John Constantine, Hellblazer volume 2: The Devil You Know (New Edition)

By Jamie Delano, David Lloyd, Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Mike Hoffman, Dean Motter & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3302-0 (TPB)

Originally created by Alan Moore during his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a mercurial modern wizard, a dissolute chancer who plays like an addict 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 al-consuming void…

Granted his own series by popular demand, Constantine premiered at the height of Thatcherite Barbarism in Britain, during the dying days of Reaganite Atrocity in the US, to become a founding father of DC’s adult-oriented Vertigo imprint. Ah, what happy, simple times they seem now…

This collection – available in paperback and digital formats – collects Hellblazer #10-13, Hellblazer Annual #1 plus 2-part tangential miniseries The Horrorist: cumulatively spanning January to October 1988 and revelling in the renaissance of comicbook horror these yarns spearheaded, and which thrive to this day.

Back in 1987, Creative Arts and Liberal Sentiments were dirty words in many quarters and the readership of Vertigo was pretty easy to profile. British scripter Jamie Delano began the Constantine solo 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 – in a tale of infernal possession and modern voodoo, but even then, discriminating fans were aware of a welcome anti-establishment political line amidst the metaphorical underpinnings.

The wonderment begins by concluding an epic eldritch saga started in Hellblazer: Original Sins (go read that, it’s great too) as the sanctimonious Resurrection Crusade attempt to re-enact the birth of Christ and their rivals the Damnation Army try to stop them, using Constantine as their weapon. Both sides learn that such a vile trickster is never to be trusted. ‘Sex and Death’ is by Jamie Delano with art from Richard Piers Rayner & Mark Buckingham.

The same team are responsible for the next trinity of linked stories ‘Newcastle’: A Taste of Things to Come (from #11 of the monthly comic) forms the beginning of an origin of sorts for the sordid sorcerer as we flashback to 1978 where punk rock singer/would-be wizard John Constantine takes a motley assortment of mystic wannabees into a possessed nightclub for what they think will be a simple exorcism.

It’s anything but, and the horrific events twist the survivors for the rest of their lives… ‘The Devil You Know’ features the mage’s return (from an insane asylum and worse) and revenge on the hellbeast that shaped his life….

Issue #13 finds him ‘On the Beach’, chilling after all the horror, but still somehow sucked into an ecological nightmare. What follows is an epic tale of two Constantines, as a ghastly heritage of magic and monstrosity is revealed.

Taken from the first Hellblazer Annual in 1989, ‘The Bloody Saints’ parallels the urban occultist’s squalid existence against the history of Kon-Sten-Tyn, mighty mythic Merlin’s apprentice and a putative successor to King Arthur.

A glamorous rogue and unprincipled cheat, Kon-Sten-Tyn steals Merlin’s magic, makes pacts with devils, feigns conversion to Christianity, assumes unearned sainthood and generally does whatever he wants in a vividly dark, outlandish comedy terror beautifully illustrated by Bryan Talbot.

Also from the Annual comes an illustrated version of ‘Venus of the Hard-Sell’ originally “recorded” by Constantine’s punk band Mucous Membrane. Whatever you think it is, you’re wrong. Just get the book, revel in it and the wonderful creativity of writer/artist Dean Motter.

The 2-part miniseries The Horrorist fills the remainder of the book. Written by Delano and stunningly painted by David Lloyd, this is a bleak, cold fable which finds – in a state just like ‘Antarctica’ – an emotionally paralysed Constantine dutifully hunting across traumatised cityscapes and wretched broken America for a destructive force wreaking bloody havoc. All the trauma and misery of an uncaring world is the irresistible tool of a third world survivor and only more suffering seems to satisfy her…

As the creature called Angel passes, a typhoon of guilt, fear and terror is inevitably unleashed, savagely ending unfulfilled lives. She can’t be stopped by any means the wizard has used before, but there is one appalling tactic he can try…

John Constantine is probably the most successful horror comic character ever, with mood, tension and his surly, smug, intransigent attitude easily overwhelming and outlasting mere gore and splatter time after time. Ambivalent and ever-changing, the antihero of this series and the worlds he exposes never fail to deliver shock after shock.

Delivered by creators capable and satiric, but still wedded to the basic tenets of their craft, these superb examples of contemporary horror fiction – inextricably linking politics, religion, human nature and sheer bloody-mindedness as the root causes of all ills – are still powerfully engaging. Beautifully constructed, they make a truly abominable character seem an admirable force for our survival. The art is clear, understated and subtly subversive, while the slyly witty, innovative stories jangle at the subconscious with scratchy edginess.

This is a book no fear-fan should miss.
Hellblazer 10-13, Hellblazer Annual © 1988, 1989, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. The Horrorist #1-2 © 1995, 1996, 2011 Jamie Delano & David Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.