So. Magic. What's it all about, then? I wonder what you were after when you got into the game. It's usually something. Something specific that you think is worth taking risks for. Money. Sex. Revenge. Power. Enlightenment. Thinner thighs in thirty days. It's a long time ago for most of you, I know. Maybe you don't remember. Fuck, maybe you don't even want to. But I'll tell you something for free. At rock bottom, it's always about the same thing. It's always about entropy. The Universe is winding down. Things fall apart. The moving finger writes, and what it writes is "Tough shit."
A long-running Vertigo Comics horror title that spun off from Swamp Thing in 1988, Hellblazer followed Con Man, Occult Detective, gambler and magician of ill repute, John Constantine (rhymes with "turpentine"), as he tangled with Hell, Heaven, the police and the criminal underworld. The comic typically combined horror and fantasy elements (demons, ghosts, vampires. etc.) with a gritty 'real world' setting and an occasional dash of political and social commentary. The majority of the series was set in modern urban Britain, particularly London. Virtually every British comic writer of repute has written for Constantine, such as Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzarello, Denise Mina, Paul Jenkins, Andy Diggle, Ian Rankin and Peter Milligan among others.Hellblazer was notable for subverting Comic-Book Time, with John steadily growing older along with the rest of us. An ancestress of his, Johanna Constantine, appeared in some issues of The Sandman and was fairly badass.For the tropes specific to John himself, regardlessof hisincarnation, see the John Constantine page.
Absurdly Sharp Blade: John and Ellie crafted the Twin Blade which was made out of the remains of two omnipotent Lords of Hell, and uses it to destroy Satan aka The First of the Fallen. John would later uses the blade from time to time to kill demons and even himself. Its so sharp, it kills only by touching.
Adult Fear: John and his sister Cheryl are always looking out for her daughter, Gemma. One story in particular has her being kidnapped by a psychotic religious fanatic who plans to sacrifice her. Off course, John came to the rescue.
But Gemma herself is an Annoying Younger Sibling, who somehow gets to follow in her uncle's (and whole lineage's) footsteps. John does everything to make sure she don't follow the path of occultism. But she does so anyways.
And then there's the time when John discovers Gemma having sex with his father-in-law. John's face was priceless.
Alien Abduction: Happens when Shade: The Changing Man took John for a ride.
Alternate Continuity: The John Constantine who's now showing up in the DCU in Justice League Dark is apparently the young thirty-something who first helped Swamp Thing come to terms with his identity, rather than the one in Vertigo's Hellblazer who's possibly pushing 60.
Ancient Conspiracy: In the "Fear Machine" story arc, Constantine has to fight the Freemasons, who were trying to summon a Chthulthu monster that eats reality.
The Order of St Oran in "Empathy is the Enemy" (also a Cult).
Anonymous Ringer: In "Royal Blood", various members of the royal family are portrayed as braying, cocaine-addled, incestuous perverts - but to appease DC's lawyers, they go unnamed.
Another Dimension: In "The Magus", John went to an alternate dimension where he died in the womb, not his twin brother. Also, a 2006 tie-in novel describes the ill-fated movie as taking place in an alternate universe (Yes, but why did it have to be this one?).
Anti Christ: John's thwarted him a few times. If it comes to it, he'll take an axe to a newly-born devil spawn (which just so happens to resemble a human baby) if it gets the job done.
And yet became the one to summon it. In the Son of Man arc, John finally came across the newly born Anti Christ. After bluffing away the demon who summoned it, John was the one who ended up killing it with an axe. Though it was never seen.
In "The Horrorist", John's hot on the trail of "Angel", the embodiment of oppression, famine and murder. White guilt, basically.
Then there's Havoc, who resembles a skinned human with horns and is the demonic representation of chaos and violence everywhere. It takes a particular interest in causing riots at football grounds. Constantine only met him once, who was trying to cause another bloody football riot at that time, but John convinced him to take the life of a single thug rather than allow the stadium to descend into violence.
First of the Fallen, who is the Devil in the series, is the embodiment of sin and evil.
