John Constantine is a legend. A musician turned magnus, born of the punk age. A blue-collar wizard who stands against authority, be it civil or temporal. Many is the being that has cursed his name, from the silver cities of Heaven to the lowest pits of Hell. Many are the stories told of his triumphs and tragedies, often times alongside the World’s Finest heroes.
So how the hell did Constantine wind up in an insane asylum in 2019 with a head full of contradictory memories of where he had been?
It is a question that must be put on hold after John makes his way back to London and is picked up off the street by some gangsters working for a crime boss in search of answers. Answers regarding why angels seem to be attacking anyone who sins in a certain park. Answers regarding a whole lot of other weird things in the streets of London. Answers he heard a guy called John Constantine might be able to find.
It is a familiar situation and almost a comfort given how much the world has changed since John remembers being part of it. The seedy pubs of his London have been replaced by artisanal microbreweries. People now give him the side-eye when he pulls out his Silk Cut in public and there’s precious few places a chap can still smoke an honest cigarette. But there are some things that never change, even in a city on the move like modern London. There are still bastards and monsters out there in need of a good kick in the bollocks and John Constantine is just the one to don the Boot of Retribution to do it.
John Constantine: Hellblazer Vol. 1 is a perfect spiritual successor to the original Hellblazer series published by Vertigo Comics and the best regular series to come out of DC Comics’ new Black Label imprint for adults. Like the classic Hellblazer, the series offers a perfect blend of horror and societal commentary, with John Constantine often seeing more depravity among mortal men than the angels and demons with whom he bargains. Simon Spurrier does an excellent job of honoring the roots of John Constantine as a character, even as he avoids being bogged down by any bothersome continuity that might hamper new readers.
Spurrier also manages the neat trick of updating the series for the modern age, though John remains much the same scoundrel we know and love. One subtle difference is John is freer about advertising his bisexuality; an aspect of his character that many writers ignored previously. The supporting cast is also more diverse, with John enlisting the assistance of a Sikh police detective at one point. Perhaps the biggest sign that a new age has started is the character of Noah Ikumelo; a mute gang member, whom John recruits to act as his driver, replacing his old comrade in arms Chas Chandler. Another nice touch is that John knows British Sign Language, though that is entirely due to his having a hearing-impaired boyfriend at one time.
The artwork is excellent throughout this volume, which collects the first Hellblazer special set in the new Sandman Universe, the first six issues of John Constantine: Hellblazer and the Books of Magic issue in which Constantine met Tim Hunter. The introductory chapter, illustrated by Marcio Takara, sets the mood perfectly with a dark, detail-driven style. Most of this volume’s art is handled by Aaron Campbell, who sports a gritty aesthetic that perfectly captures the darkness of Constantine’s London. By contrast, Matias Bergara utilizes a more light and airy look, which better suits the second half of this volume and the story in which Constantine is forced to work with Tommy Willowtree – a man-bun wearing hippie vegan shaman, who has taken over the role of London’s magical savior in John’s absence.
This volume is rightly rated 17 Up. While there’s no overt nudity, there is a lot of sexual content and some truly horrific imagery. The sensitive and the uptight will want to keep their distance, because if the images of people dying violently don’t disturb you, some of John Constantine’s politically incorrect jokes might. (At one point John is literally thrown out of a bar for making a joke about a member of the royal family.) Fans of the original Hellblazer, however, and those who enjoyed Matt Ryan’s portrayal of John Constantine in various television shows and animated movies, will love it.
John Constantine, Hellblazer (2019-) Vol. 1: Marks of Woe 1
By Simon Spurrier
Art by Aaron Campbell, Marcio Takara and Matias Bergara
DC Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 17+ Only
Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: British Bisexual