Which is all fine and dandy, except that this book could in no way be described as a crime story. There are no gangsters, no murders to be solved, no police procedural. But there are suicides, demons, social commentary, satire and John Constantine trying to work things out. It’s vaguely a detective book in that respect I suppose but come on, this is a John Constantine: Hellblazer story given a fancy cover and an emphasis on Ian Rankin’s name. It’s only so much a crime graphic novel as Showgirls is a kids movie because it’s got Elizabeth Berkley in it. Also, towards the end is an advert for Rankin’s other titles with the legend “Before John Constantine, There Was John Rebus.” No there bloody wasn’t, Inspector Rebus first appeared in Knots & Crosses in 1987. John Constantine entered our world with Swamp Thing #37 in 1985. So come on, a sense of literary history, please.
Of course, Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels reportedly make up 10% of all crime fiction sold in the UK, so I can see why marketing ran roughshod over editorial and creative content. And this is a decent enough Hellblazer book, reminiscent of the earlier issues of the series, more Jamie Delano than Garth Ennis say, with a decent satirical take on reality show culture, even if the topic seems passe. But it’s nowhere near as insightful as Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set for example, or even Ben Elton’s Dead Famous – the latter of which has actually got a claim to being a crime novel. And there’s a bloody good idea for a reality TV show in Dark Entries, Endemol should snap it up – basically a Big Brotherish house where participants are scared repeatedly day and night. And it plays out like something I’d probably watch, hell I tuned in to all the episodes of Space Cases. But of course everything in the house goes wrong, Constantine is called in, and the book continues to twist further, into traditional Constantine territory.
And that’s the thing, Rankin’s name, the hardcover and the marketing leads us to expect something special, and we just get a good Hellblazer story instead. Which normally I’d be very happy with but I’d been sold to expect more. Dell’Edera’s artwork is also very scratchy in that early pre-Vertigo Hellblazer style, without the colour that would normally bind it together. There’s a feeling not so much of intent, but of a rushed laziness in some of these pages, without the ease of storytelling that, say, Steve Dillon brought to the character. For something given so much promotion, it looks like it was just knocked out in places.
If this has been an early eighties story, it would be cited as visionary. If it had just been a Hellblazer graphic novel, I’d have been happier with what I read. It’s a shame that the marketing of a book has to affect the reading experience in this fashion, I’d have been happy with getting a nice surprise, but I didn’t get that either. Instead I got something that felt familiar, old, out of step and a little bit pointless – the opposite of what I was expecting. The back cover quotes Warren Ellis as saying “This is a classic John Constantine story.” Which is exactly right. I just didn’t realise how damning that was with faint praise until I read it.
This isn’t as negative a review as it may sound. Go in expecting Hellblazer in the classic model and you’re less likely’to be disappointed. Clearly, I’m reviewing my expectations more than the book. But dammit, Vertigo Crime, if you didn’t raise those expectations in the first place.
Dark Entries was published in the USA this week and is published in the UK in October.