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#350714 So long, John Constantine, we'll miss you

Posted Qusoor on 11 March 2013 - 12:50 AM

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Media Properties.


Yesterday, I picked up Hellblazer #300.   The final issue.

I'm sad.  John Constantine, the archetypal Sweary British Mage, has been a fixture for more than half of my life.  I've got more comics featuring the character than I can comfortably lift.  The most popular section of my website is dedicated to John Constantine. And now he's gone, subsumed into a younger, blander version of himself without any sort of ties to the culture that he grew up in.

That's the John Constantine in the DCUniverse, the new 52.  He's younger and nobs around with Zatanna, the Phantom Stranger, Frankenstein's creature.  But he's not much of a character.  Original John Constantine was rooted in the punk of the 70's and 80's.  He was a member of a spectacularly failed band (Mucous Membrane).  This gave him a center, a starting point.  His disrespect for authority, his iconoclasm and cynicism made perfect sense, because I understood the movement he came from, the zeitgeist from which he was born.  The desperate 70's were his formative years.  

This depth came from the minds of Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben.  They looked around and created a character that was from their time.  And people responded to John Constantine.  He was something new--a working-class mage.  Until Constantine, comics magic weilders have been remote mages, men with towers, women with witches terrible powers.  John was different.  He was a magical mechanic, not getting involved in the ritual of magic, but doing the necessary things in order to get the desired result.  If the words are the thing, then why not just say them, rather than intoning them?  Was a copper-inlaid pentacle really necessary, or would a quick chalk one on a linoleum floor be just as useful?  This practical approach was unique, stripping away the mysticism and obfuscation, as well as the overblown speeches.  Dr. Strange has all sorts of charms and talismans, the Specter is the Veneance of God, Dr. Fate channels the power of whichever Egyptian god through his helmet, the Phantom Stanger has some strange origin story.  John as none of these.  He wasn't a doctor, a mystic, or Judas.  He was a self-made sorcerer who got into magic as a way to impress the girls.  He came from a poor family, ran away when he was 16.  Never went to college.

As such, he was always an iconoclast, and a smart one.  He has never been a hero, because heroes do the right thing.  John was a ruthless bastard who looked at the big picture and kept his eye on it, often at a personal cost, or to the cost of a friend.  That said, what he did always needed doing.  And after the price was paid, he usually got drunk.  We've even seem him cry a time or two.  Constantine was that small person who moved the wheels of the world because they had to.  Not because they were getting fame or glory.  He was easy to relate to, because he wore his faults and vices on his sleeve.  He smoked, he drank, he cursed. All of these motions and emotions made him human, someone I could relate to.

He changed as different writers wrote him differently.  Jamie Delano's Constantine was very different from Garth Ennis's Irish Rebel, Mike Carey's masterful manipulator.  All these were different and yet recognizeable as the same person.  But there were some authors who didn't get it, who didn't understand the point of planting your feet, and flipping off God, the Devil, and the police simply because it needed to be done.  And ultimately, this was Constantine's downfall.

Because Constantine was a media property.  The media he appeared in was produced on a deadline, and that had to be hit, whether the writer had a good idea or not.  And since the creators weren't willing to write him for more than a decade, the chore had to be passed on to someone else.  And so there were John stories that were from individuals who didn't really understand what he was about.  Certainly the film that used the Constantine name was pretty clueless.  As, sadly, was the last man to write the comic.  But that's what happens when a character is a media property.  

And so one of my favorite favoirte media properties flicks his ciggie into the bushes and heads out for Pubs Unknown.  There's going to be a hole in my life for a while.  But I'll always have those brilliant issues, and when I want, I can open up a box of comics and visit the good old days.

#363017 Soooo about that coat...

Posted A. Heathen on 06 August 2014 - 07:43 AM

View PostTony B., on 06 August 2014 - 07:35 AM, said:

I feel like Constatine wearing my bathrobe.

Constantine and Chas of Earth Bizarro
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#349953 So long, John Constantine, we'll miss you

Posted A. Heathen on 21 February 2013 - 08:04 PM

NB Just post your tribute in words and let's not comment on each other's thoughts, perhaps use that "reputation" button if you like something. You can post an obit for Constantine or for the comic or both. Or something else.

I am starting to write this at 6:40pm on 21st Feb, and it will be a stream of consciousness and so prone to error, opinion and hyperbole.

