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James

Milligan's Hellblazer gets on my tits a bit

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Have you read issue 276 yet? In it -

 

 

SPOILERS!

 

 

- Constantine finds himself in danger of losing his house to a financial whizz, so basically kills him. The whizz is kind of a prick but not shown to be a direct thread to Constantine, or even to anyone else. It's like paying a sniper to put a round through the head of someone who's bidding against you on ebay or something. Definitely not in character.

 

There's also some seriously dodgy dialogue from John who goes on and on - during the flight back from his honeymoon, for crying out loud - about how he always gets people killed, he shouldn't let people get too close, he's a dangerous bastard, etc etc. He comes across as a man who believes his own PR.

 

This stuff finally clued me in to what's been bothering me about Milligan's time on the comic: it's Writing Lite. All the appearance and flavour of writing with half the actual content. Mr Money might be a metaphor, but that doesn't mean he can't be an actual human being too. But Milligan doesn't invest him with any personality or interests that aren't directly relevant to the story (which means he has one of each: a greedy nature and an interest in the property game, respectively). Delano spent four years writing stories that were both allegorical and realistic* - why are we likening Milligan to him now?

 

Worse, John Constantine is no longer the human we've been watching develop for the past 20-odd years. Now he's just a collection of shallow symbols and traits wrapped in a trenchcoat and jigged about on strings. It's like Milligan's writing the popular, lazy conception of Constantine rather than the one that's appeared in the actual comics: John fucks people over because they're in his way, not because they've done anything particularly wrong; he goes on about how he's never felt guilt in his life** despite years of comics showing the opposite; he almost completely lacks compassion; his relationship with Chas is cruelly exploitative*** etc etc etc. It contradicts what's come before so completely that it's hard to reconcile this part of the run with previous authors' attempts.

 

Azzarello was broadly similar, of course, but he had the excuse of (a) being largely unfamiliar with the comic and (b) being a bit shit at portraying real people anyway. Milligan did a good job with John way back in his 90s Shade the Changing Man issue and has always come across as one of comics' most empathic writers. Certainly his work on Shade, Human Target, Face and any number of other mature readers projects has shown him to be deft at plausible characterisation. So what the hell is going on here?

 

 

* In the sense of emotionally and narratively realistic rather than representative of our reality. Don't quibble about demons.

** The issue where Phoebe dies.

*** Chas is another good example: Milligan portrays him as being slavishly devoted to John even though every story involves him being hurt or humiliated in some way. That's what you'd write if you hadn't seen Chas confronting - and sometimes physically beating - John in runs by Ennis, Jenkins, Carey and Mina.

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That's a crap thread title, were you seeking to model bad writing?

 

:hattip:

 

I agree with much of what you've said (not all, I'll come back to the moping on the plane) and cast your minds back to the never resolved issues we had with Phoebe being the love of Constantine's life - since transferred with slightly more logic to Phanny. I would have said I liked Milligan's writing of women until his run on Hellblazer, but not since these two, and the shocking disdain for the women of Constantine's past.

The succubus was his most human woman, when you take everything into account.

 

For me, the Delano link is thematic not qualitative.

 

I don't know why Constantine is having that conversation now, it belongs back when he was unsure about his bride to be. It could actually have contrasted nicely with the young Constantine's bravado. Missed opportunities abound - even subject to the not yet completed nature of this story. Where I disagree is that the comments he makes about being dangerous are said with regret, not with swagger. Only inappropriate in that Andy Diggle had resolved all that (and to a degree undone his own work) and in keeping with the Constantine of old.

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Hey, no offense, but it's not exactly like someone bangs on your door and offers you the book, or threatens to buy it. You have a choice to read it or not. I find it really entertaining and it often gives me food for thought.. but if i was annoyed by it, I would just find something else to read.

Some ideas may not be developed as much as we would like them to, but we can always fill in the blank spaces with our imagination. Or write our own stories the way we like them.

 

Mr Money was flat, yeah, but maybe John knew something we didn't, but i would rather have that than a whole issue filled with the bad things he did. I met people like him, i think i can make a leap of faith and just believe he is one of them. After all, he is a part of the process that conquered the world with their swords, even though today they use tv, marketing, numbers and cheap alcohol.

