Hellblazer 250 review

God help ye merry gentlemen, it's John Constantine's 250th issue and it's a Christmas special to boot.

As a treat, many former creators have been invited back and first off we have Dave Gibbons and Sean Phillips with Happy New Fucking Year. Once upon a time Vertigo couldn't use the old expletive; now they can and it's everywhere in this tale. For me, the freedom detracts from the story, drawing attention to itself like a little kid saying 'look at me pee'. That apart, this is a great little episode, with John on top form as he tries to stop a baby being sacrificed by a madman. There's a real sense of London here, produced by Gibbons' script and the masterly compositions of Phillips. Could these fellas be signed up for a run please?

Original Hellblazer writer Jamie Delano warms the cockles of the heart with Christmas Cards, though it's almost scuppered by the tortuous details of the card game - poker fans never notice that the rest of us aren't actually fascinated by the game's ins and outs. David Lloyd provides full colour art, somehow managing to lend softness to his grainy finishes. And extra points for use of the very British phrase 'Christmas box'.

Brian Azzarello authored my least favourite Hellblazer run. I'm not saying an American couldn't get Constantine, but for me, this one didn't. Even the speech patterns seemed off. Perhaps Azzarello agrees, as here he avoids dialogue, instead giving us a story in verse. It's not great verse, but I'll be charitable and assume that's deliberate, as All I goat for Christmas is the work of 'Jimmy Przeska, Local 432'. Would Local 432 be a trade union? I dunno. I also didn't get the resolution of this tale of a demon goat and a sports team, but Rafael Grampa's artwork was delightfully expressive. If a tad too brown, as coloured by Marcus Penna.

The Curse of Christmas is a six-page gem from Peter Milligan and Eddie Campbell, a story of dark political shenanigans that's all too plausible to any Brit who has had to endure the Queen's Christmas Day address to the nation (all of us). The nearest thing I have to a quibble is the lower case font used by Jared K Fletcher, which brings to mind Janet and John books. Or Marvel's Ultimate line.

Closing off the issue is the charming Snow Had Fallen, which is one of the most original Constantine tales I've read, yet totally true to our poor man's Merlin. China Miéville's script is bright, yet works for a Hellblazer entry, and Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini match the mood with their attractive art. The short concerns dark doings surrounding an apparent industrial accident and its sheer cleverness made my day. I think this is Miéville's first Hellblazer story; Vertigo, don't let it be his last.

So that's five stories, three of them delights, one pretty good and one that's not my cup of tea but will likely appeal to others. Plus, a splendidly spooky festive cover by Lee Bermejo. Who says comics can't get anthologies right? A big pat on the trenchcoated backs of editors Brandon Montclare and Bob Schreck for a job well done.