Anyone Can Die: Many characters, those who were long-lived and short-lived, die horribly. Only Chas and Gemma got lucky.
Even John Constantine got the end of it too. When the three Fates try to tell him he was going to die, John instead accepts death rather than cheat it like he always does, having lived a good and awesome life. But then he somewhat finds another loop in it too.
Apocalypse Cult: Freemasons, Order of St. Oran, Damnation Army, and many other unnamed cults.
Arch-Enemy: Nergal. Later, the First of the Fallen. Then Nergal again.
Asshole Victim: Virtually everyone whom John Constantine has tricked, and also gotten killed. In one issue, an unlucky idiot who just seemingly sat beside Constantine got immediately axed by the King of the Vampires, and that guy didn't even know Constantine.
Author Tract: This is a major theme in Hellblazer. Since the beginning of its publication, writers have been putting their own political and philosophical British ideals in it, and since it follows real time than Comic-Book Time, a lot of those ideals are come from what was happening in contemporary UK. Examples of this include Jamie Delano's negative views of Thatcher's regime and by 2005, includes the War against Terrorism. When Garth Ennis took writing, he included racism, drugs, and religious fanaticism which was popular at that time. The most controversial writer, Brian Azzarello, tackled issues such as Neo-Nazism, prison rape, and homosexuality. During Warren Ellis' run, he included American school shootings in a one-shot issue which led to a major controversy. As such, much of Hellblazer's horror often comes in the crisis and controversies of its time.
Autocannibalism: A bodybuilder in the first issue of Hellblazer falls victim to a demon's curse that makes people ravenous for what they desire most; he starts devouring his muscular arms.
Badass Grandpa: The serial killer Family Man. Also including Clarice Sackville, an aging but powerful magician who used to work for the Kray Twins.
Chas as well, in the later years.[[spoilers: John, briefly, in "Reasons to Be Cheerful".]]
Black Spot: In an issue where one of Constantine's friends finds himself stalked by characters from fiction, he is warned of his fate by Blind Pew from Treasure Island slipping him the black spot.
Body Horror: This being a horror comic, there a lot to pick from any of the writer's taste and style.
Demons tends to be like this to show they really are physically evil, like having animal and inorganic parts in their bodies. One particular demon, named Fuckpig, was a demon that resembles a big penis with no eyes
And then there's the mobster who gave birth to Antichrist. The poor man got himself pregnant, and his womb was twice bigger than his old body. Not to mention his limbs being thin, and blood was coming out from every hole in his body.
The demon Nergal is an artist concerning this trope. By sewing and combining the dead bodies of four soccer hooligans, the demon created Ironfist the Avenger; grotesque creature with four heads, six arms, and eight legs.
Then there's the Newcastle Calling arc. A creepy story about a gang of punk documentary who got cursed one by one when they stumbled upon a haunted club. One of the poor sods, after seeing a rope seemingly attached inside his hand with the words "pull me" written on it, started pulling the rope out of his hand. He ends up pulling his organs, eyes, and bones off his body, and he never stopped. And let's not get started with the other guy who ends up fucking a dead rotting dog.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: John Constantine does this from time to time. The "Son of Man" arc has John Constantine speaking to the reader where narration boxes or thought bubbles would more typically be used.
The Chessmaster: Aside from John himself, many of his enemies such as Mako the Humanitarian, homosexual politician/magician Stanley Manor, The Beast, gangster/demon Ronnie Cooper, Joshua Wright, Domine Fredericks,Myrddin, John's twin brother, and Roscarnis and her demonic children.
God and The First of the Fallen, where the mortal realm is their playing field.
Comic-Book Time: Played straight. An early incident in the series is heavily implied to have produced side-effects like prolonging John's life and youth, but everyone else in the comic ages in real time. Gemma, when first introduced, is about eight years old, and has gone through grade school and her early 20s at appropriate times.
Continuity Drift: Since the series has been written by different British writers from the past, it has its own share of the trope. One particular instance is Chas Chandler and Gary Lester's relationship. During Jamie Delano's arc, Chas says he doesn't know who Gary Lester is (which John Constantine described as an "old" acquaintance in his band years), but in Azzarello's run, both Chas and Gary is shown to have been best mates together with John Constantine in early years.
