Friday, 1 April 2016

Constantine The Hellblazer Book 1: Going Down (#1-6)

"The trouble with unfinished business is it always manages to catch up to you doesn't it?" - John Constantine

OK so, Alan Moore is still in the Sin Bin, but we're kicking this month off with a comic that's linked to him so hope that'll do.  Out of all the Vertigo characters who made the move back to the main DCU for the duration of the New 52, none came off worse than English mage John Constantine.  Oh, I know he started out in the mainstream DCU as part of Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben's (his creators) Swamp Thing run, hell he even played a role in Crisis On Infinite Earths and met Batman amongst others.  But when his popularity saw him spun off into his own solo title in the late 80's, he only crossed over with Swamp Thing and The Sandman and only then during his first year, after that he didn't interact with the wider DCU at all in his own title and so when he was moved into the Vertigo line in the mid-90's it was where he had always belonged.  Having him rub shoulders again with men and women in spandex costumes, having him be a team player leading his own "Justice League Dark", aging him down to his twenties and the general watering down of his "I'll do what I want and fuck the consequences (to you or me)" ideology just felt wrong after an incredible three hundred issue run of Hellblazer.  His New 52 series was called Constantine and was a fairly aimless hunt for a succession of magical artefacts and crossovers with whichever of the four billion DCU events were going on that month, almost totally lacking both the social commentary, graphic horror and extended casts Hellblazer included. Also they pretty much erased virtually every reference to his bisexuality, Bad Show DC, Bad Show (although I could also be referring to the single season run of his TV series there too).  With the coming of the DCYou this title was cancelled and new title started with a more concerted attempt to honour the legacy of the Hellblazer run with a ramping up of the horror element and greater emphasis again of the terrible personal price John and people close to John pay for his on-going battle against evil.  Do they pull it off?  Does it meet with approval from this owner of the first hundred Hellblazers?  Let's see shall we (Spoilers: Yes it does).

The first few pages is from the Convergence Sneak Peak, and it brilliantly summarises his character.  He meets a girl in a bar, lays on the charm and gets her to open up to him about her misuse of magic, pick-pockets the magical artefact she is using to protect herself from the demons want to claim her soul she promised them and leaves the bar as she starts to get torn apart.  It's fantastic.  Really nails him down perfectly with his "voice" perfectly captured and the art is wonderful too. By the time I turned to to the first page of issue one proper, I felt full of anticipation and excitement for what was to come.  I was not let down.
To be fair, it's New York, she's probably seen weirder.
We begin with John in a clothes shop in New York, naked and soaked in blood.  Good start.

John: "It's not what it looks like (It's exactly what it ****ing looks like.  But that's the trick.  That's always the trick)"

John then uses the power of suggestion to bamboozle the poor assistant into not calling the police and provide him with clean clothes.  He mulls to himself that if you offer people the "nicer option" they'll take it every time.

One of his ghosts appears to scold him.  And it's good old junkie Gary Lester one of the original "Newcastle" group of John's friends (although I don't know if John's horrible failed attempt at an exorcism in Newcastle when he was a young man has happened in this continuity).

As he leaves the shop he lifts a wallet and some (menthol) ciggies from a passerby and more of his ghosts appear.  He tells them to sod off and they all disappear bar Gary.  Gary tries to tell him about Frank (another Newcastle friend), but John isn't in the mood and forces him to leave.
A chance meeting...?
He nips into a diner for some curry and chips and the owner, Oliver a handsome black man, flirts with John who flirts right back.  So John's bisexuality is back too, brilliant.

John: "This is nice.  Chatting.  Flirting.  Interacting with a human, like a human.  No motive but the obvious.  Nice."

Oliver invites John to dinner, but before he can accept, a demoness called Blythe appears and takes him back to her club.  John describes her as "an ex-pat from hell" who even pays her taxes.  They have a quick shag backstage at her club "Inferno" which is based on the Divine Comedy's depiction of hell.  It has nine floors each representing a circle and if a person can make it to the bottom they get a commemorative goblet (and lose their immortal soul.  Details).

She says she needs John because they have a bit of an imp infestation and she can't banish them herself without banishing herself back too.  So she wants John to do it.  They journey down through the nine floors as Blythe tries to probe Johns mind.  At the bottom is the managerial office which contains her "business partner, Haluk".  She actually wants him banished so she can take full control of the business.

