In what now appears to be the penultimate Hellblazer collection, John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat opens with the title arc. Gemma has sold Constantine’s storied trench coat on an Internet auction site, and the coat appears to have a demonic self-awareness. Very bad things start happening to everyone who comes in contact with it, and unexplained magical events are impinging on Constantine’s life as well. The second story arc, “Another Season In Hell,” was set up at the end of “The Devil’s Trench Coat.” Gemma had begun sleeping with Epiphany’s father Terry as leverage. To get her to stop we see a classic Constantine trip to Hell, this time to get his sister Cheryl out of Hell and satisfy the burning question Gemma has about why she’s there. Knowing that the series is about to end, I can’t help seeing this as part of the unfinished business Milligan is getting to before the final curtain. Visits to Hell always seem to result in complications, and this one quickly spirals out of control. Constantine does get his sister out in the end, but not without injury and death to those close to him. The epilogue “Dark Magic” seems to have finally put his dark twin to rest, so that’s one less possible plot complication as the series heads towards the end. It also features the magician Angie Spatchcock, a former lover who reappeared at the wedding. She was originally introduced in 2002 during Mike Cary’s run, so this is an instance of Milligan actively bringing in some previous continuity (which has been relatively uncommon in the entire history of the title).
The latest collection finds Bigby & Snow’s cubs being tested to decide which will become the next North Wind, while Bufkin leads a ragtag group fomenting revolution in Oz, and the rest of the Fables return to the Farm and find it relatively untouched by the late Mister Dark. The series seems to have settled on the format of switching between several different continuing story lines in each issue, with occasional breaks for one-shots. The conclusion of “Inherit the Wind” brings the search for the new North Wind to a surprising conclusion, although the story is far from over. The other ongoing threads don’t get the same: Bufkin’s adventures in Oz end with a cliffhanger; life at the Farm resumes normality in time for Christmas; and in Fabletown the former Nurse Spratt waits for the return of the Fables with some sort of revenge in mind. The Christmas issue features Rose Red in a Dickens variant: they were bound to get to that eventually. She makes a pledge to a ghost who sure looks like Boy Blue to me, although she doesn’t see it. The final “In Those Days” issue is a collection of short stories about Fables past, illustrated by several interesting guest artists (Rick Leonardi, Ron Randall, P. Craig Russell, Zander Cannon, Jim Fern, Ramon Bachs, and Adam Hughes). One of them tells the story of how Fabletown was ignored by the Empire for so long, a clever bit of back story.
This collection includes the famous blockbuster issue #100 that I had to avoid all discussion of at the time, the most difficult spoiler avoidance I can recall. That issue was indeed horrific, but in the context of the series I’d have to say that it’s not especially unique: basically it’s The Governor turned up a notch. It would have been more impressive if Kirkman had found a way to make the big climax something other than the death of a major character, which long-time readers have almost come to expect. The entire story arc in this collection is surprising, though. The previous collection introduced a new walled community called the Hilltop, and a new villain named Negan, who leads a protection racket called the Saviors. We’re expecting Rick and the group to plan an attack on the new threat, endure some complications and losses, and ultimately be victorious. But it turns out to be considerably more complicated than that. The Saviors are a much larger group than expected, and they are absolutely ruthless. Rick makes the surprising decision not to resist them, fearing the loss of his entire group. But he sends their new Hilltop ally Paul out to scout out the Saviors as the collection closes, so he clearly has another long term plan.
This first collection includes the first seven issues of the series, enough to introduce the characters and setting and get a good satisfying chunk of story telling in as well. It’s doing a pretty effective job of alternating between the present and flashbacks that reveal the relationships between the major characters. Robert Kirkman created the series (and is credited with Story), but Nick Spencer is the writer (art by Shawn Martinbrough). I haven’t read enough Kirkman outside of The Walking Dead to figure out how much it reads like a Kirkman book. I’m enjoying it, though. It occurs to me that if master thief Redmond actually succeeds in quitting, then he won’t be a thief any more! Seems like a basic issue with an ongoing title about a thief, unless you’re going to have all the thieving occur in flashback. Amazing multilayered twist at the end, which may demonstrate how the ongoing will work. He keeps trying to get out, but they keep pulling him back in… It could be argued that too much of the twist is hidden from the reader: there’s no way to anticipate any of it, as we’re just as much in the dark as the characters are. But it’s not a classic mystery story anyway, more like a crime procedural. Redmond proves to be a brilliant strategist, which opens the door for lots more complex heists in future issues. He also possesses a remarkable talent for making women angry, which I suspect will be another continuing theme.