” I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I’ve got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I’ll drive your demons away. I’ll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they’re down and then I’ll be gone back into darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone… who would walk with me?”
HELLBLAZER: DANGEROUS HABITS
John Constantine’s had a bit of a rough go since the cancellation of Vertigo’s HELLBLAZER. From the character’s relaunch as part of the New 52 to his short-lived TV series, the supernatural investigator with a penchant for Silk Cuts and double-crosses has had some trouble getting back on solid ground .
Well, rejoice, all ye sinners, because the bastard’s back.
CONSTANTINE THE HELLBLAZER is DC’s third relaunch of their resident chain-smoking, trouble-making, occult con man. And you know what they say about the third time being the charm? Most definitely true, in this case.
Going back to the drawing board, DC has returned Constantine to his anti-hero roots, with a little bit of spit & polish and reinvention this past June. And as a long-time fan of the character, I’m happy to report that they’ve nailed it. How so?
1)The new look: “Costume changes” are nothing new in comics. More often than not, it’s the easiest (and laziest ) go-to in an attempt to pull in new readers. But with Constantine’s new duds, the change is more than cosmetic. The scruffy, disheveled Constantine of the Vertigo years is no more, replaced by a more contemporary and stylish redesign. The new look is polished and lean – no stubble, no ratty trenchcoat and a sleek new ‘do – a melange of his original wardrobe choice ( in Alan Moore’s spectacular SWAMP THING run ), as well as a pseudo 1960s punk/mod flare ( boots, tight pants and a waist-length coat ). It’s a fitting look, considering that Constantine’s original visual template was The Police’s frontman, Sting in QUADROPHENIA. It’s a good look and, more importantly, it’s a signifier that this version has come out to play.
2) Playing both sides of the fence: The New 52 title and even the TV series skirted around John’s bisexuality ( as in, completely ignored it ), much to the consternation of many of the character’s long-time followers. Not so here. In Issue #1, we have John flirting with a burly bear of a bartender, as well as engaging in sexual congress with an androgynous demon ( so perhaps ‘bisexual’ is the wrong term here). With so many comics becoming more inclusive of LGBT characters, it seems like a logical choice to bring that back into John’s make-up. And kudos for DC in doing so in a book rated 15+.
3) Riley Rossmo: Fast becoming one of the hot artists of the moment, I became a fan of Rossmo’s work on the recent NIGHTBREED series, and his style is tailor-made for this series. The covers are gorgeous, the layouts are stunning and elaborate. In Issue #1, there’s a beautiful double-page spread of John being given the tour of a demon-run “gentlemen’s club”, floor by floor, top to bottom. And it’s beautiful to behold. He also has a knack for great and disturbing creature design, especially with the intro of the initial arc’s first heavy. Rossmo’s one to keep your eye out for, and fingers crossed, he’s going to be on this title for a long time.
4) No superhero stuff: the last reboot attempted to shoehorn him back into the DC Universe with the cape and spandex crowd. He even became the de facto leader of DC’s supernatural super-team, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. Let’s not even mention the issue where John ends up with the powers of Shazam! .
No, seriously. That happened.
Fortunately (for now, anyways) , writers James Tynion IV and Ming Doyle have placed John back in the world he works best in: the world of shadows, back-alley magic and supernatural noir. The vibe is much more dark urban fantasy/horror and nary a cape in sight. As it should be.
5) A Glorious Bastard: If there’s one thing that has solidified John Constantine as one of horror/dark fantasy’s most enduring characters, it’s his tendency towards bastardly selfish behaviour. John’s always looking for the angles, the game. Whether it’s for personal gain or the challenge of one-upping the powers-that-be, John has no interest in saving the world or “fighting the good fight”. He’s a con man and a hustler and, for him, it’s all about the thrill of the game. As John’s ghostly companion, Gaz, points out to him in Issue #2,
“ I know that look in your eyes. It means you’re going to tear down the walls of Heaven rather than listen to reason. Every time you get that look, you shave off a little more of what makes you ‘you’. Every time, you come out a little less.”
And that’s John, in a nutshell. To his enemies, he’s dangerous. To his friends, he’s even worse.
The new crew gets him. And we’re all the luckier for it.
Welcome back, you roguish son-of-a-bitch. We missed you.