John says he wants nothing to do with this betrayal, but his hand is forced when Haluk transforms into a hulking monster and attacks.  John subdues him with some holy water then starts speaking the banishment spell.  But he flubs a line and Blythe steps in to correct him.  Oops, she ends up banishing Haluk and gets dragged down to hell herself.  She curses John as she disappears saying she'll find him when she claws her way back out.
I've often wanted to banish an inadvisable sexual partner to hell too.
We end the first issue with John surrounded by ghosts and Gary tells him someone is killing all John's ghosts, the latest casualty being Frank, and "it's all your fault."

Sat in his apartment, surrounded by ghosts, John explains that ghosts shouldn't be able to die, but obviously they are.  So he plans on luring the ghost killer out by baiting an trap with them.

John: "All I need you to do is trust me.  So, then friends, tell me who's in?"

They all flee apart from Gary.  John testily says that they are supposed to do as he says.  Gary responds, "we're haunting you, you daft idiot, not braiding your hair."
Gary the ghost takes a walk with John.
Gary tells him he needs help and to call someone called "Georgie" in to assist him.  But John says no way.  Gary says John isn't going to listen to reason which means he'll once again lose a little something of himself in the process.

He and John leave and John recalls how he and Gary bonded as eight year olds over porno, later as an adult, he died in John's arms.  "And he's never let me forget it.  None of them do."  They arrive in a dodgy area of New York called "Alphabet City".  John tells us the story of the "Shay House".  Named after a novelist who thought a haunted flat would inspire him, after three months he was discovered by friends to have written three thousand pages of a book in some arcane language with illustrations even though he wasn't an artist.  John says there are loads of places like the Shay House:

John: "Places with arcane power.  Sometimes you can trace it back to a moment in time.  An atrocity so horrible it scars a place for all eternity."

The event might even be in the future, but so appalling it echoes back in time.  He says these are "thin places", they are favourites of his as he "fits right in."

He wanders round several such places looking for somewhere to spring his trap.  He spots Oliver on a subway platform who smiles and waves at him.  Awww.  He visits some purveyors of arcane merchandise and buys up some grisly items.
Mr. Rumor.
Then he has to face "Mister Rumor", a tall and sinister looking being who is concerned about John's tour of several of his master's properties.  John requests access to a thin place practically "bleeding with power".  Mister Rumor sends him to an old factory, now a natural food emporium.

Johns begins setting the trap, painting mystical symbols on the floor and walls.  He thanks Gary for agreeing to trust and help him and reassures him he won't die again.  Gary as the bait is frozen in place, while the other ghosts John gathered up look on.  Suddenly a huge mass of writhing tentacles with a face appears and John is unable to stop it as it spears Gary through the chest "killing" him again.  Then it leaves, Johns trap having failed miserably.
It takes a special person to kill the same person twice.
As Gary fades into oblivion, John says he is so sorry.  Gary says John is just an echo of himself too now, to defeat the creature he'll need to go back to when he was more... and he disappates for good.  Sadly John realises he does need Georgie's help after all and as he stands outside Oliver's diner looking in at the man, he hails a cab.  He tells the cabbie he is going "home" on a flight back to the UK.

Flashback to Manchester, England.  Hey that's where I was born and where all my family live.  Cool city, with a good music scene.  Which is why John is there with his then alive friend Gary who introduces him to Georgina "Georgie" Snow and her friend Veronica Delacroix. In his original incarnation John was part of the original seventies UK punk scene, but now I guess he's part of the general alternative scene, he's too young now even to be into the "Madchester" movement which was a big part of my teens and if he's as young as New 52 Constantine he'd have been too young to be in the Britpop/Britrock scene. Wow, he's gone from Baby Boomer to Millennial.  Damn that makes this Gen X'er feel Old.