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Hey, no offense, but it's not exactly like someone bangs on your door and offers you the book, or threatens to buy it. You have a choice to read it or not. I find it really entertaining and it often gives me food for thought.. but if i was annoyed by it, I would just find something else to read.

 

It's always annoying when someone says stuff like this. Are you really trying to stifle discussion on a discussion board? Rhetorical question.

 

Mr Money was flat, yeah, but maybe John knew something we didn't, but i would rather have that than a whole issue filled with the bad things he did. I met people like him, i think i can make a leap of faith and just believe he is one of them.

 

I haven't met people like him - or possibly I have, but I don't know what kind of people he is supposed to be - so the story needs to tell me why him dying is a satisfying ending. I didn't say that the whole issue should be full of things that he did, only that his character be developed more fully so that John's position and actions be more understandable. Garth Ennis can squeeze an enormous amount of character (and character development) into just one issue. So, come to think of it, can Peter Milligan. So why aren't we getting that here? This isn't a minor quibble - it's a serious barrier to fully appreciating the story.

 

After all, he is a part of the process that conquered the world with their swords, even though today they use tv, marketing, numbers and cheap alcohol.

 

But does he think of himself as an oppressor and a colonialist* or is he just making money without really thinking about the consequences of his actions? Or does he know the consequences and not care? Again, we're never really told, but I don't think any of the above makes him worthy of being murdered.**

 

 

 

* Obviously he's not actually a colonialist, it being a metaphor and everything, but you get the idea.

** You might not agree with the idea that he's even dead, but he definitely gets seriously assaulted and then vapourises. If he is trapped in the between-times world without his consent then it's roughly equivalent to, say, some random Muslim fella getting beaten up and hauled off to Guantanamo Bay...

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The succubus was his most human woman, when you take everything into account.

 

Yeah, and she got her heart torn out by a demon calling himself 'whore killer'. Odd stuff.

 

Where I disagree is that the comments he makes about being dangerous are said with regret, not with swagger.

 

It wasn't so much that he sounded like he was 'swaggering' - more that he was externalising thoughts that are usually kept inside and doing it in such a way that it seemed like a shallow and inaccurate summary of the character written by someone unfamiliar with him rather than something that John himself would say.

 

The idea of John seeing himself as separate from the Constantine who fucks people up - and being horrified by that - is interesting, but kind of conflicts with the cold-blooded action in the rest of the issue.

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It wasn't so much that he sounded like he was 'swaggering' - more that he was externalising thoughts that are usually kept inside and doing it in such a way that it seemed like a shallow and inaccurate summary of the character written by someone unfamiliar with him rather than something that John himself would say.

 

Well said, plus it was entirely unnecessary. It's like Hellblazer 101 for the uninitiated.

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Hey, no offense, but it's not exactly like someone bangs on your door and offers you the book, or threatens to buy it. You have a choice to read it or not. I find it really entertaining and it often gives me food for thought.. but if i was annoyed by it, I would just find something else to read.

 

It's always annoying when someone says stuff like this. Are you really trying to stifle discussion on a discussion board? Rhetorical question.

 

Mr Money was flat, yeah, but maybe John knew something we didn't, but i would rather have that than a whole issue filled with the bad things he did. I met people like him, i think i can make a leap of faith and just believe he is one of them.

 

I haven't met people like him - or possibly I have, but I don't know what kind of people he is supposed to be - so the story needs to tell me why him dying is a satisfying ending. I didn't say that the whole issue should be full of things that he did, only that his character be developed more fully so that John's position and actions be more understandable. Garth Ennis can squeeze an enormous amount of character (and character development) into just one issue. So, come to think of it, can Peter Milligan. So why aren't we getting that here? This isn't a minor quibble - it's a serious barrier to fully appreciating the story.

 

After all, he is a part of the process that conquered the world with their swords, even though today they use tv, marketing, numbers and cheap alcohol.

 

But does he think of himself as an oppressor and a colonialist* or is he just making money without really thinking about the consequences of his actions? Or does he know the consequences and not care? Again, we're never really told, but I don't think any of the above makes him worthy of being murdered.**

 

 

 

* Obviously he's not actually a colonialist, it being a metaphor and everything, but you get the idea.

** You might not agree with the idea that he's even dead, but he definitely gets seriously assaulted and then vapourises. If he is trapped in the between-times world without his consent then it's roughly equivalent to, say, some random Muslim fella getting beaten up and hauled off to Guantanamo Bay...