John Constantine is a character that defines my adult career as a comics reader.
(In my earlier years it was Batman and then Roy of the Rovers, since you ask.)

When Swamp Thing was handed to Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch, I was reading the new issues and back issues at the same time, and the wealth of supporting cast was amazingly well realised (emphasis on "real"). Surprising that an incidental background character might go on to have his own 300 issue series and a bunch of spin offs, not to mention >choke< a film better than both the Swamp Thing ones !

Surprisingly for the young comic fan of the modern era to learn, this was not really down to Alan Moore, since it was only with Jamie Delano's launch of Hellblazer that the "mysterious, all-knowing wide boy who takes the piss of Swampy"  became an engaging, real world character. Note that he has aged in real time for 25 years, at least until he got involved with a younger woman, but more of that later.

Moore gave Constantine a circle of friends and acquaintances who mostly got killed.
Delano gave John Constantine a family, people who moved on, people who survived him.

Over the years, our hero would occasionally push people away, saying "everyone around me dies!!!" and every now and then he would get drunk and mope or uncharacteristically mope when sober. Some of those came back to him. A lot of readers did this too.

Delano gave him a conscience that we would often think back to when copy writers or over-zealous fankids said "Constantine is a bastard who would sell his granny". No, he wouldn't. He would place his granny at risk due to his actions, and he would get his granny to knit him a protective scarf of arcane symbols. He would feel guilty about not seeing her at christmas because he was too busy saving the world. He would not leave an unprotected woman tied to a tree in deserted woods without enacting some sort of vengeance on the perpetrators. And he would not kill a man just to use his sex juice. And he wouldn't use guns. Or punch folks. Or go "Justice League Assemble ! It's Constantine Time !" Delano's Constantine went up against the Family Man, is that someone who is a heartless bastard?

Delano fleshed out the back story. Constantine had been a cocky bastard, carried away with his own self-confidence, and that's what cost him his first lost friends. With Moore and Delano, this was a common theme for Constantine.

Into his forties, along came a new breed of writer, Garth Ennis took the demonic aspects one step beyond, but also gave us more plausible religious and politicals opponent for Constantine.
And no cure for cancer.
John's relationship with Kit is more enduring than any other throughout the history of the book, except perhaps Chas, and her view on his messing around with magic and demons and that sort of thing was barely touched upon by others. Shame about the "shagged a lesbian" line Mr E.

[An aside, on Earth, Garth Ennis's First of the Fallen was a smartly dressed man who we would allow to introduce himself, not a prancing buffoon in a Borat mankini.]

In ironically the most organic move from one writer to the next, Eddie Campbell's brief spell of JC running away from the loss of Kit slides into Paul Jenkins' run, and that brings John to the heart of a believable, normal circle of friends (maybe too dependent on the Jenkins family!) with stories that rely more on ghosts and locality than ever before. One major locality is London, England. And there is a touch of Delano's mystical storylines being revisited here.
The shorter stories and the "down time" of both these writers manage to convey who Constantine was and why he was involved with these people.

When I look back, this era is what hooked me into Hellblazer more than anything, yet often Ennis and Jenkins are under-valued. We had a bloody good supporting cast, interesting high concepts (even if the delivery was sometimes low brow) and Sean Fucking Phillips's defining art.
Really economical, dynamic and with a range of expression rarely seen since. My personal favourite Leo Manco does better horror, and the book was more horror-themed at that later date.
But Phillips is undefeated king of Hellblazer artists.

I was really looking forward to Warren Ellis taking over. It was likely that he'd develop what I liked most in Hellblazer, and when he delivered Haunted as his opening gambit, we got London. As good a romantic tragedy as ever - mostly told off the page - and some superb new supporting cast members. They have not died, by the way, they have moved on and left Constantine behind.
There is a good reason for that. Besides Gemma and Chas, it's usually only the villains who survive and re-appear. (Let us, for a moment ignore the Paul Jenkins cast member who died twice!)

The stand alone stories boded very well for ongoing interest. There was no sense of a huge uber-arc such as we'd had previously, but a character with a role in other people's lives - a more episodic story. So far so good, but carried away by his internet-driven real world stories, Ellis wrote a tale to current for Vertigo, and when his school shootings tale was canned, he walked.

