written by Jamie Delano
illustrated by Jock
John Constantine has made deals with the devil, fought back the apocalypse, survived death itself, and been to the depths of hell and back again. In Pandemonium, he finds himself in the center of a hell unlike any other he's had the displeasure of facing—the frontlines of the Iraq war.
After a chance meeting with a Muslim woman, Aseera al-Aswari, and a bombing at the British Museum of Arts, Constantine finds himself conscripted by the British government to help interrogate a captive hostile. The hostile is a demonic scavenger caught rooting through the carnage following a car bombing, stealing the last bits of energy from the dying wounded. His interrogators are cursed with supernatural afflictions that drive them insane, leaving it up to Constantine and al-Aswari to unravel his secrets.
Snarky and distrusting, not to mention manipulative, Constantine is a strong anti-hero with a habit of playing both sides against one another in order to ensure he always comes out ahead. Equal parts sorcerer and scam artist, he is uncannily lucky, highly skilled at reading people, and oftentimes just a step or two ahead of everybody else. He's a bit of a supernatural detective built from the staples of hard-boiled crime fiction gumshoes like Philip Marlowe, clad in PI-standard trench coat with cigarettes at the ready.
Jamie Delano has a strong grip on the character, and makes Constantine effortlessly charming and relatable, despite his flaws. Having been the first writer on Vertigo's monthly Hellblazer comic book, he penned several years' worth of stories back in the 1980s. In a series that will soon be closing in on its 300-issue milestone, he set the stage for writers such as Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Brian Azzarello to come and play. Returning to the character for this original graphic novel, Delano is instantly familiar and comfortable with his old stomping grounds and wastes no time before shoving Constantine into a new environment to face familiar problems.
Joining Delano is Jock, an illustrator best known for his work on another Vertigo title, The Losers. His work is highly stylized, but not always consistent. His imagery of Iraq and London are both well-handled, each surprisingly beautiful in their own ways. The sunrises and sunsets of each locale both give the reader an instant familiarity of life in those locales, and his imagery of Iraq brings forth clear reminders of the damage that has been inflicted upon both the country and its people. His scenery is incredibly well constructed and his page and panel layouts are easy to follow, but his portraiture is occasionally messy and inconsistent. Although it's easy to discern characters, details oftentimes become muddied and the geometrics of his characters undergo odd changes. Constantine is variably depicted as having a lean look with a strong jaw line, while at other times he appears more angular and sharply pointed, or rounder and softer.
Given that the lead character, writer, and artist are all British, it seems a no-brainer that Pandemonium has a very British sensibility to it and is immediately different from most American comics. Although it starts off with a bang, much of the story is more subdued, only briefly punctuated by big action scenes. There are moments of horror and violence, but the story itself is deliberately paced and wordy. This is not a bad thing by any means, but it is a book that requires attention and effort and it will reward those with the initiative. It is a mystery story with overtones and glimpses of horror and supernatural fare. It is also highly political. The story being told here functions on several levels beyond just mere entertainment. Delano is crafting a careful parable, presenting war itself as a high-stakes poker game in which human life is bet and wagered upon, drawing very strong parallels between the demons who thrive on mankind's follies and the politically powerful who make warfare possible.-- Michael Hicks