 

 

Hey, didn't mean to be rude, my gf always tells me i don't know the weight of my words in English.. What i mean is, why spend your time getting pissed off at the book? It may not be as great as we would like it to, maybe because of deadlines and other shit, but it does have some good stuff in it..

 

I agree that the Money guy doesn't think of himself as an oppressor, not more than a soldier who goes to war for his own profit, while destroying the lives of strangers. He acts in the name of the oppressor. What gives one man the right to take a piece of Earth from another one, where they have lived for hundreds of years. The invasion by the Rome was just the beginning, but it is still happening. Big businesses are taking over everything to make fast money, while destroying lives and the Earth. In my eyes it makes these people evil scum, despite "might makes right".

 

The kind of people, and i realize i'm thinking in terms of stereotypes, are the ones for who don't give a shit about anyone or anything except their own profit and pleasure.

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Hey, didn't mean to be rude, my gf always tells me i don't know the weight of my words in English.. What i mean is, why spend your time getting pissed off at the book? It may not be as great as we would like it to, maybe because of deadlines and other shit, but it does have some good stuff in it..

 

On the other hand, why not talk about the stuff I don't like in the hope that it will get better?

 

What gives one man the right to take a piece of Earth from another one, where they have lived for hundreds of years.

 

What gives John the right to destroy him?

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Hey, didn't mean to be rude, my gf always tells me i don't know the weight of my words in English.. What i mean is, why spend your time getting pissed off at the book? It may not be as great as we would like it to, maybe because of deadlines and other shit, but it does have some good stuff in it..

 

On the other hand, why not talk about the stuff I don't like in the hope that it will get better?

 

What gives one man the right to take a piece of Earth from another one, where they have lived for hundreds of years.

 

What gives John the right to destroy him?

 

Protecting himself and his turf, i guess.

 

And why not do it better, to show how it's done :) i'd love to see/do some Constantine fan-fiction!

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No.

 

No fan fiction.

 

It's not really about doing something better, it's about not enjoying something as a reader, and in this case something that could easily have been addressed by the writer.

 

Here's a thing that requires no fan fiction:

 

As far as we know, the business man is a dick who takes advantage of people with his system.

There's no evidence that he killed anyone (1).

 

As far as we know from the preceding 275 issues etc, Constantine teaches people lessons using his skills.

He has killed loads of people by error, neglect or whatever, and a number of Really Bad People/Demons but not many.

He could have undone Mr Business Analogue by reducing him to nothing (2).

Or actually taken advantage of him to get his flat lease extended (3).

 

1) There's not much.

2) which would have made more sense.

3) which is kind of what he set out to do and then it went wrong, but anyone starting with this issue would be mistaken for thinking that "Hellblazer is a kick ass mean bastard!" (like all the new folks in the early days of Azzarello).

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3) which is kind of what he set out to do and then it went wrong

 

Not sure about that interpretation. The 'voiceover' suggests that he knows exactly what Mr Moneybags is going through and what's going to happen to him (guessing when the hallucinations were going to begin, knowing that he would have disappeared in the hospital etc).

 

And even if it were something that went out of hang, he definitely closed the door in the guy's face when he was begging for help. That was cold.

 

Agree with the rest of your points though.

 

AAaaaaanyway. Does anyone have any thoughts on the wider topic of Milligan's writing? Don't want to create a duplicate of the #276 thread.

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I agree with most of your points, James, just not as strongly as you do. I find Milligan's run just to be more hit or miss than my liking, especially when I love a certain aspect of a book (Epiphany and young 70s John playing detective) and hate a different aspect from the same book (the aforementioned succubus seduction). I also got so sick of SHADE I almost dropped the book til that arc was over. In a way I did because I borrowed the last 2 issues of that SHADE arc and didn't buy them.

 

I feel that Milligan's arcs start off strong but peter out badly. India was a lovely book until it smashed 10 pages of ending into 4 or 5(?) (I can't remember how many, just it seemed like half the pages it should have been). You had this fairly drawn out, slow paced story, which I don't mind as long as the dialogue and attention to detail and art take up the slack. Then you have what sets up to be a grand finale to the story and it's like

 

"John! Demon! Go away! Oh No, Epiphany! No, I am the dead girl you're trying to resurrect. Stop it, and get on with your life! What happened? Never mind..."