After taking a punch in the face lifting some tickets to a concert called "The End Of The World" John starts flirting heavily with Veronica.  This isn't going to end well.  In the Manchester of the present there has been a mass occult killing at an orgy amongst the minor aristoracy and we are introduced to "Georgina Snow. Consulting exorcist to Her Majesty's Secret Service."  With the scene cleared of everyone but her, John strolls in and starts annoying her.
Introducing present day Georgina.
John says a succubus must have been responsible and he couldn't find the beast within a few hours.  Georgina says if he does he'll "blackmail me into solving one of your inane problems?"  John says they made a good team in the past, them, Gary and Veronica.  Then he makes a veiled threat to track Veronica down, so Georgina allows him to go ahead with helping her.  If he flushes the monsters out, she'll kill them.

Back in the past, "The End Of The World" turns out to be a concert by a demonic band.  Veronica and John dance while Georgina looks on in concern:

Georgina: "He won't hurt her, will he?"

Gary: "John? No... he's a good bloke.  I'd trust him with my life and beyond Georgie.  I'd trust him to the end of the world."

In the present John goes succubus hunting, thinking he's tracked it to it's lair, a closed down club called "The Meridian" and calls Georgina and says he "off the sucker for you".  Inside he realises he made a mistake and it's in fact an incubus he's after.  It's sat on a stool playing guitar and introduces himself as the owner of the club, "Meridian".  He says he gradually grew disatisfied with normal feasting and started to create more elaborate meals:

Meridian: "To not only consume your ultimate passions, but sift them through my own hands to form a finer display."

John realises it's gone mad, and it starts trying to consume him.  Before John ends up in real trouble, Georgina swings in an saves him, killing the incubus as well. 
Georgina takes down Meridian.
She reveals she's been "waiting here for hours to see if you were as wretchedly self absorbed as you used to be."  She's pissed off at John because Veronica - the woman she loved - is dead, she couldn't survive John.  A shaken John pleads with her to help him, that Gaz has died for good this time.  Georgina says Gary died five years ago, Veronica died three years ago.  And it's all his fault.  Finally she sends him away with the words "you worthless child."

Back in the past, giddy with the prospect of power, the four of them form a pact to know everything there is to know about magic and the dark arts.  In the present John is still reeeling at the news Veronica is dead:

John: "All my friends really are dead then.  Dead, and I still have no way of keeping their spirits safe.  Keeping them with me.  Maybe... that's for the best."
John and Veronica high on magic.
Chapter four starts with another flashback, this time to John's band "Mucus Membrane" (another Hellblazer shout-out). He admits both he and Veronica were crap singers but the occult energy fueling them makes them think they can do anything:

John: "We were beautiful, the world was ours for the taking and if it had a problem with that, it could go **** itself."

Present day John is in a record shop, blind drunk.  The assisstant tells him he can't drink in there.  John says he do whatever he damn well pleases and compliments the man on his ass as he goes to phone the cops.  Another of his ghosts appears and says they are all still dying, and John did come to England to help them.  John says he's help always turns to shit, "and suddenly dear old John is to blame for every bad thing in the world."

Back in the past, John and Veronica are at a traditional magic show,  John is laughing at how pathetic he thinks it is.  Veronica drags him away and tells him:

Veronica: "John, please listen.  I... I tried to call home.  But they didn't... John.  They don't remember me."

She thinks they are falling to far and too fast into the cracks of the world.  John says they've just scratched the surface.  Veronica says she thinks she needs to stop.  John calls her "boring" and turns his back on her saying "If you're not in, then just get out."
John isn't a very happy drunk.
In the present John returns to the club and barges onto stage, still drunk, he asks the audience if they want to see real magic.  He tells them they want to see just fakery because real magic would shake their belief to the core.  He starts scratching out a sigil on the floor and the ghosts begin to appear.  They are shortly followed by the ghost killer, who destroys all the ghosts while John looks on swigging from a bottle.

Back in the past, a drunk John finds Georgina at her workplace in The Wren library (secert wing) looking for Veronica who he says he wants to know is safe under Georgina's wing.  Georgina tells him she sent her away, she says she is sick of the both of them "treating me as a back-up or second best."  Veronica is so far gone she's hardly part of the world anymore, "either induct her fully or find a magician who can."  Then she tells him to get lost.

In the present a still drunk John recalls that he thought he was a "natural" at magic and didn't play by the rules Georgina lived by.  He wanders back to the Wren library's secret wing.  The Librarian appears and remembers John as the man who stole Georgina's girl and broke her heart.

