For a character with over 25 years of history, it’s amazing how little people know of him. John Constantine is chain smoking magician from Liverpool, capable of simple magic tricks, fighting the supernatural using cunning, deception and trickery to succeed, often gaining more enemies than allies. Constantine almost always wins, but never without consequences, which is what makes him so mesmerizing.
First and foremost, pronunciation. Constantine is a British creation, forever under the pen of U.K. writers. The British way to pronounce it is Constan-tyne, not Constan-teen, the American pronunciation. Constantine was a creation of Alan Moore, introduced in The Sage of the Swamp Thing #37 as a supporting character. Eventually, Constantine was given his own series in 1988 entitled Hellblazer. It was originally intended to be Hellraiser, but due to the unrelated Clive Barker film, was changed.
The world of Hellblazer is self contained, with no reference to superheroes or other happenings. Despite this, some other DC characters made appearances occasional, such as Swamp Thing, Zatanna, The Phantom Stranger and Dream (Sandman). Constantine was mostly insulated in his own series, with editorial rarely granting access for use in other series. He appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Sandman, Lucifer, and Shade, the Changing Man to name a few. In some instances, when creators were given license to use him, they created their own. Grant Morrison created Willoughby Kipling for Doom Patrol for example.
Hellblazer was helmed by some of the best talent in the industry. Jamie Delano started the series, followed by Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, Denise Mina, Andy Diggle, and finally Peter Milligan, with a handful of others in between. Each writer infused different elements mirroring current social movements or politics. One of the most famous came from Warren Ellis in a story called “Shoot,” which wasn’t published until 2010. The story was about a school shooting. Sadly, this written prior to the Columbine High School shooting. DC refused to publish it, and he walked.
The series was the predated its eventual home of Vertigo, which didn’t launch until 1993. John continued plugging away, fighting the good fight for over two decades, until the worst happened. It was the end of times. The finale of Brightest Day (the followup to Blackest Night) reintroduced Swamp Thing into the mainline DCU, with Constantine tracking him. The DCU iteration of the character was typically written by an American, with fans mostly panning the interpretation for being ‘off.’ As such, fans took to calling the original Hellblazer Constan-tyne and the DCU version Constan-teen.
This reintroduction yielded a mini-series, with Constantine looking for Swamp Thing that ultimately didn’t matter because 4 months later, the New 52 struck. Part of the reboot included a mystical version of the Justice League called, Justice League Dark. The team included Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, and a younger Constantine.
For reasons unknown, DC began, what seemed to be, dismantling Vertigo in 2012. One of the changes was the cancellation of Hellblazer, ending in March of 2013 with issue #300. This was replaced by a New 52 book entitled Constantine, which has been consistently panned.
Outside of comics, there was a 2005 movie, Constantine, starring (of all people) Keanu Reeves. Fans mostly took it as a giant middle finger. Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) has expressed interest in a Justice League Dark movie, featuring Constantine, but nothing has come of this, yet. Finally, there’s the NBC series entitle Constantine, starring Matt Ryan as the titular character, whose not only English (he’s from Wales, close enough I suppose), but he’s blond too. The only lacking feature is he doesn’t smoke.
The beauty of Hellblazer is the lack of required knowledge. This book was comics at its finest, with readers able to jump in anywhere, instantly able to understand the status quo despite years of history. Constantine has always been best when he’s dark and gritty. Despite DC’s best effort to destroy him (along with themselves), Hellblazer will always be available for fans.
What’s your favorite Hellblazer story? Upset the TV version doesn’t smoke? Comment below!