HB1Hellblazer has been my favorite comic book for some time now.  I can’t seem to remember how exactly I got into it but I have every issue.  The series is Vertigo’s (DC mature line of comics) longest running title and much to my despair is ending this February (2013).  I have decided to go back and read an issue a day (or there so about) and review them, trying to really capture and excogitate on what makes John Constantine so wonderful a character to me.  Up until recently DC had published inconsistent trade-paperbacks of the series, missing many issues right in the middle of the run.  Currently DC has re-issued a new set of volumes reprinting the full series in order (previous trades would have maybe issues 16-19, 22, & 24 for example, never printing issues 20, 21 & 23).  The most current volume (4) brings us only to issue 33.  I hope they publish the following volumes on a regular basis so I don’t have to delve into my comic boxes for each issue (all that UN-bagging and re-bagging is such a hassle :).  I hoping that this review series will last just about a year completing the full 300 issues series plus Annuals, one-shots, mini-series and the popular guest appearances Constantine has had in comics such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Alan Moore (Constantine’s creator) Swamp Thing.  Furthermore there have been several websites devoted to Hellblazer that have been and will be indispensable to me in answering questions or providing insight that I may have missed and I feel obligated to post a nod to them and I suggest checking them out : http://www.insanerantings.com/hell/index1.html

& most recently discovered : http://hellblazer.wikia.com/wiki/Hellblazer_Wiki

Thank you to all those who worked on these websites and made my enjoyment of Hellblazer even more complete.

These entries are not going to necessarily synopses of the issue, but of course plot lines and events will be discussed (for detailed stuff like that and more check out the sites mentioned above) but more so my experience reading them and a critique on the characters growth throughout the series and the writers take on him.  However they  will most likely have spoilers, but as they say it’s not the destination but the journey.  So spoilers or not read on and enjoy my travels with the trench-coat wearing con-artist bastard that I’ve loved for many many years.  This will also be the longest of the entries (I’m pretty sure anyway) due to much-needed introductions and initial ruminations.

Trade Title : Original Sins issues 1-9 originally published  1/88 – 9/88 & Swamp Thing issues 76 & 77  originally published 9/88 – 10/88

Issue # 1 Hunger written by Jamie Delano art by John Ridgway

November (based on issue #3 that takes place back in June of ’87,  this issue is seems to be  taking place more than likely in November’87)

Locale – Greenwich Village, NY; England: Sundan, Back to New York

This is not the first appearance of John Constantine. Much like Batman & Superman (and any number of superheroes now that I think about it) John first showed up in Swamp Thing #37 (June ’85) and several times thereafter, getting his own book several years later.  There are plenty of references to events that have taken prior to this issue, some are reveled later in the series while others are only understood fully by reading Swamp Thing.  In this first issue we are introduced to a well dressed (dapper blue suit, nice trench-coat) blonde haired Englishmen who has just come back from being “here and there” for “months and months”, including Patagonia.  A little reading up on Swamp Thing establishes that John has been living in America with his gf Emma, whose death is discussed in this issue.  I wonder, as I re-read this issue what I thought about the mention of Emma and her death at the hands of the Invunce not having read any Swamp Thing and not knowing what this was in reference too.  Did I just expect that it would be explained in later issues and then by the time I read those later issues I had forgotten about Emma?  I was introduced to this series when I was much younger and most likely did not read and comprehend as much as I do now.  (New comment)  I’ll have a post with the dates and brief activities of John in Swamp Thing in a day or two, it’s not going to be very nice to look at or in depth but it’ll give quick notes to what John had been up too prior to the launch of his own series.  It will also give the backround needed to understand the “Newcastle Crew ghosts”)

Another old acquaintance of Johns is waiting upstairs in his apartment much to the despair of Johns landlady Mrs. M.  John finds his friend and apartment covered in insects.  Gary Lester is drug fiend mixed up in magic who has recently been on an excursion to the Sundanese where he performed an exorcism on a boy and is now being driven mad by demon by the name of Mnemoth.  Mnemoth is now being slowly released into New York after Gary sent the demon (who he trapped in a bottle) in a package to America care of the recently deceased Emma.  In these first few pages we get a lot of knowledge about the character John Constantine.  We know he has a sordid history and seems to be used to dealing with these types of issues, but even more so due to the fact that Gary keeps saying “John will know what to do” we understand fully that Constantine is good (if not the best) at dealing with them. We follow John to the Sudanese where John goes through a mystical question and answer session to find out the history of Mnemoth, again the idea that he is adapt at this stuff being reinforced “Why does primitive magic always hurt?”

This interaction with the shaman uncovers something wonderful about the book; it quietly discusses political and social issues within the framework of an anti-hero/supernatural comic book.  While in Sudan we discover that the demon Mnemoth is a demon of hunger, feeding on the need, the ravaging need to consume.  In the Sudan the need to eat is paramount and their starvation gives way for the demon to terrorize the people.

The Shaman then takes a young starving child and binds the demon to him, etching magical tattoos into his face in hopes that the demon with devour both the child and when unable to escape itself be destroyed.  The shaman regrets not staying and watching to the end, where if he had kidnappers would not have taken the child (with the demon inside him) and sold him for tobacco, where Gary finds him and wants to exorcise the demon (again the desire and urge to do what they tried to do in NewCastle becoming more and more unbearable to fight).

A few  main character points are revealed here and throughout.  Constantine considers himself a bastard (and others refer to him as such) and the realization that he is  will land quite the punch to the readers over the next few issues and lay the ground work for the entire series, there are wonderful clues to the ending of this story-line that I noticed on this second (or is it hundredth) reading of this issue.  Second, he is an awesome wise ass.  Lastly this is the first time he is referred to as the “Laughing Magician” which is a term a future writer will take and run with wonderfully.

We are then introduced to two more very popular, important and recurring characters; Chas (at this moment in time cab driver, and seemingly lackey to Constantine who “owes him one”)  and Papa Midnite a voodoo high priest who is a high-class, high rolling, club owning, Zombie employing, fight club entertaining Voodoo priest with a sister trapped in hell/skull in NY.

The writing in this first issue is just beautiful.  I don’t know if I ever noticed how much so before.  The comic is gorgeous prose set to pictures.  The artwork is saturated and the horror like quality of the story bleeds through the color of the book.  There is so much going on in the passages and within Johns thought bubbles that I have to take my time with each page/issue more so than when I read say Batman.

Right now, we don’t know too much about John.  There are little hints to his character and behavior and history. One of my favorites is a scene in which John visits the apartment of his dead ex gf Emma and is emotionally winded after seeing a painting detailing her death by the current resident.  When he is visited by the ghost of Emma he tries to compose himself and doesn’t treat her all that well, almost shielding himself.  She says to him; “Yeah, We’re all here.  All your old buddies”.  He asks, “Where’s here?”  to which she responds, “work it out John, Where d’you think?”.  That’s a character I want to follow.  Why are ‘all’ his old friends dead and in (apparently) hell?  And why, should he know that?

I’m looking very much forward to tracing how he changes with each author and artist.

… New…

Magic stuff : Ancient binding spells and The Pentecost Effect (the ability to understand other languages not your own) both used by the Shaman.  Zombie employees.