I like magicians. I like the way they know what card I picked. I like the number of doves they can hide in a single jacket. I like their beards.
Most of all, I like that they don’t perform demonic rituals using my body parts as props in order to bind a malignant demon into a circle of blood to torture it for information.
That’s my favourite thing about them.
That’s also why I love reading about the exploits of John Constantine but I don’t think I’d want him as a friend.
Hellblazer is a series about the John Constantine, the Laughing Magician. Constantine is a good man but will do anything it takes to ensure that good survives. In his mind however, good is a matter of humanity. He hates God and his angels as much as he hates the Devil and his demons. Both of those sides aren’t too fond of him, either. He walks the narrowest of knife edges and fears death in a way that nobody else could understand.
Constantine is an English everyman. He hangs around in pubs, gets into street fights and occasionally pops into Hell to do some dealings. Trawling the streets of London and sometimes thoroughly abusing his best mate Chas the taxi driver, Constantine attracts bad luck like cake attracts my wife. It might be a succubus he once scorned or maybe a local crime boss whose daughter he violated. Every now and again it’s a group of his old friends whose deaths he was responsible for. You know, just to mix things up.
The series began in 1988 with Jamie Delano writing and is Vertigo’s longest running. New volumes keep coming out with different authors taking the reigns at various times, including Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan) and Garth Ennis (Preacher). The best volumes in my opinion are the ones written by Mike Carey. He is so wonderful at subtle, Machiavellian fantasy writing. His stories draw you in and surprise with a baseball bat to the brain. Brian Azzarello’s work on the other hand is rubbish. His series ‘100 Bullets‘ may be sensational but he cannot write Constantine to save himself. Azzarello writes good American crime stories so that’s where he stuck Constantine, in a world where he does not belong and is not interesting.
This fact surprises a lot of people, but John Constantine is actually a spin off show, just like Laverne and Shirley and Joanie Loves Chachi. He originally appeared in Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” series and became so popular that he needed a series of his own.
So should you buy the series? Well, are you 18 or over? If you are, then yes. If you aren’t, then wait. Check out this handy list on Wikipedia to see what order the books fall in. Unfortunately most of them aren’t numbered so you’ll need to check first. You don’t necessarily have to begin from the start either. While I love Delano’s original stories some people may find them a little dated. I’d recommend getting Carey’s few volumes just to whet your appetite.
Incidentally, it’s pronounced “Constantyne”, not “Constanteen.” I made the mistake of pronouncing it incorrectly one day and Alan Moore appeared in my kitchen, drunk and waving a bread knife.
That was a good day.