Helloween with John E.
As Halloween approaches we are all looking for something a bit on the darker side. A bit dark, a bit edgy and a bit punk rock. No. I am not referring to Return of the Living Dead (although that is another of my favorites). I am referring to the one and only John Constantine, Hellblazer. Pre-New 52 and Rebirth. One of the most successful titles of the now defunct and sadly missed, Vertigo line running 300 issues with multiple mini-series and crossovers written by some of the top names in the industry, and was the inspiration behind a feature film and a sadly short lived TV series. If you are looking for something a bit off the somewhat beaten path and less mainstream than his iterations post New 52 & Rebirth have been, Good ol’ John Constantine won’t steer you wrong…Well he probably will, but that’s half the charm.
Originally appearing in Saga of Swamp Thing #37 in 1985, we are given our first glance of this trenchcoated Mage. The cockiness, swagger and attitude fully present within his first 3 pages were popular enough to grant him his own ongoing series in 1988 which ran for the next 25 years. If you only are familiar with Constantine via the New 52 and Rebirth era, this is a much different John Constantine. Less hocus pocus and more Order of the Golden Dawn.
So the moment you didn’t realize you have been waiting for, here are my recommendations for unacquainted readers, in no particular order, for one of the best Horror titles that DC has ever published. So light up your smoke, adjust your tie and don your beaten trench coat and get ready for some great reads.
1. Original Sins (Hellblazer #1-9) It all begins here, a story that inspired almost everything to follow. Writer Jamie Delano introduces us to John Constantine in his first solo outing as well as a few recurring side characters such as “Me oldest mate” Chaz and the voodoo witch doctor Papa Midnight. The story opens with a plague of flies and gluttony passing from one victim to another. If you are familiar with the (highly recommended) TV show starring Matt Ryan as Constantine, this story was the basis for the episode “Feast of Friends” (some things changed to keep it PG-13, but still very much Hellblazer). From being toyed with by demons, to ancient curses/plagues to more fun with Swamp Thing, this should be your starting point.
2. The Mortification of the Flesh (Hellblazer #243-244) A Priest, a Demon and John Constantine walk into the Vatican…Coming much later in the series, this is a quick two issue story by Andy Diggle dealing with a corruption in the Vatican (there’s a joke in there somewhere). There is a room under the Basilica of St Peter in which “God can not see” in which a demon decides to make home. Some great twists and turns and again shows us that Constantine has “friends” in all kinds of places and as with most of this series there is more going on than initially revealed. Fun twist at the end that may make you want to re-read it from the start to see if you can spot the foreshadowing.
3. Dangerous Habits (Hellblazer #41-46) Of course it’s impossible to make a list of best Hellblazer stories without mentioning Garth Ennis’ fantastic run beginning with the story that influenced more than half of the 2005 Keanu Reeves movie Constantine. Starting off with John finding out he’s got lung cancer (smoking’s a bad habit kids. Save your money and buy more comics) and has a few months to live. And of course, Being who he is, trying to find a way to cheat death. Much darker and twisted than the story relayed in the movie, you get to see a desperate man trying to make amends with his past while trying to push forward. One of the best parts is one of his old Irish friends who uses a holy fountain to magically change water into ale. Classic story with a great ending only Ennis could get away with writing.
4. Empathy Is The Enemy & The Red Right Hand (Hellblazer #216-228) Two stories back to back by crime novelist Denise Mina that work as one large whole. A strange man comes to John for help. Helping the bloke forget the memories that plague him, Constantine inadvertently opens himself to something he’s not exactly known for: Empathy. This kick starts a search to Glasgow to answer one question. “Who the **** is Steve Evans?” Events lead to secret cult set to bring on the apocalypse and a shortage of cigarettes.
5. Red Sepulchre (Hellblazer #177-180) Constantine’s niece, Gemma, and his only remaining family connection he still cares about has gone missing. Searching for clues John gets swept up in a mad search for an Indiana Jones style McGuffin, the Red Sepulchre. Twists and turns and “whos side is he on?” plot twists. A touch of history, a dash of theology/theosophy and a tablespoon of summoning entities and you have an excellent 4 part story.
There are many other great stories in this series, these rank among my top picks for anyone who has never picked up a classic Hellblazer comic. As always however if you enjoy, I highly recommend checking out all of the classic series collected in over 24 graphic novels available at all of our shops, so stop on by for some tricks and treat yourself to some John Constantine HELLBLAZER.