After years as a cult character, John Constantine is finally getting his due. The magician and Londoner was, of course, featured in a 2005 movie that had little to do with the actual comics, and that seems to have paved the way somewhat for his upcoming TV series, which just saw a trailer released. But if you’d like to be read up on Constantine before he hits the airwaves, here’s a useful reading guide.
What Is Hellblazer?
Essentially, one of the pillars on which DC built its reputation as a place where adults could go for comics. John Constantine is essentially a magician and kind of a jerk living, working, and fighting the forces of darkness in London and abroad.
It’s also notable for being a distinctly British series from an American publisher, and confronting tough issues ranging from homelessness to prisons to mortality. The writing and concerns have tended to be about Britain and its subcultures and social problems. And that was good enough for the series to run for 300 issues before being canceled and folded back into the New 52.
As a result, there’s a lot to read, but there are a few arcs in particular worth seeking out.
The basis of the 2005 movie, Dangerous Habits opens rather bluntly: Constantine’s constant smoking has caught up with him, and he’s dying of cancer. Needless to say, a man dedicated to infuriating the Legions of the Damned is not excited to go to Hell, and he’s desperate to save himself. The result is a classic arc about a man getting his life squared away, and revealing just why the forces of Hell hate John Constantine so much.
Mostly you should pick this one up for “Newcastle: A Taste of Things To Come,” especially as it seems to inspire the TV series. Essentially, Constantine learns, the most brutal way possible, that he does not command the forces of Hell. It establishes both the limits of his powers and defines the character in some important ways.
Brian Azzarello, the first American to write Hellblazer, sends John to jail. This is largely about how Constantine survives without magic; and lingers on the problems of the prison system. It’s helped considerably by Richard Corben, horror artist extraordinaire, and brings a noirish tone to an already dark series.
In the aftermath of John royally screwing the pooch and nearly destroying the world, he’s left adrift without powers, without a future, and without memory… and that’s a bad place for a man with that many enemies to be. It climaxes with “Happy Families,” which answers the question of just how terrible he’d be as a father.
There’s plenty more, of course, but that’s a good start for the new reader. Don’t hesitate to pick up other volumes; it’s a consistently high quality series.
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