 

Have you ever used the VLC media player's speed up feature that plays a movie faster by dropping out non key frames, so it doesn't make the voices sound like chipmunks or make the action too jerky? Well, India was running along slow and steady, no problems so far, them someone pushed that speed up button on max setting, boom! It's over. What?

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Yes, I absolutely agree with that. And yet India is one of the arcs that actually contradicts most of the claims I've made above by having well-rounded characters who seem to have an inner life and react to events plausibly (and a Constantine who actually seems to give a fuck about people around him).

 

India's an odd one, because everything does go odd in that last issue and I wonder whether there Milligan deviated away from his initial plan a little. The two cops, for example - three issues of having them in the supporting cast and yet they bring absolutely nothing to the conclusion, serving only to release John from jail (but as they were the ones who locked him up you could cut them from the story entirely without affecting the actual plot).

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That's what I forgot to say. The cops. I felt like they were stereotypes meant for comic relief, and which were borderline culturally insensitive, especially with how they were used and then cast as almost afterthoughts. I agree that India's other characters were well developed, good and bad, and the setting was unique and it had everything going its way--my favorite Hellblazer story going back to when Diggle first started. and then poof. And the resolution with Phoebe was most disappointing. After how many issues did he seek to resurrect her? For it to be over in less than a page of frames?

 

Could editing be a player in how it ended badly? Seems to me that in other discussions about Hellblazer's flaws, the editing comes up quite frequently.

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Shelly Bond's been in the game a long time so she should know what she's doing. TBH I don't know how much of this I can really lay at her feet; the stuff about Constantine not knocking people off left, right and centre is something you might not know if you're unfamiliar with the series (and is a subtle enough bit of character shading that you might not pick it up by reading Dangerous Habits and the usual suspects) and the rest of it is a matter of personal taste and interpretation.

 

It's not like there are that many hard and fast 'this is wrong' moments, just a feeling that Milligan isn't fulfilling his potential. Some stuff, like the conclusion to India and Mr Moneybags not being nasty enough to warrant a murdering, could've been amended though, I suppose.

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Does anyone have any thoughts on the wider topic of Milligan's writing? Don't want to create a duplicate of the #276 thread.

That's why I've said nothing in this thread. :smile: I'm more often dissatisfied than satisfied by Pete's Hellblazer issues, but can't really extend that into commenting on his writing. Is his writing on Hellblazer sub-par or do I just fail to see its appeal? Dunno. I do know that his long-awaited run on the title, which I was so excited by when it was announced, hasn't been the Christlike tour de force I imagined. A bit like Steven Moffat taking over Doctor Who.

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I do know that his long-awaited run on the title, which I was so excited by when it was announced, hasn't been the Christlike tour de force I imagined. A bit like Steven Moffat taking over Doctor Who.

 

Very much agreed. The difference, for me - and observe that, even though I'm picking up on the Doctor Who reference, I'm keeping on-topic while doing so, which probably represents some form of personal growth - is that in Moffat's case, I think the problem was partly that he felt a quite understandable need to play it safe in the transition year, and will hopefully begin to impress me more as he really starts to fully place his own creative stamp on the show. Milligan has, I think, been comfortably doing his own thing since he first took over Hellblazer, and it's still been somewhat disappointing. At this point, I don't think we can expect any major changes - for good or ill, Peter's made the book his own, but still doesn't seem to be hitting it out of the park. Why is that? As everyone's pointed out, Milligan's been the obvious next-writer candidate for this book for years, and in many ways it's surprising that it took this long for him to get round to writing a run. Is it just that we were expecting too much?

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Is it just that we were expecting too much?

 

Good question. For me, at least, I don't think it is. His output in the 90s was extraordinary both in its quality and consistency (and having spent a rewarding couple of days going through my longboxes I can assure you that they still stand up now), but since then he's been a little hit-and-miss for me. So when I started reading his Hellblazer I approached it with some caution. Perhaps this is why I've been so positive about his run up until now - I'd tempered my expectations enough for it not to bother me.

 

Still: compare the quality of characterisation in Hellblazer with, say, Shade the Changing Man - or even Human Target, which came well into his dodgy period - and it comes up short. He's got form for this kind of outlandish, cartoony writing, like in the excellent Girl. But at least that was a miniseries. I'm not sure the style holds up well in an ongoing, especially one that's been more realistically written up until now.