At the time, I was ambivalent about Brian Azzarello taking over, an AMERICAN, but he had an eye for an anti-hero. We were promised an interesting change, which mostly consisted of not being told what Constantine was thinking. Oh and no cigarettes as he was in jail.
Initial stories connected very well with the magical investigator vibe that Ellis had begun, but travelling America. Freezes Over remains one of my favouirte Hellblazer stories, that "con man" thing has been misunderstood through the years, but here he basically conned someone into giving up. Sadly, then ... the uber arc begins. Let me overlook Highwater and deal with the sex and bondage issue. This is a well written P.O.V. mystery with the vital explanation omitted. None of the witness stories are correct, but they all have elements of the truth. I only appreciated this a few years later, because I'd dropped the book at that stage.

Until Mike Carey came along.
Constantine returns to his roots. We get a supporting cast who are like the sort of people who you bump into in the real world, added to the back catalogue of (mostly Ellis's) Hellblazer types. A different approach ensues, as Carey's forte had been the epic tale of Lucifer, he took to working in a bunch of continuity and an over-long Mega-arc, but it consisted of several excellent singles and short stories, including my very favourite one-off "A Game of Cat and Mouse". But John Constantine was back to having depth rather than comics character consistency.
And his family and friends grew with him, for once.
I've said enough about Gemma elsewhere on this forum but Chas and he fell out like people do when one has a family and the other doesn't. Still friends even though they were not buddies.
The death of the supporting cast members was a comics fan indulgence that's not really my thing, but it was fun. And when John lost his sister and abandoned his magical circle at the end of Carey's run you believed it was a good place to end. Which you may remember was immediately reversed.

At the time, I did not like Denise Mina's run at all.
On reflection, the first half was okay but had too many irksome supporting cast members.
The second half should have been a single issue and the single issue should have been burned near a disused train tunnel before publication.
But John Constantine remained the character that Paul Jenkins had congealed from Delano and Ennis's primal ooze. Quite likable. Perhaps someone could photoshop everyone out of the comic, like they do with the Garfield cartoon strips?

Andy Diggle started with a tale that could have been a direct descendent of Delano's secret organisation type of story, then went on to the rather brilliant idea that the cocky confident Constantine of early days had finally got his Ennisaholism sorted and was back on top of his game. Of all the London gangland geezers that Constantine has been involved with, Diggle's tale was most believable (in spite of dead daughters emerging from the Thames) but too quickly he tried to resolve the long-standing problem of John's Dead Twin and continuity reared it's ugly head.

One could be forgiven for looking back at my posts when Peter Milligan was announced and laughing at me now. Scab was a brilliant reintroduction, but doubts stepped in when Constantine became besotted with someone he'd really only just met. And then she died. And then Constantine became besotted with someone who had only just been introduced, but he had met when she was younger and then they met again when he was younger.
I haven't liked the book for quite a while, and had forgotten that arc in India, unlike Mike Carey's one in India and Eddie Campbell's one in Australia, but recently I read the two years worth since I dropped the book and find the relationships do not resonate with me. Which is a shame.
Luckily, there was City of Demons, which is kind of what this run could have been - more exciting, short term relationships that work and a kick ass leather trenchcoat.
Sorry, I mean it's a damn fine horror comic drawn by one of those cartoony artists.

Actually, I am not going to remember Peter Milligan's Hellblazer for the stuff I disliked but for Suicide Bridge and Scab.

I wish #300 had something of the positive stuff from above.
The final two paged almost did it, but the pages preceding it totally failed to end anything other than "Peter Milligan's Hellblazerenders".

Given that there is a retconned character lolloping around the DCU, what shall I remember of John Constantine?
A character who for most of 25 years aged alongside me, saw more of the world and less of the good times, but made me interested in seeing how he would trick the tricksters and try to do the best for his friends. A good hook on which to hang a series of horror stories, fantasy stories and the occasional political tract. Real world horror, even.

Would I have liked to be his friend?
Not at every time in his life. If I'd met him in the 80s I'd be dead now, but if I'd met him before I might have been Chas, and if I'd met him in the last 20 years at least I might be still in touch with Kit or Angie or Nergal.

Did I enjoy reading about his adventures?
Sure did.

#374335 John to be featured in Arrow ?

Posted TheDevilYouKnow on 13 September 2015 - 02:57 PM

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