Near the end of Jamie Delano's run (the first writer for John's ongoing series) John says that most of his old friends are dead. While most of Jamie Delano's supporting cast were dead by that point, later writers would make it a tradition to introduce old friends of John, most of whom ended up dying horribly.
In a funny continuation thereof, Kathryn O'Brien from Hitman is explicitly the same character who later shows up in several arcs of Garth Ennis's run on The Punisher under Marvel's MAX imprint. That connects Hellblazer to The Punisher, one step removed. There's a conversation I'd like to see.
Crapsack World: Constantine's world is NOT a nice place to live in. It's filled to the brim with demons, a spiteful entity first created by God known as The First who wants nothing more than to see Constantine suffer, said God being supposedly insane, and humanity's hope lying in a cynical, cancer ridden man whose life is doomed to continue soaked in bloody death and misery. As for humanity itself, they're often just as bad as any demon or angel when it comes to sheer depravity or blind zealotry.
Crossover Cosmology: Death of the Endless called him in to help spread the message on AIDS and practicing safe sex. His embarrassment over the demonstration of how to use a condom with a banana is a crowning moment of funny.
Dark Is Not Evil: The succubus Eli, even though being a demonic seducer, tends to be a sweet young lady.
Deal with the Devil: Every variation used, too, including both figurative and literal ones. Whenever someone asks John for help, it's a crapshoot as to which one of them's the devil in the deal, too, even if the real Devil is involved.
The worst one, though, goes to John's just-murdered sister. The Devil tells her she's free to go to heaven or back to the world of the living, but her husband — her murderer — killed himself, too. The Devil tells her that if she stays in Hell with her now twice-damned husband, he'll fairly divide the infinite torment for eternity between them. She still loves her husband, and accepts the deal.
Deus ex Machina: Played literally in the series. One of John Constantine's signature and most powerful magic is synchronicity wave travelling, an ability he inherited from his bloodline as the Laughing Magician. This allowed him to literally make his own luck, reshape the battlefield to his own accordance, and be on the right place at the right time.
Very helpful when the demon Nergal tried to hit a dazed Constantine and his wife on the road (who have just finished their time-travelling adventure). John's wave travelling automatically set in, and the car just suddenly skedaddled and fell over a cliff.
Demon Slaying: John Constantine isn't called the "Hellblazer" for nothing. He's so good at this profession, that he can kill a demon with just a one sharp glance in Hellbazer #50.
The Descendants of Cain: The "Third Worlds" story arc has John meet with a tribe consisting of Cain's descendants, living near the entrance of the Garden of Eden in the Middle East in a state of perpetual penance. Their religious zeal leads his current girlfriend to mistake them for Islamists.
Distaff Counterpart: John's ancestor Lady Johanna Constantine (premiered in The Sandman), who lived at the time of the American and French Revolutions. Her miniseries implies that the Constantine/the Laughing Magician is the same entity reincarnating along their bloodline (and killing his/her twin in the womb each time).
Don't Fear the Reaper: When the three Fates tried to tell John Constantine of his impending Death, John just snarks them off.
Downer Ending: Many stories. Especially #300, the last issue of the original Hellblazer series.
Much of this are caused by John trying to save the day. Like that time John attempts to save his dying sister but ends up sending her soul to Hell, or when he tries to save a little girl from an elemental demon but ends up with the girl in pieces, or that time in Rake at the Gates of Hell arc when one-by-one John's closest friend either sacrifices themselves or killed trying to save John.
In the one-shot issue by Neil Gaiman Hold Me, Constantine celebrates the life of a dead friend while a spirit torments people while just wanting to have a little bit of human kindness. Caught up in the mess is a lesbian couple looking to have a kid and a little girl who lost her mother. A touching story.
Early-Bird Cameo: "Original Sins" contains two exceptional examples, a nameless shaman who tells Constantine the history of the opening arc's demon, and a crime boss quoted in an article as an old friend of Constantine's. Neither show up again until Andy Diggle's run, nearly 20 years later.
