All Trenchcoat and Cigarettes and Arrogance – The End of Hellblazer

DC Comics just announced that they were cancelling Hellblazer after 25 years of publishing (300 issues, some mini-series, a few original graphic novels, and one really awful film) to add the character of John Constantine back into the DCU via a New 52 series (is it really that New after more than a year?  Maybe? OK… why not?).

I’m trying to be upset about this, but… I haven’t been completely keeping up with the series, but the issues\arcs I’ve read over the last few years have been hit-or-miss.  I also don’t have the same love for the series that I do for, say, Sandman.  If they announced they were rebooting Sandman… I’d be pissed.  Here, I’m more curious to see how it all goes down.

That said, there’s a lot to celebrate in the twenty-five year run that Hellblazer’s had.  And the most important aspect thing to talk about is where it all got started…

Way back in the late 1980s, Karen Berger, an editor at DC Comics, culled together some of the most brilliant writers from across the pond to write for DC and try to repeat the success that DC Comics found with Alan Moore’s stellar run on Swamp Thing.

These writers, then unknown, are now a Who’s Who of comic writers: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Peter Milligan.  A second group brought us both Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis (among others).  Another name, not quite so well-known, is Jamie Delano.

Delano hasn’t gone on to the same acclaim that others like Gaiman and Morrison have… but his run on Hellblazer was instrumental in the creation of Vertigo Comics, a DC Comics imprint that also housed Sandman, Animal Man, and Doom Patrol.

In 1988, Jamie Delano was handpicked to be the guy who wrote a newer iteration of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing character, John Constantine.  The character of Constantine was a big mystery… a modern-day wizard in a trenchcoat who was unafraid to manipulate the Swamp Thing into doing what needed to be done… and was also unafraid to sacrifice others to save the world from evil.

When the series began in January 1988, fans were in for one hell of a ride.

Though you could tell that the deaths of those close to him was affecting in the Swamp Thing stories, in Hellblazer Delano finally pulls back the curtain on an incident that occurred in Newcastle, that was only hinted at in the pages of Swamp Thing.

At Newcastle, we discover that Constantine was responsible for a demon possessing and killing a young girl… and Delano shows how much that failure affects the character.  His incarceration in a mental institution and subsequent, continual feelings of guilt give Constantine a much more tragic backstory and instantly make him both more likable and more despicable.

In the follow story, “The Fear Machine,” also by Delano, is one of the best of the first fifty or so issues.  There’s magic, mystery, romance, and horror (like much of Delano’s run!) and the length, a bulky 9 issues, lets Delano play a longer game… and the pay-off is great.

But the best of Delano’s work on Hellblazer is, for me, in “The Family Man” story.  Some of this comes from the connection to Gaiman’s “The Doll’s House” arc in Sandman, but the story itself is creepy, suspenseful, and just great from start to finish.

The best news?  All of Delano’s stuff is collected in trades, so they’re easy to track down and read.  Other highlights are issue #27 by Gaiman and McKean, Garth Ennis’ run, the bits of Warren Ellis that I’ve read, and pretty much every issue I’ve read by Mike Carey (but I haven’t read all of Carey’s or Ellis’ runs, so… y’know, don’t bit my head off).

OK, I know… I”ve been doing a lot of comics lately.  I will try to remedy that.  In fact, right now I’m off to read more of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and after that… well I’m midway through Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run, I’m about to begin on the new book from Danielewski (even with how disappointingly gimmicky Only Revolutions was), and… God Help Me… David Barker’s Death At The Flea Circus.

God Help Me because I can’t believe I’m starting another book… Death At The Flea Circus is actually quite good (and I’ll have a post about it at some point in the “near” future).

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