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Dark Entries by Ian Rankin
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Dark Entries

by Ian Rankin, Werther Dell'Edera (Illustrator)

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[Yeah, spoilers. Boilerplate, polite version: I promise I don't "spoil" anything about this book that would have bothered me had I known about it in advance of reading this book. That said, I cannot think of anything I have read in my life that would have been spoiled had I known the plot-advancing facts. And this is not, I promise, a mini–Cliffs Notes–style detailed summary of the story. Perhaps the only real way to "spoil" a book is to detail any serious flaws in logic, to the extent that you then can't get them out of your head as you read the book. I can't promise that I don't to that -- but neither can anyone else.]

The mystery novelist Ian Rankin takes on his first graphic novel, focusing on the character John Constantine, of the ongoing monthly Vertigo/DC comic-book series Hellblazer. There was a movie based on Constantine starring Keanu Reeves, but the character in the comics is decidedly British. He was based on Sting back in the mid-1980s, when he was created -- the meaner-than-he-is-today Sting who once made sense in Dennis Potter's mind to play the devil.

Constantine, a supernatural P.I. with a bad habit of leaving damned loved ones in his wake, was created by Alan Moore of Watchmen fame during his pre-Watchmen run on the series Swamp Thing. In Rankin's standalone volume, Constantine joins the cast of a reality TV show, essentially a version of Big Brother. Ghost-busting ensues.

All in all, not fully satisfyingly. It is neat in how light the story is in tone, none of the straining-for-gravitas of much latter-day Hellblazer, but for all its fun with the architecture and entertainment of the underworld (Hell, not the mafia), it leaves open more loose ends than most serialized stories do, with less of a sense that anyone will ever tie them up. I most enjoy it for its format. It seems drawn (by Werther Dell'Edera, with whom I was not previously familiar) for the smaller page size, and works pretty well in that regard. And I like black and white comics, especially stark ones, which this is. Mine is a minority opinion, but I'd say that most color comics gain little from the color except a price bump.

Things about the comic that linger with me, and not in a positive way:

1. Constantine's TV is a portal to hell. That's a nifty concept, but the idea that throwing it out the window would break the spell doesn't fit -- certainly not in Constantine's story-world, in which de-demonizing objects and places (and people) is often the pretext for multi-issue story arcs. I just started re-reading the series from the start, so I'm especially sensitive to the way tiny objects linger in the storyline like houses with hidden mold carcinogen, waiting for an unsuspecting new tenant. In an actual Hellblazer storyline, that TV would end up in a Salvation Army, and its parts would then be reused by some unaware Internet start-up, which would then discover a demon is its most generous angel investor. And Constantine, at this stage, would foresee such an eventuality and work to avoid it.

2. If Hell's residents can tunnel so easily into Limbo, well, that's kind of a major mess of story that makes the plight of these few 20somethings seem kinda slight by comparison. And again, it's just left dangling.

3. As a friend noted, the main characters aren't particularly interesting. The mystery, which appears to really mean "puzzle" here, is what it's about. The characters are puzzle pieces, and it is neat to see how they fit together, and Rankin did a really good job of rationalizing all that into the Hellblazer mode (tying it to one character who is the fulcrum for it all). But, yeah, the characters have no development, aside from shifting from not knowing their fate to knowing it, and from us misinterpreting their dreams to being told flat-out what those dreams "symbolize" (a direct causality that is too clean-cut even for Freud, and utterly disinterested in the ambiguity inherent in the surreal). If anything, the characters change depending on what the story needs. At times, just in time for whatever the imminent joke needs.

4. And then there's the overarching issue, which isn't Rankin's fault. This is just the whole "how do the western underpinnings of Constantine's metaphysics reconcile themselves with non-western metaphysics." I really feel for the Japanese character, for example: not just because she was molested by salarymen on trains, and not just because the comic's editor let the artist let the reader ogle her (talk about adding insult to injury -- though I guess here it works, a little, because the panels mimic the reality-TV viewer's perspective), but mostly because she was raised in a non-western country yet finds herself, after dying, left to deal with an overlord who is, for all intents and purposes, the western conception of the devil. I mean, you can read as much Joseph Campbell as you want and assume all myths are just masks painted on the faces of shared myths, but for a self-consciously cynical comic, Hellblazer really is beholden to powers it is smart enough to, but too lazy to, wrestle with. (Again, this is an ongoing failure of Hellblazer, not just of Rankin's entry, though he does fail to even remotely explore it.)

