Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Hellblazer Warlord by John Shirley

Hellblazer: Warlord by John Shirley

Pocket books 331 pages

I read this book in 2006 when it came out, but saw it on the shelf last week and decided to give it another spin as I re-read several Constantine Graphic novels in the last year. At the time when this was released I was very excited as Shirley is my favorite author and Constantine is my favorite comic book character. Shirley was a great choice to bring this character into the prose world as they have a lot in common. Vets of 70’s punk bands, Shirley fronted Sado-nation and Constantine fronted Mucus Membrane. Both are masters of dark arts. I think it is clear quickly in the book that Shirley relates to the aging dark magician who has cheated the devil and fought demons for decades in the pages of DC comics since he was introduced by Alan Moore in the pages of Swamp Thing.

Shirley really went to great length to honor the cannon, and respect the timeline. Even though the book takes place away from Constanstine’s native England there is a neat prologue that cameos major Hellblazer characters like Chaz. There are many excellent references to back story which add depth and ground you to the world Constantine lives in.

The novel starts with Constantine astral projecting from the middle east, you see he has been on a spiritual quest in an Iranian monastery. His guru is a two hundred year mystic named the Blue Shiek, who is murdered in front of him. Constantine stumbles on to a plot by forces from the hidden world who are bent on starting a world war.

There is a chapter early in the novel that explores the effect of war through a lens on the Iraq war. Considering that this novel was written in 2006, it has a time capsule effect that brought me back to the feelings we experienced watching the Iraq debacle unfold on the news. This chapter is powerful and intense – really could stand alone as an intense look at the conflict. It raises the bar beyond base nature of your average media tie-in.

The characters and settings are really strong. Some already existed in the back story, but several are new including Spoink. This character an astral projecting surfer mystic who has taken over the body of a former terrorist in coma is a very Rudy Rucker-ish character. Shirley has Spoink even give a nod to Rucker by name in the narrative. Perhaps my favorite aspect is the disturbing presence of Dr. Mengle being kept alive as a disembodied brain in a jar. The scene that introduces this concept on page 104 is great great.

Overall I think this novel is a must-read for Constantine fans in general. Warlord is a great John Shirley novel with a subtle message and as a Constantine novels it expands the character and canvas of the story very well. Great stuff.

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