The Comic Column #14: Goodbye Hellblazer, Hello Constantine

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I consider myself a huge fan of Alan Moore’s bad luck street mage John Constantine, and yet I’ve not read a current issue of the now twenty-four year old book in approximately six years. Admittedly that makes me the worst kind of fan – the kind that is always glad something’s there, but then derelict on supporting it. In light of recent news I carry this guilt heavy, and yet there was a time when I couldn’t have ever seen myself not continuing to obsessively read the adventures of John Constantine. Be that as it may I had a strange parting of ways with the book – really no fault of its own – and though I’ve always retained a wikipedia-curiosity about its continued continuity, I really feel as though I absorbed Hellblazer and then put it down.

I fell hard into Constantine’s book kinda after the fact. I remember reading the first trade, Jamie Delano’s Original Sin, back some time in high school, early 90’s. I liked it. At the time books like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and James O’Barr’s The Crow were changing my tastes in comics, helping me shed my mutant-book predilection and sustaining my ‘maturing’ interest in comic books. At that time I dug Hellblazer, but it didn’t quite grab me completely. In fact it wasn’t until nearly ten years later that I went back and read all of the Garth Ennis trades. I LOVED those – they came into my life at the right time I guess, and I continued reading the series as trades, going through Warren Ellis’ criminally short run, Azzarello, and finally Carey’s, during which I also began reading the book monthly. Then I moved and lost the privilege of having a lot of excess money and a regular comic shop. I was caught up on the trades, Denise Mina took over the book and I tried to continue reading Hellblazer monthly but something just wasn’t the same anymore (no offense meant to Mina). The Carey issues kinda worked because they were spinning off the bulk of the story I’d just read in trades. Momentum faltered and I began to see it the way my friend John did, it’s just not a “monthly” book. I agree with him. For many others yes, but for me not at all.

I’d always meant to go back and pick up the subsequent volumes – Mina’s, Andy Diggle and Peter Milligan’s. But then a funny thing happened. I re-read Ennis’ initial run and quickly came to the opinion that there really didn’t need to be anything else. I still dig most of the other stuff I’d read (esp. the Carey run) but everything but everything but Ennis’ seemed somehow superfluous to me. Regardless of how good anything else with Constantine is, Ennis’ run is such a defining, iconic story as a whole that – for me at least – everything other than a story here or there in a way feels as though it takes something away from it. I know, that’s weird and kind of stupid, but it is how I feel.

Regardless, I’ve always been glad that Vertigo’s Hellblazer was out there. It’s pretty much the last throw-back to old Vertigo, which you have no doubt surmised that I have a special place in my heart for. Two weeks ago DC announced the book’s cancellation with issue 300 this upcoming February and the subsequent launching of  a new series entitled Constantine – set in the New52 and utilizing the version of John Constantine so far seen in the Justice League Dark book that kind of collects a lot of the old Vertigo crew alongside the darker, more Magickal characters that previously inhabited the nooks and crannies of the old DCU (Shade the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu side-by-side with Deadman, Zatana and some others, operating partially out of the House of Mystery, where I’,m sure there’s a kitchen sink…). I read Justice League Dark for approximately nine issues – it started out as a pretty cool albeit PG version of the tone I miss from the old Vertigo stuff, but as soon as Peter Milligan was replaced by Jeff Lemire the book became more of a magic super hero book in tone and less creepy, black magic trials and tribulations (not that it was ever really that to begin with, but it was the closest thing since Vertigo changed gears ten years ago or so). I’ve said this in these pages before – I do not believe it’s Lemire’s fault. More and more it’s looking to me as though the editorial bullpen is largely running the show at DC and I think it’s driving writers away and in some cases making for uneven writing practices.

Will that be the case for a Constantine book? I don’t know, but now I’m sorry I’d not been reading the Vertigo one. I don’t think anything is going to change my mind about Ennis’ run being the only one needed, but if you read what some of the writers who have Hellblazer had to say in the wake of this news you’ll see that for writers as well as readers, there was just something so real and perfectly defined about the John Constantine character that it really was as if those into him knew him. And a wonky, not-so perfect day shared with a good friend is a hell of a lot better than never seeing them again.

So here’s me off to start buying some of those trades that I missed. Then John and I will be able to have a proper pint together again.

image courtesy of wikipedia

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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