5. A standalone story like this, based as it is on an ongoing series, runs the risk of turning a serial into a sitcom. And that happens here. When all is said and done, the events of this book seem to leave no mark on the character. He goes in and comes out the same person. Maybe that's a fun holiday, but for a series whose major tenet is the ongoing self-imposed degradation of its main character, it's a little out of character.
  Disquiet | Mar 30, 2013 |
Constantine becomes one of the housemates at a horror version of Big Brother in order to solve a supernatural murder, only to realize that he has been tricked into the house by the denizens of Hell. The premise is not exactly a stroke of genius, but as Rankin is a practiced plot-writer, the story was intriguing and kept me turning the pages to see how it all would resolve. The writing is not exceptional but stays true to Constantine's voice and although the stark black-and-white drawings are not my favorite, they do add a noir feel to the story. What results is a decent part of the mythos for Constantine-fans and an imaginative addition to the oeuvre for Rankin-fans, but I wouldn't recommend this to someone who wasn't one or the other. ( )
  -Eva- | Dec 15, 2011 |
Ian Rankin does a John Constantine graphic novel - brilliant for fans of either! There's a new reality TV show, based on scaring the participants. But more frights than the producers have set up are appearing. Or so they say, when enlisting Constantine as supernatural detective/ghost buster.

Good story line; but the black & white art work isn't my favourite Constantine. (Not the worst, either, just not great.) ( )
  cajela | Jan 16, 2011 |
John Constantine becomes part of a reality show (Big Brother) in order to investigate the supernatural events that happen in this haunted house.
The first impression of Constantine: ‘Maybe we all screwed up our lives somewhere and this is the punishment. The punishment ... or the cure.’ (p. 106) Could it be so easy? No, the border of the drawings changes color: from white to black, so Evil tells the truth of the story.

The black and white drawings by Werther Dell’Edera follow the narration and convey the Dark Entries’ main idea of Ian Rankin: black and white, shade and light, good and evil, death and life

Altogether I prefer the John Constantine smoker and thoughtful than this of Dark Entries where he seems a sort of super-hero with all the answers; for instance a John Constantine acting as Inspector Rebus. ( )
  GrazianoRonca | Sep 2, 2010 |
I can’t remember the last time I read a graphic novel, but I’m pretty sure it’s been about 10 years. It definitely won’t be another 10, because I really enjoyed this and plan to find some more graphic novels to read soon. You may be familiar with the main character, John Constantine, from the comic Hellblazer or the movie based on it, Constantine. Constantine is a magician, though not the type you’re used to. And he tends to use his magic to keep those trying to get out of hell in their place. In Dark Entries, Constantine is used to make some commentary on the reality television phenomenon, as he is asked to join a group of people locked in a house and see what it is that is scaring them. The art is pretty great, and there is a big twist in the story that is illustrated very well with the change of the paper color from white to black. I’ve enjoyed Ian Rankin’s other books, so I’m not surprised that I liked the story. ( )
  miyurose | Apr 28, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Rankin brings a new spin to the character, placing him in a far different setting than the usual seedy London streets where we would expect to find Constantine. But while Dark Entries proves to be effective as a new Hellblazer adventure, it also works as a telling commentary on the current state of popular culture without even a hint of a lecturing tone.
 

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Ian Rankinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dell'Edera, WertherIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Occult detective John Constantine has seem many strange things in his career, but the horrors of "reality television" are a new genre. When in the "Haunted Mansion", a hot new show on TV, the house itself starts attacking the contestants, Constantine must figure out who, or what, is pulling the strings in this macabre situation, before it becomes his last investigation.… (more)

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