Librarian: "I'm the Librarian.  I can tell you why.  Why that girl faded, why you couldn't help her and didn't try, why there are forces tearing at and following you.  Why you're losing everything".

John brushes him off.  We take another visit to the past.  Veronica pleads with John to help her, she is virtually intangible now.  She just wants to be normal again.  He says they can be something better, but she says following him lead her to this place, "I'll have to try something else."  In the library in the present, John calls the ghost killer and tells it to take what's left of him.  It enfolds him in it's tentacles, tenderly and groans out "Johhhn""Veronica?" says John in return.
Ah a clingy jealous homicidal ex, the second worst kind of ex.
John manages to pull himself together long enough to use an old bracelet of Veronica's to dispell her for now.  He decides to ask Georgina for help again, but time to do some research first.  He returns to the Wren library's secret wing to look for clues on how to deal with Veronica.  The Librarian takes him by surprise again, John says he is looking for information on "phasing through planes, or getting stuck between them maybe?"

The Librarian hands over a book with a dark warning, it's called "Soul Displacement" the book Veronica used to try and become normal again.  Over the next three pages we get a series of flashbacks showing her trying the magic and becoming the monster.  The Libarian explains over the top that because she was already fading, the knowledge can't be applied retroactively, "for them there is no returning from the void.  Not with the soul intact."

Physically she was scattered to an atomic level, mind "stretched to flaying".  But impressions from the spirit's life "may clang and echo with such emotional resonance that they pierce through the nothingness."  That happens when the attachment is either love or hate.  And would require a "rare exorcism" to unmake it.
John puts his case to Georgina.
The Librarian asks if he wishes "a cure?  Or an end?"  When John asks which is better, the Librarian departs saying they are often one and the same, the "difference is on in your intention".  John then approaches Georgina.  He tells her he need her help:

John: "No matter what you think of me, it's a psycho-spectral beast that's breaking magical law.  Sending ghosts to a fate worse than death."

Georgina broods for a moment then agrees to help, just this once.  They drive out to a deserted carpark and John summons the beast who Georgina immediately recognises as Veronica.

She is not amused at John summoning her dead ex-girlfriend.  But when John explains she tried to "displace her soul" Georgina realises just what happened.  John says they both abandoned her, but Georgina says she is going to save her.  She tries, but Veronica flails about and throws her aside. 

John shows her the book Veronica used to displace her soul, Georgina incants from it and then begs Veronica to return to her.  But as she sets the book on fire and it burns up, Veronica's monstrous form falls away and her soul disapates. Georgina is furious.  She could have saved her with more warning:

Georgina: "You came all this way just to trick me into killing someone I loved just so.. so you wouldn't have to live with the guilt?  I'll never forgive you for this."
John: "Well love... that makes two of us."

And he walks away, lighting up a ciggie as he does so.  After that rather heavy introductory arc, John returns to New York for some lighter shenanigans.

A panicking kid bangs on Johns flat door saying she needs help.  The thing in the cellar is back.  It is a huge troll-like demon which grabs her and says he'll eat her.  John the appears and scolds it, and traps it in a Hellraiser style puzzle box.  Then he addresses the kid as "Walter" a former Arch-Duke of hell.  Walter says "Y-you always help fster when it's a nice human kid" as he returns to his normal appearance.  Also he was scared.
Even Arch-Dukes from hell appreciate cats.
John does some naked hanging out in his flat as he catches up with the post.  He suddenly realises he's alone.  Totally alone.  No ghosts.  He drops off and when he wakes up he notices a flyer from Oliver's restaurant and thinks it's funny how the universe seems to want them to shag.  He refuses to contact him though:

John: "The universe needs to get the picture.  Bad things happen when people come into my life.  Particularly nice handsome people with children."
He decides he's going to make some legitimate rent money and checks his "Kregslist" advert online.  "Very handsome exorcist will solve spookiest problems."  He has plenty of people asking for help. His first job is getting rid of a demonic possession of a kid.  Turns out he knows the demon doing the possessing and once it's left the kid, they go out for a quick drink.

