It says a lot for a horror/dark fantasy graphic novel series to have a successful run of nearly 30 years. That’s a good run in any genre, especially in the comic book industry. “John Constantine, the Hellblazer”, the longest-running series in the DC Vertigo line, started in 1987 and ran until 2013. It was resurrected in other titles, and, as of today, is still going. The series inspired a major motion picture and a short-lived NBC TV series.
I’m not sure why I waited this long to finally read “Hellblazer”. Part of it might be due to the 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves, a movie that I didn’t like at all and, frankly, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Yet, the comic series had been running for nearly two decades before the movie, so I can’t exactly blame it on that.
I do know that in 1987, I was in eighth grade. I had other things going on then, and my tastes in comic book genres did not include brooding, philosophical working-class British dabblers in the occult heavy on socio-political commentary with a strong liberal bent. I liked superheroes wearing Spandex, and I was also discovering that I liked magazines with naked women in them. So, there’s that...
Regardless, I’m just glad that I decided to start reading them now. “Hellblazer” is, hands down, one of the coolest graphic novel series I have ever read.
The origins of Constantine are still a mystery to me. Supposedly, Constantine first appeared in the pages of Alan Moore’s now-famous series “Swamp Thing” (It’s on my “to read” list, to be sure), and then writer Jamie Delano and artists John Ridgway and Alfredo Alcala decided that he deserved his own series.
Constantine, as a character, essentially represented everything I didn’t
like as a teenager. He had no actual super powers. He was kind of a dick. He smoked. And he didn’t actually help anybody, except maybe occasionally by accident. He also spent a lot of time making fun of Christianity, liberal do-goodism, happy people, etc.
As a 47-year-old, the guy’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a perfect anti-hero.
The first volume, “Original Sins”, compiles issues #1-9 of the series. The very dark (and British) comic book artwork reminds me of a few things---the British comic books “2000 A.D." featuring Judge Dredd (a series that I discovered young and have loved ever since) and some of the early EC horror comics of the 1940s and ‘50s (a late-in-life discovery).
If you were not aware of his origins, in the first several issues, Constantine sets himself as a kind of stereotypical old-school detective, replete with a trenchcoat and a cigarette always dangling from the corner of his mouth. Everything about the comic book screams “noir”. There’s a catch, though, because Constantine isn’t solving the typical crimes. The crimes he’s after have a sinister and supernatural fragrance. They are crimes that most cops or shamuses would write off as unsolvable or too weird.
Constantine is reminiscent of John Connolly’s series involving another brooding detective named Charlie Parker, who also engages in supernatural and otherworldly investigations. Unlike Constantine, though, Parker is empathetic, compassionate, and a decent human being. Strangely enough, I think the two would probably get along, because despite their vast differences in personality, they are, basically, working on the same side. Reply