Last year, DC Comics writer Simon Spurrier partnered with artist Marcio Takara on a The Sandman Universe special marking the return of the Hellblazer himself, John Constantine, to DC’s mature-readers lineup. The special led into a brand-new ongoing series, John Constantine: Hellblazer, for the Liverpudlian street mage written by Spurrier and illustrated by the likes of Aaron Campbell and Matías Bergara. And if its first few issues are any indication, this Spurrier-penned run on John Constantine could very well go down in history as the best one since Jamie Delano, John Ridgway and Mark Buckingham’s foundational work on the character.
While John Constantine was originally created by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben during Moore’s seminal Saga of the Swamp-Thing run, much of what fans know and love about the character today — including the Hellblazer moniker — was the work of Delano and Ridgway.
Delano and Ridgway’s Hellblazer #1 first hit shelves in January of 1988. The politically-charged series gave new depth to its eponymous character, delving further into his personality, backstory and demons — personal and otherwise. Even after Ridgway left the book, Delano continued to collaborate with top-notch artists, including Richard Piers Raynor — who introduced an even more iconic look for Constantine Johnny. While Delano has written Constantine stories as recently as 2010, his main run penning the character’s occult misadventures came to an end with the release of Hellblazer #40 in 1991.
Many other major writers have taken the reins on Hellblazer over the years, and many did a fantastic job at that. Between the likes of Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Warren Ellis, Sean Phillips, Mike Carey and even Brian Azzarello, not to mention the genuinely masterful “Hold Me” one-shot story by The Sandman’s Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean for Hellblazer #27, it’s safe to say John Constantine has been in good hands, even in Delano’s absence. That said, this new take on the character that legitimately feels like the ones fans readers have waited years for.
While some Vertigo diehards loathe the fact that Constantine was brought into the main DC Universe, those books have a place in the character’s mythos. Even without a hard-R rating, some of the more modern Hellblazer runs have been solid depictions of Constantine, and Justice League Dark is just great fun all around. Given the current sociopolitical era, however, it definitely made sense for Johnny to return to his roots as a mature-readers character.
In truly tumultuous times, an unfiltered, smash-mouth approach is precisely what a creator needs to get their point across, and Constantine is the perfect character for those moments. This is evident in Delano’s original run on Hellblazer, which expertly combined horror with biting social commentary pertaining to issues that were very much relevant at the time, such as the enduring issue of racism, Thatcherite economics, the emerging Yuppie culture, the AIDS epidemic, the lingering effects of the Vietnam War and the early days of the digital age.
What’s made this era o enthralling thus far is that it manages to capture an attitude similar to that of Delano’s, and add a 21st-century twist. It really is the best of both worlds, taking the sleazy, bitter John Constantine that won over so many Vertigo readers all those years ago and throwing him into a world that is both eerily similar and drastically different to that of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Plus, the fact that Constantine is both figuratively and literally his own worst enemy this time around is pretty rich.
Between the resurgence of outwardly bigoted ideologies and the increasingly divided political spectrum, the dingy world Constantine inhabits in Spurrier’s Hellblazer is sure to tick the protagonist off, but isn’t exactly foreign to him. While the aforementioned digital age having advanced three decades and the general culture of the present day is strikingly different than what he’s used to, John is simultaneously in his element and out of his depth. This fact alone has opened the door to Hellblazer stories that draw on new ideas and old ones, which is no easy feat when it comes to a character whose stories rely so heavily on contemporary issues.
Anger is often a necessity when it comes to tackling sociopolitical topics in works of fiction, and it isn’t exactly a stretch to say Delano comes off downright livid when he penned John Constantine’s first solo stories back in the day. What makes Spurrier such a worthy successor is that he seems to carry that same sort of vitriol towards the state of things, but he has a fresh perspective based in today’s world. While many of the same overarching problems are challenging today’s world as they did 30 years ago, there are completely new elements at play in modern life that make them a totally different ballgame. And much like his predecessors, Spurrier’s scripts manage to be as intelligent as they are caustic in their tackling of modern society.
And that justified rage is precisely what separates good Constantine stories from great ones. On top of that, Hellblazer has continued to feature incredible art that has been on display since Constantine made the jump to The Sandman Universe, which only serves to elevate the overall message.
Even without factoring in Spurrier’s linguistic skills, the initial relaunch special is already worthy of awards consideration — if only because of Takara’s art. The ongoing series’ first story arc is more than a worthy continuation in this regard, with Campbell’s art managing to be simultaneously atmospheric, vivid, horrifying and beautiful all at the same time — as well as wonderfully complemented by Jordie Bellaire’s color work. Similarly, Bergara brings his own stylized take on Constantine’s world to the following storyline.
With the original Hellblazer series, Jamie Delano and John Ridgway did something truly special that set a wonderfully sarcastic, supernatural template for what a Vertigo series could be. Many of those original tales are still largely seen as the definitive Hellblazer stories, and justifiably so. But by helming a return to form for the John Constantine, Spurrier, Takara, Bergera and their collaborators have also opened the door to a brand-new era for Constantine that could have a very similar place in history by the time it’s done
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Simon Spurrier, Aaron Campbell and Matías Bergara's take on Constantine is well on its way to being character-defining Hellblazer run.