Saturday, 15 January 2011

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins

Written by: Jamie Delano, illustrated by John Ridgway and Alfredo Alcala
Year of Publication: 1992, first published monthly as John Constantine, Hellblazer issues 1-9 in 1988
Number of Pages: 256 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, supernatural

Summary: John Constantine is at first glance an ordinary working-class Englishman from Liverpool. However he is a powerful magician and exists in a shadowy world of black magic, demonic forces and the ghosts of old friends and lovers. Here Constantine finds himself pitted against a grotesque hunger demon bent on consuming the inhabitants of New York, yuppies from Hell who are buying and selling with human souls as currancy, Vietnam ghosts attacking the inhabitants of a small town in America, and sinister religious cults at the vanguard of a catastrophic war between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Through it all only Constantine can save the world, providing he's stocked up on cigarettes and can get down to the pub before it shuts.

Opinions: John Constantine was originally created by Alan Moore in 1985 in the ground-breaking The Saga of the Swamp Thing comic-book series. The Swamp Thing itself, by the way, has a brief cameo in this book. Constantine came about because the artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, who were both fans of the rock group The Police, approached Moore with the desire a character who looked like Sting. In 1988 Constantine made his debut in his own monthly comic-book John Constantine, Hellblazer which has been published continuously since. Incidentally, the title was originally going to be Hellraiser but was changed to avoid confusion with the 1987 Clive Barker film of the same name.
This book contains the first nine issues of Hellblazer. The book mostly consists of one or two part stories but soon introduces an overall story arch linking them. This is as good an introduction to the Hellblazer universe as anything, although one of the advantages of the comic series is that it is very accessible to newcomers. The series belongs to the genre of urban horror. It takes place in a recognisable time and place, and deals with a lot of the real world political and social problems. It was orginally published in the late 1980s and there is a lot about life in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. Constantine himself is a very morally ambiguous character. Essentially a good person, with a conscience, he tries to do the right thing but is severely flawed and is not averse to using his friends and lovers even if it costs them their lives, and lives with horrible guilt because of it. He is also cowardly and something of a con-man.
The stories are well written and witty and complemented by some decent artwork.

1 comment:

  1. HELLBLAZER #10 is intertwined with events in SWAMP THING #76 and takes place during and after that issue. Until recently, #10 was never reprinted. It was not included in the original HELLBLAZER: ORIGINAL SINS trade paperback. (The new version of that collection was released last month, and includes the Swamp Thing issues.) The original HELLBLAZER: ORIGINAL SINS (1992) trade paperback reprinted issues 1 through 9, which is a little confusing because the story really concludes in issue 10. What happened to Zed and Nergal? Presumably, issue 10 was excluded from the HB trade paperback because it would cause even more confusion for people who did not read recent issues of SWAMP THING.

    For an analysis of how those preceding issues of HELLBLAZER and SWAMP THING crossed over with each other, see the online Swamp Thing Annotations at

    SWAMP THING #77 is kind of an epilogue to HB 10 and ST 76. Meanwhile, HB #11 goes off in a new story direction. ST 76 does resolve the question of how they deal with Swampy's replacement, but the following issues of ST show the repercussions of that solution (Swampy gets sent back in time) but unfortunately Rick Veitch never finished that story arc because of the Jesus issue. (again, see the annotations site) It is definitely worth reading the rest of Veitch's run, though.