Marc Weidenbaum's Reviews > Dark Entries

Dark Entries by Ian Rankin
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Apr 26, 2011

bookshelves: comic
Read in April, 2011

[Yeah, spoilers. Boilerplate, polite version: I promise I don't "spoil" anything about this book that would have bothered me had I known about it in advance of reading this book. That said, I cannot think of anything I have read in my life that would have been spoiled had I known the plot-advancing facts. And this is not, I promise, a mini–Cliffs Notes–style detailed summary of the story. Perhaps the only real way to "spoil" a book is to detail any serious flaws in logic, to the extent that you then can't get them out of your head as you read the book. I can't promise that I don't to that -- but neither can anyone else.]

The mystery novelist Ian Rankin takes on his first graphic novel, focusing on the character John Constantine, of the ongoing monthly Vertigo/DC comic-book series Hellblazer. There was a movie based on Constantine starring Keanu Reeves, but the character in the comics is decidedly British. He was based on Sting back in the mid-1980s, when he was created -- the meaner-than-he-is-today Sting who once made sense in Dennis Potter's mind to play the devil.

Constantine, a supernatural P.I. with a bad habit of leaving damned loved ones in his wake, was created by Alan Moore of Watchmen fame during his pre-Watchmen run on the series Swamp Thing. In Rankin's standalone volume, Constantine joins the cast of a reality TV show, essentially a version of Big Brother. Ghost-busting ensues.

All in all, not fully satisfyingly. It is neat in how light the story is in tone, none of the straining-for-gravitas of much latter-day Hellblazer, but for all its fun with the architecture and entertainment of the underworld (Hell, not the mafia), it leaves open more loose ends than most serialized stories do, with less of a sense that anyone will ever tie them up. I most enjoy it for its format. It seems drawn (by Werther Dell'Edera, with whom I was not previously familiar) for the smaller page size, and works pretty well in that regard. And I like black and white comics, especially stark ones, which this is. Mine is a minority opinion, but I'd say that most color comics gain little from the color except a price bump.

Things about the comic that linger with me, and not in a positive way:

1. Constantine's TV is a portal to hell. That's a nifty concept, but the idea that throwing it out the window would break the spell doesn't fit -- certainly not in Constantine's story-world, in which de-demonizing objects and places (and people) is often the pretext for multi-issue story arcs. I just started re-reading the series from the start, so I'm especially sensitive to the way tiny objects linger in the storyline like houses with hidden mold carcinogen, waiting for an unsuspecting new tenant. In an actual Hellblazer storyline, that TV would end up in a Salvation Army, and its parts would then be reused by some unaware Internet start-up, which would then discover a demon is its most generous angel investor. And Constantine, at this stage, would foresee such an eventuality and work to avoid it.

2. If Hell's residents can tunnel so easily into Limbo, well, that's kind of a major mess of story that makes the plight of these few 20somethings seem kinda slight by comparison. And again, it's just left dangling.

3. As a friend noted, the main characters aren't particularly interesting. The mystery, which appears to really mean "puzzle" here, is what it's about. The characters are puzzle pieces, and it is neat to see how they fit together, and Rankin did a really good job of rationalizing all that into the Hellblazer mode (tying it to one character who is the fulcrum for it all). But, yeah, the characters have no development, aside from shifting from not knowing their fate to knowing it, and from us misinterpreting their dreams to being told flat-out what those dreams "symbolize" (a direct causality that is too clean-cut even for Freud, and utterly disinterested in the ambiguity inherent in the surreal). If anything, the characters change depending on what the story needs. At times, just in time for whatever the imminent joke needs.

4. And then there's the overarching issue, which isn't Rankin's fault. This is just the whole "how do the western underpinnings of Constantine's metaphysics reconcile themselves with non-western metaphysics." I really feel for the Japanese character, for example: not just because she was molested by salarymen on trains, and not just because the comic's editor let the artist let the reader ogle her (talk about adding insult to injury -- though I guess here it works, a little, because the panels mimic the reality-TV viewer's perspective), but mostly because she was raised in a non-western country yet finds herself, after dying, left to deal with an overlord who is, for all intents and purposes, the western conception of the devil. I mean, you can read as much Joseph Campbell as you want and assume all myths are just masks painted on the faces of shared myths, but for a self-consciously cynical comic, Hellblazer really is beholden to powers it is smart enough to, but too lazy to, wrestle with. (Again, this is an ongoing failure of Hellblazer, not just of Rankin's entry, though he does fail to even remotely explore it.)

5. A standalone story like this, based as it is on an ongoing series, runs the risk of turning a serial into a sitcom. And that happens here. When all is said and done, the events of this book seem to leave no mark on the character. He goes in and comes out the same person. Maybe that's a fun holiday, but for a series whose major tenet is the ongoing self-imposed degradation of its main character, it's a little out of character.

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Wim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Wim Lockefeer I think the basic flaw of the book is exactly that it has to fit into the John Constantine mythos, which over the years has become more of a straightjacket than a guideline, imho.

It is a bit of a shame that Rankin didn't do more with it, and instead went straight to the motherload of hell. I mean, how many different versions of Hell, with all their dominions, revolutions and gradations of demons, has Vertigo/DC brought on in the past 20-odd years ?

I prefer the John Constantine story that is totally weird and supernatural, but doesn't really totally rely on fanged or horned creatures.

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