John Constantine is one of my favourite comic book characters, although I can’t put my figure on why. He’s a rogue, for sure, and he usually gets what he wants by fair means or foul. At times, however, he doesn’t appear to do much. He will often manipulates but rarely uses his magical abilities. Or maybe he does and we just don’t notice. He could be all about sleight of hand. I like the idea of someone not being all they seem to be and not making the obvious moves. He always gets in and out of trouble, not matter what he does. I guess he brings the fatalist out in me.
Hold Me is a one shot from 1990, not long after Jamie Delano had taken Alan Moore’s creation and turning him into something of a cult phenomenon. Constantine usually gets caught up in complex plots, but the one thing about this entry into the cannon is that it is a simple story. I think it is what Gaiman does best. When he keeps things simple and breaks your heart, which is when he is at his most effective.
The story begins as tragic vignette concerning the homeless, looking for warmth. We then join John as he encounters a racist taxi driver on the way to a party of sorts, remembering the first anniversary of the death of his friend, Ray. Tellingly, en route, he gives a cigarette to a homeless man. At the party, he’s introduced to Anthea, who he vaguely remembers. She comes onto him, but as usual, he thinks something isn’t quite right. However, they end up back at his flat where her true purpose is revealed. Meanwhile, in the same block as Anthea resides, a woman is killed by an ‘intruder’, leaving a scared little girl looking for help. As John leaves Anthea’s he comes across the girl, the dead mother and rather neatly, resolves all story lines together. Gaiman’s tale finishes with John and Anthea in an embrace, almost out of necessity.
What I love about this comic is the effortless in the story telling and the incredible art by Dave McKean.
McKean is often thought of as ‘just a collage artist’, but in Hold Me, he shows off another side to his talent which I’d like to see much more of. The first few pages are scratchy, dirty, indistinct. His use of shadows is atmospheric and creepy. And then, intricate detail, suggestive of something else comes into play. Buildings have characters, while characters remain sketchy. The colours are muted greys and sepias; heavy on the black. McKean’s art lends itself perfectly to Gaiman’s storytelling to the point where you can’t imagine any other way of telling it. John Constantine has never looked so vague, yet so well defined. The darkness and light are as good as it gets.
Hold Me is also, in my mind, a bit of a precursor to Gaiman’s 1996 brilliant Neverwhere, in which the homeless are portrayed as the key to really being alive in London. However, there is no real hidden meaning to this. It is a tale of compassion, a tale of how people just need to be honest and nice to each other, and if they were the world would be a much better place.