Then he deals with face stealing monsters, a dragon and a raccoon.  He's not amused about being called out to deal with the raccoon.  Then he's off helping a girl overwhelmed by demonic pleasure sensory input and shoos some dog eating hooded figures away from a park then removes a poltergiest from a washing machine. 
From the noises it makes I think my washing machines needs exorcising.
Finally he takes a break and chats with a gargoyle called "Bartleby" in Central Park.

Bartleby: "Yer afraid.  Scared of what might happen if you stop and let yourself be alone, forced to deal with the consequences of yer actions."

Bartleby says John must have noticed the increase in magical events in New York and the city has a plan for him, he owes the city to listen to it.  John stalks off saying he doesn't "owe anyone, anything".  Caught up in his thoughts he doesn't see Oliver, who does see him.

The rest of the night is spent in a whirl of exorcisms and demonic pest control.  Finally after a mysterious text summons him to a place but no one meets him, he returns home.  Walter greets him saying he should try some of this food he ordered from a place called Oliver's.  Then Oliver himself appears and says John looks like he's scared he'll open his door and find no one there.  "I've been there myself.  Found the best solution is cold beer and curry."  John gives in and opens the door and they both go inside:

John: "Aw... hell.  I'm curious.  Let's see what the universe has in store for us this time."
Sometimes the Universe wants to see two fit blokes shagging.
End of Book One.  This was bloody fantastic.  I have a dream that maybe John will track down the person pretending to be him during the New 52 and exact some horrible punishment upon him, because this is so much like proper Hellblazer!John it's untrue.  Everything is spot on, the attitude, the smart mouth, the arcane knowledge, the ruthlessness, the not-so-hidden sadness at his core the main creative team of Ming Doyle, Riley Rossmo and James Tynion IV have done a wonderful job of writing one of the DCU's most falliable of characters and still making you like the sonofabitch.  The "scratchy" charcoal artwork suits the horror aspects while still showing the characters emotions fully and the yearning John seems to feel for the normal life he can never go back to comes through pretty clearly in regards to his meetings with Oliver (please don't kill Oliver, even though he's doomed because everyone John falls for ends up dead).  As I said, having him be openly bisexual again is an important step for diversity.  Bisexuals are often the most "invisible" bit of the LGBT grouping and bi-erasure is an insidious and very real thing so more representation always helps. I was really happy with this DCYou take on John Constantine and forsee it will run for ever and ever with the same creative team and lalalalala can't hear you DC Rebirth!  Roll on the next volume.


  1. good to know I'm not the only person in denial about the dc rebirth :(

    at least Hellblazer is being relaunched and gotham academy is staying, I hope this team carries on with hellblazer like you I think they're pretyy awesome.

  2. Ah so I am not alone. I just felt a feeling of deep despair reading the launch line-up and seeing what had been cancelled. I'm glad Gotham Academy has escaped the chop because seriously I'd have started taking hostages otherwise. I'll continue to check out the relaunched "The Hellblazer" but after getting him so right here after he'd been so wrong in the New 52 I am full of trepidation over it. Bah.

  3. This... actually looks pretty darn cool.

    Biff is your family and he doesn't live in Manchester :-P

    I'm a millennial. However, I was never cool enough to be alternative. Also, if John wants to fit in with the current Manchester alternative scene he'll have to be a gender-neutral freegan with blue hair (who hates the Tories. Some things never change).

    Demons in fiction are always pathetic. They never have any lives of their own. All they want to do is to eat or torture humans. Do we only ever see the psychopaths of the demon world? Are all the normal demons sitting at home in Hell making scones and playing the flute and recreating the Taj Mahal in Minecraft? Hobbies, that's what demons need. Hobbies. John needs one an' all. And no, smoking doesn't count. Not even vaping.

    I love the expression on John's face in the last panel. Yay!

  4. Yeah, after how badly John was handled in the New 52 this was a really nice surprise. I hope this team carries on with him after the DC Rebirth.

    That is true, my bed thieving cat does live with me.

    lol, I have no idea what the current Manchester scene is like. Sounds awful! When I was part of the scene it was all about the Gay Village.

    Demons don't seem to have much of a life outside of persecuting each other or mortals. But are angels any different? I guess magic is John's hobby....

    The last page is cool, I just hope Oliver doesn't suffer the fate that seems to happen to everyone who gets involved with John.