Making his debut in #37 of Swamp Thing in the late eighties, Alan Moore’s supporting character of Constantine hit our pages as a… a bit of prick. A sorcerer, a deviant and a swindler, Constantine was the devil on the good-natured swamp thing’s shoulder. The wayward scab that itches to be picked, and then gets very, VERY infected. And once given a life of his own, he didn’t change much in nearly thirty years. Swamp Thing’s publication without the Comic Code Authority’s stamp of all ages approval, and the newly rated ‘suggested for mature readers’ umbrella, gave birth to DC’s darker stylized publication house Vertigo, and more importantly, formed a new direction for DC, with Hellblazer as the main attraction.
Vertigo comics were written and produced without restriction, seeing a rise in innovative, dark and beautifully written pieces of literature, helped along by a British invasion of first class writers, including Moore; Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and of course Neil Gaiman, who wrote for one of Hellblazer’s most favoured issues, released his iconic Sandman graphic novel a year after Hellblazer’s launch. It was these writers that completely altered the course of comic book literature and its perceptions, only made possible by the restriction free, mature audience stamp. To take up the task of transferring Constantine from Swamp thing, to his own ‘adult’ world came Jamie Delano.
Delano, through the use stunning and evocative prose, took Constantine from street conjurer, or “a blue collar warlock” as Moore called him, to a multi-dimensional character; a man trying to help in a world where businessmen really are demons, the divide between good and evil is beyond blurred, and more horrifically, a Britain that is led by Thatcher…
Dark times indeed.
All set against a dark London backdrop, with inspired artwork by John Ridgway, the warlock Constantine was a writer’s dream. Delano’s brilliant initial creation, gave the future scope for other amazing writers to perfectly fine tune his character; in 30 years of some of THE best writers and writing DC had to offer; Ellis, Jenkins, Ennis and Carey, (the latter being the longest running writers of the title), to name a few of Hellblazer’s incredible team that spanned almost three decades.
But with Peter Milligan’s last and final issue (#300) and cancellation of the Hellblazer series for the revamp of the new 52 ‘Constantine’, it will be left behind.
With the fading reception of Milligans’ own Justice League Dark, Constantine was pulled over to the DC 52 all-star line-up in an attempt to cultivate a new following and bring in more revenue. Regular cross overs clearly occur in the Vertigo/ DCU, but never has there been a character that was to be removed from its adult hub at Vertigo, and made to solely exist in its tamer counterpart at DC. What are DC doing? Granted, Hellblazer has not been flying off the shelves in some time, and in truth, for me, had lost some of its sparkle toward the end. Also, I understand there is financial gain to be made by taking a character who is so distinctive and recognizable and shoving it straight into the underbelly of the magical outer circle of the new 52. However, it completely undermines the point of John. He was the poster boy for the mature reader, not held back by the PG-13 shackles that his peers were encased in. It was the filth, the grime, the horror, the vulgarity and THE FREEDOM that made the fan base for Hellblazer so strong. The fact that it wasn’t restrained by a younger age bracket, but enhanced by its lack of it, was the very thing that made its popularity what it is today.
The cancellation is disrespectful to an almost 30 year evolution of a series. The DCU revamps have a tendency to pull characters only for revenue based purposes, and completely undermine origins and traits of characters, in lieu of allowing writers to spruce them up. But Constantine is a VERY different ball game. This is why his foothold and his stamp on the creation of Vertigo, is so important. To take him away from Vertigo, the very thing he started is just madness. Vertigo characters enjoy the pleasures of a more adult audience and can cross into DC, but it’s not mandatory, that is the real beauty, they stand alone. For me, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, etc… they and John are not the same. They do not play together, they do no work together. Can you honestly tell me that the REAL Constantine could stand alongside Superman without eventually calling him a big blue c**t? Not my Johnny Boy. He’s fighting monsters and exorcising demons out of little girls. The new arrival of the noticeably younger PG-13, Constantine, under the new 52 DC re launch, will be hitting the shelves this month, with sneak previews already available, but don’t worry folks, good ol’ Dan Didio released a statement some time ago saying that we really have nothing to fear. He assures us that John will not be “hanging up his trench coat” anytime soon. Pfft yeah right. So, exactly how much of John will remain? No doubt the DCU’s goal to achieve and maintain the status quo, will result in a heavily watered down character and less dark plot lines, which is where John and his story, in my opinion, takes the biggest blow. Hellblazer used clever devices aimed to disrupt the status quo completely, and totally challenge norms; dealing with taboos like rape, addiction and extreme violence; modern-day social issues dressed up in literal demonic and paranormal metaphors. It all contributed to the fundamentals of what the series was. They have not only pulled John into a world where Heaven and Hell exist, but are in a totally different continuum, (their presence being obviously a huge feature to the Hellblazer series), but they’ve effectively put a big fat PG-13 bleeper over any use of his trademark vulgarity. Now tell me, if John Constantine can’t call a demon a twat who can? It’s who he is. Closing the door on something so profound, which has little, to no effect on the DCU at all, seems crazy to me, and to make him more child friendly? It’s not John and it’s not his readers. Now, I really see no issue in DC making a newly labelled Constantine comic, giving an appearance in the new 52 line up as an alternative story and timeline with him being younger, as they are doing, but the absolute fundamental point is this: It should have NEVER have fully replaced Hellblazer. EVER. Not in a million years. While many characters in the DC realm has faced many injustices, this cancellation and re-launch kills an entire story that has spanned decades, and in so many ways, John’s very character and spirit.
I hope that DC realises the error of their ways in time, and move him (and many other Vertigo titles doomed to the new 52 revamp) back to his rightful home, under Hellblazer, at Vertigo. But I know that while the boss men at DC are happily buzzing over the new 52 like a child with a glue stick, that dream will not be realised for some time. So I, along with many fans, must bury him for now.
Although in essence, my John is very much alive. Sitting in some stinking dive of a bar in, sipping beer from a dirty glass while pulling a long hard drag from his cigarette, just waiting for this whole sorry mess to be over. And when told that he has been cancelled for a younger model? He just scoffs…looks from his furrowed brow through a cloud of smoke … smiles with his trademark look of mischief, and plainly gives you the finger.