 

Just want to add that despite all this I am still enjoying Milligan's run in a muted way and look forward to seeing where he goes from here. I just think that Milligan can do better.

 

NB: Bit tipsy; apologies if there are any mistakes.

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Thanks for an interesting post, James. You articulated nicely what I myself have just been able to think of as the series "lacking heart". It feels like a sort of clockwork robot. All the different parts are there, they're doing what they should (well, mostly...), but there's no life to the story. And that life has to do with the characters not giving me any sort of feeling. Interestingly, the parts with Chas highlights this very well. Contrast the powerful stuff Carey did with their relationship (those issues were among my favorites), with this!

 

(And Mark: In contrast with Moffat's Dr. Who, Milligan's Hellblazer doesn't entertain me much...)

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If I had to sum up my ambivalence about much of Milligan's run, I'd probably describe it as being like a Cliff Notes version of a really strong set of Hellblazer stories. The ideas are there, the characters and character developments are there, it's broadly in line with the title's history without blandly regurgitating it...but there's something important missing. James has hit the nail on the head a couple of times, most notably in his excellent dissection of the wedding issue last month, which really boiled down a lot of Milligan's core traits into a single concentrated dose. It's hard to see what aspect of the story he's actually interested in telling...the villains and threats haven't been given a great deal of depth, which would suggest that they're largely backdrops against which the characters can be explored...but outside of the occasional brief scene, the characters haven't been explored with any particular depth, either. The writing seems to be skimming the surface of both character and situation, without fleshing anything out sufficiently for us to care.

 

Pål - likewise, although I suspect less so (I think I like Milligan's Hellblazer more, and Moffat's Who less, than you). And Milligan's Hellblazer would probably go down a bit better if we'd had top-notch fill-in issues along the way by Simon Nye, Gareth Roberts and Richard Curtis.

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I am so late to this party, but I just wanted to point out that I quit reading around 259 so obviously Milligan's run has not been doing it for me. When they switch writers I'll pick up an issue and see if I want to jump back in, but I was just so turned off by all the bullshit with Phoebe and the general scattershot feeling that it wasn't worth the three-whatever a month anymore. I'm sure his other shit is good. I may also have a decreased attention span these days (compared to when I started reading the title) for macho bluster and boozy angst.

 

 

No.

 

No fan fiction.

 

:( :( :(

 

Anybody ever tell you you're a grumpy sumbitch?

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No.

 

No fan fiction.

 

:( :( :(

 

Anybody ever tell you you're a grumpy sumbitch?

 

 

I don't care.

There is fiction for this sort of thing,

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Finally caught up with the past 4 issues (and reread 270-275 prior to that), and was scouring the Hellblazer sub-forum looking for a thread where I might express my disillusionment, and James pretty much nailed most of what's bugging me with his first post. It seems to me every issue has someone telling quasi-poetically their own feelings/character traits, without actually expressing them, and it looks horribly wrong when John does it. Like it's been said, it seems like a quick summary/simulacrum of similar internal monologues which actually worked with Ennis/Jenkins/Delano, the sort of thing which is actually passable when a) written better and b) expressed in john's thoughts, or as told to John/third party by someone else. Something similar to this was John's encounter with Kit in #275, with John telling Kit "what her problem was". Show, don't tell that ain't. And it seems to me that the pacing of dialog and plot is a bit off - some of the exchanges that even might work are condensed to 4-5 speech bubbles in the same panel, making it all feel kinda rushed. Some of it should've been allowed to breathe a bit, over several panels, decompression be damned, or at least find a way with the artwork/letterer to make it work better.

John's relationship with Epiphany seems to me like one of those US network TV drama relationships, where from their dialog, you don't get the feeling the characters are actually spending any time apart from when they're on-camera together. The whole bit of Bloody Carnations with teen-punk John worked because Epiphany and Constanteen barely knew each other, and such dynamic made sense.

I also had issues with John eliminating the greedy yuppie in such a fashion, and the whole druids seeking vengeance felt like something tacked on from a totally different story.

Some of the earlier bits of Milligan's run worked for me much better than the past... 8? 10? issues, and I hope Milligan has something more meaningful up his sleeve.

 

 

(Also, I'd like to thank James for the HellWiki, I just used it to clear up some questions I had regarding Fake Gary Lester, Beano and Demonstantine.)

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