and urban horror in this collection of tales reprinted from issues #157-163 of the monthly comic from DC’s Vertigo imprint, and as usual in his world, the human heart is still the nastiest place of all.
Making his way across the American hinterlands after the unsettling events in the hillbilly hellhole of Doglick (Good Intentions – ISBN: 1-84023-433-4), Machiavellian magician Constantine walks into a bar and finds Agent Turro, the Fed who sprung him from prison (Hard Time ISBN: 1-84023-255-2). Their loaded conversation determines Constantine’s next destination. The Scouse of Mystery is headed for a showdown in Highwater (ISBN: 1-84023-861-5) but for the most part he fades into the background of this sharp shaggy dog story of dark suspense as three guilty bar-flies steal the show, waiting for an inexorable doom to find them. ‘…And Buried’ is by Azzarello and Steve Dillon, a powerful exercise in diversion and suggestion that acts as set-up and prologue for the tense main feature.
‘Freezes Over’ is a tale of claustrophobic bondage. A bunch of ordinary folks are trapped in a diner by heavy snows and just pass the time until the weather clears. The idle chatter softens as a young family staggers in, though, as nobody wants to upset their little girls. In this weather, nobody’s able to drive, so when the scary Englishmen walks in the nervous patrons are pretty spooked. But he’s the least of their problems…
There’s a car in the parking lot. In it is a corpse, with a four-foot long icicle driven through his chest. The panic that ensues is not that of a simple murder though. This wilderness country has a legendary heritage. ‘The Iceman’ is a mythical bogeyman who has legendarily killed and vanished over the years. Is he real after all, or is the problem just a common or garden psychopath?
The final nail in this cold coffin comes in the shape of three hard desperate men who have their own secret, which they’re prepared to protect with guns even as their boss is slowly bleeding to death…
Marcelo Frusin draws a moody, tense time-bomb of a tale, and similarities to Archie Mayo’s classic 1936 movie masterpiece The Petrified Forest aside, this cold concoction is an edgy delight even without the supernatural overtones that keep the reader guessing until the very end.
The volume concludes with an exhilarating look into the punk-rock days of young Johnny Constantine, courtesy of Azzarello and Guy Davis. ‘Lapdogs and Englishmen’ is a frantic flashback to London at the end of the 1970s. John and his nearly-men band-mates from “Mucous Membrane” become involved with a crazy American millionaire who wants a clock that can predict the future. For the young, drunk and stupid kids, the caper seems like a doddle, but the sinister undercurrent that pervades the scene escapes all the participants, and the real key to the future is safe where no one wants to look… until it’s too late. This pacy, poignant two-parter is loaded with revelation and foreboding, making it by far the best thing in this book.
The horror and power in this volume is all derived from the various deadly effects of anticipation. Azzarello used his run on Hellblazer to dissect the working principles of the graphic horror narrative and thus moved it beyond the simple clichés of goblins and beasties. Hellblazer is one of the best graphic series in print. If you’re not a fan you should give it a try and thus become one.
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