By Jamie Delano, John Ridgeway & various (Vertigo)
You’ve either heard of John Constantine by now or you haven’t, so I’ll be as brief as I can. Originally created by Alan Moore during his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, he is a mercurial modern wizard, a chancer who plays with magic on his own terms for his own ends. He is not a hero. He is not a nice person. Sometimes though, he’s all there is between us and the void.
Given his own series by popular demand, he premiered at the height of Thatcherite Barbarism in England and the dying days of Reaganite Atrocity in the US. In 1987 Creative Arts and Liberal Arts were dirty words in many quarters and the readership of Vertigo was pretty easy to profile. Jamie Delano began the series with a relatively safe horror comic plot about an escaped hunger demon, introducing us to Constantine’s unpleasant nature and odd acquaintances such as Papa Midnite (see also Papa Midnite ISBN 1-84576-265-7) in a tale of possession and voodoo, but even then discriminating fans were aware of a welcome anti-establishment political line and metaphorical underpinnings. ‘Hunger’ and ‘A Feast of Friends’ also established another vital fact. Anyone who got too close to John Constantine tended to end very badly, very soon.
‘Going For It’ successfully equated the Conservative Britain with Hell, as demons traded souls on their own stock market and Yuppies got ahead in the rat race by selling short. Set on Election Day 1987, this potent pastiche never loses sight of its goal to entertain, whilst making its telling points.
Constantine’s cousin Gemma and slivers of his childhood in Liverpool are revealed in ‘Waiting for the Man’, a tale of abduction and ghosts that introduces fundamentalist Christians, the Resurrection Crusade, and the mysterious woman known only as Zed.
America is once again the focus of terror in ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ as the Viet Nam war breaks out again in rural Iowa, then its back to Blighty for ‘Extreme Predjudice’. Skinheads, racism demons and more abound as Delano joins up lots of previously unconnected dots to reveal a giant storyline in the making. The Damnation Army are up to something, nobody knows who they are, everything’s going bad and somehow Zed and the Resurrection Crusade are involved.
Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy replace regular artist John Ridgway for the first three pages of ‘Ghost in the Machine’, and then the beautifully restrained and poignantly humanistic style returns as Constantine further unravels the plot by catching up with the cutting edge of mysticism – Cyber-shamanism. In Delano’s world the edges between science and magic aren’t blurred – they simply don’t exist.
‘Intensive Care’ follows the drama at full gallop when the plans of Crusade and Army are revealed, as is the value and purpose of Zed, forcing Constantine into the first of many bad bargains with Hell. The volume concludes messily, with a diversion, due to the nature of periodical publishing.
The storyline in Hellblazer #1-8 ran contiguously, and converged, with Swamp Thing, in which the wizard lends his physical body to the plant elemental to impregnate its human girl friend. So for the ninth issue, there’s a kind of dissolute holding pattern in play to allow all the pieces to be suitably arranged. It makes for a decidedly odd ending, and I’d advise that you have the next volume (Hellblazer: The Devil You Know – ISBN 1-84576-490-0) to hand before you start.
These are superb examples of modern horror fiction, inextricably linking politics, religion human nature and sheer bloody-mindedness as the root cause of all ills. They make a truly repulsive character seem an admirable force for our survival and are beautifully crafted tales as well. The art is clear, subversive and, when not glossed up by Alfredo Alcala whose lush inking graces the last two stories, manages to jangle at the subconscious with its scratchy edginess. A real treat for fear fans.
© 1987, 1988, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.