Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels are a great series of detective fiction set in Edinburgh around a strong central character. They are great books and Rankin is a really good writer, so it was a bit of a surprise when the news was announced that he would be writing a John Constantine graphic novel. It wasn’t helped when, in an interview at Newsarama, he talked about how he really liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film (he watched it three times), he enjoyed the film From Hell more than the book, and he didn’t know anything about writing comic books before writing this graphic novel (even though he is a long-term comic book reader).
The idea for the story didn’t inspire confidence – Constantine finds himself inside an occult house reality TV show, when the producers pay him to investigate a problem they are having inside the set with the contestants. Satirising reality television seems like an opportunity for Constantine, but it feels a few years out of date; I know that it takes time for comic book to get from script to publication, but satire requires the element of timing for its bite. However, this is not the point of book, as becomes obvious when the tale takes a turn into classic John Constantine territory in the middle of the story, and everything becomes clear. It feels exactly like an old Hellblazer comic extended to 200 pages, in a good way, and you realise you’re reading a really good book.
For a beginner to comic book writing, Rankin does a very good job: he has Constantine’s narrative voice down perfectly, he sets up the plot cleanly and he tells the story effectively. There is great dialogue (to be expected based on his novels) and a sense of humour, and the horror suitably creepy. I was very pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially since Rankin admitted in the interview that he only read Understanding Comics after getting the job.
Dell’edera does a good job – he has a suitably noir vibe to his art, even if it’s a little on the scratchy linework side of style for my particular liking, but it must work because it looks good even in the reduced size of this graphic novel. He does a good Constantine, and he has a good sense of claustrophobia and atmosphere, and he can go to the darker side when needed for later in the book.
Dark Entries is a really good Hellblazer story that shows that ‘stunt authors’ can actually work really well. I look forward to Rankin producing more comic book work for Vertigo, maybe even straight crime next time.