John Constantine (Hellblazer) looking typical. Artist: Glenn Fabry.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1985
Creators: Alan Moore (writer), Stephen Bissette and John Totleben (artists)
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Like Foghorn Leghorn and Uncle Scrooge, John Constantine is a supporting character who made good. But the motives for creating the three are entirely different. Foghorn was originally …

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… just a guy for Henery Hawk to play against, Scrooge was originally just a prop to get a Donald Duck story moving; and Constantine was created by writer Alan Moore (Watchmen) so penciller Stephen Bissette (Tyrant) and inker John Totleben (Miracleman) would be able to draw somebody who looks like the rock singer Sting.

Constantine was introduced as sort of a supernatural advisor to DC Comics' Swamp Thing. That character had just found out everything he knew about himself was wrong, and both he and the readers needed an explanation. Constantine was introduced in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 (June, 1985), tho some readers report having spotted him in a one-panel cameo one year earlier, in #25.

Constantine seemed to know his stuff — in fact, his knowledge of the supernatural realm was vast — but he was considerably less than a hero. He wasn't a villain either, tho he thought mostly of his own wellbeing and wasn't above being disloyal to his friends when he considered it necessary. It was hinted that his self-serving ways had caused a great deal of harm to others in the past, and that while living with the guilt wasn't easy, it didn't motivate him to become an unalloyed good guy. Either despite his complexities and ambiguities, or because of them, he made a big hit with readers, and was moved out into his own comic with a first issue cover date of January, 1988. It was originally to be called Hellraiser, but that conflicted with the work of novelist Clive Barker, so it was changed to Hellblazer.

From the title, it's not hard to guess it wasn't aimed at fans of cute, cuddly funny animals. In fact, it carried a "Mature Readers" advisory from the very beginning. When DC launched its Vertigo imprint, aimed exclusively at adult comic book readers, Hellblazer switched over to it, along with Sandman, Animal Man and several others that weren't appropriate for children. The first Vertigo issue was #63, March 1993. Style-wise, Hellblazer is like a noir-style detective series with an extra hard-boiled hero, who hangs around the sleazier parts of the supernatural world rather than those of a 1930s inner city.

Hellblazer was mainly a venue for horror/adventure stories, but it was also used to explore Constantine's past. He was born in Liverpool, England, and character-wise, was always pretty much the same — selfish, unreliable, not completely honest, etc, and interested in the occult from an early age. Even as a child, he'd learned enough about it to curse his father, to the point where the old man's ghost haunts him to this day. His defining moment, the one that set him on the path he was following at the time of his introduction, occurred years ago, in Newcastle, where he botched an exorcism, sending an innocent young girl to Hell — a fact which also haunts him. His family background, too, was explored — it seems the proclivity toward involvement in the eldritch has a great deal of precedent in his ancestry. In fact, nowadays, when any magic-connected DC character explores the past, there's a good chance the story will involve a Constantine or two.

The comic spawned an occasional special, annual, crossover, etc., and a whole lot of reprints in trade paperback form. In fact, practically the entire series is kept in print that way. With its 201st issue (December, 2004), the title was changed to John Constantine: Hellblazer. This may be an attempt to tie in with the movie, with Keanu Reeves, which Warner Bros. released Feb. 8, 2005, in Hong Kong (with U.S. release ten days later), which is titled Constantine. Supporting that theory is the fact that it was later changed back. Whatever the case, he'll no doubt maintain a strong presence in the DC Universe for a long time to come.


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Text ©2005-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.