Eldritch Abomination: John Constantine met and defeated two Lovecraftian gods from different story arcs. Jallakuntilliokan, a two headed dragon/floating meat who eats reality, and M'Nagalah, who is the god of cancer.
Enfant Terrible: Little Harry in "Son of Man". He's actually the dead son of a crime boss whom Constantine was blackmailed into bringing back to life. Since he was unable to do so, John settled for summoning a demon into his body.
Perhaps the closest to an unequivocal victory John ever has is in the issue End of the Line, where he kills an ancient ancestor and dissuades his Gemma from a magical initiation, apparently ending the Constantines' Weird Shit heritage. He maintains that "I beat fate. It's no failure to be the last Constantine, cause now no one else has to be." You know your life sucks when your ultimate success is removing yourself from the gene pool.
And it doesn't stick. Not only does John have an estranged biological daughter in Tefé Holland, Gemma still goes back to magic.
Fantastic Racism: Being a "Suggested for Mature Readers" comic, Hellblazer plays this trope very nicely.
Angels and demons tend to be this to all mortals. The former itself are sometimes portrayed to be more racist than the latter, treating human beings like lower-life forms and toys. One issue involves luring a living human being to Heaven just for the fun of it. Somehow changing the history of literature forever.
Neo-Nazis in Highwater.
For the Evulz: One of the trope that introduces the First of the Fallen. Being the sole personification of evil himself, John is surprised to discover the Devil and his friend Brendan had made a deal to give the latter the biggest wine collection, even though John knew Brendan was just a simple pathetic drunkard. The First off course, responds by saying he made the deal because he finds Brendan amusing, and wanted to see him fail as he try to cheat the Devil. This of course, triggers John to try and save his friend. The rest was history.
During John's adventures in America, he has FBI Agent Turro tracking his tail until he gets murdered.
From Bad to Worse: John ends up with this trope in many of his greatest battles. Seen thoroughly when John's plan of tricking the First backfires with the latter killing everyone John ever loved.
Lampshaded greatly during John's battle with the Beast. At first, John thought that the Shadow Dog was the one which was causing the end of the world, and thus succeeds in destroying it. Suddenly, the nigh-omnipotent being called the Beast appears and relatively took over the world in a small amount of time, to the shock of John and his team. The Beast later explained that the Dog wasn't the one which was causing the end, but was actually the sole thing preventing it by keeping the Beast locked up. With the Dog gone, the Beast finally took every consciousness in the world and seemingly accomplishes what John was trying to prevent in the first place.
Gag Penis: The demon Fuckpig, who is also the total embodiment of rape.
Genuine Human Hide: In an early issue, John clashes with yuppie demon soul brokers. He is sitting in the house of a pair of them and thinking how normal everything looks when he notices that the lampshade has a tattoo.
Hate Plague: Inverted in "The Red Right Hand", in which the plague makes people incredibly empathic - to the point that they share each other's misery and cause mass suicides.
Have a Gay Old Time: "Fags" being British slang for cigarettes, and Constantine being a chain-smoker, lines like "...you'd better go and get yourself three days worth of food and fags" can sound rather odd to American readers.
Naturally, during American Brian Azzarello's first storyline, the double meaning is exploited as Constantine emerges from a shower in prison and claims, "We're all out of fags."
Hell: Hell in the series aren't often the fire and brimstone of myth. It constantly shifts and shapes to accomodate to different kinds of sinners. So everyone has his/her own Hell. If you think you'll like Hell because you like fire, well guess what, Hell isn't that generous to make sure you WILL NOT LIKE IT.
Hoist by His Own Petard: When Nergal visits John in the hospital to get him to help in bringing down the Resurrection Crusaders, he brags about being the demon that screwed John over in Newcastle, thus letting slip what that demon's real name was. John catches the slip-up and files the information away for later use when he's in a better position to take advantage of it.
Played with in one arc. John makes a deal with a bunch of demons to get a little girl's soul back. The summoning takes place in an old church, so they're trapped in the circle. Which is when John brings in the other party to the deal, an Aztec death god who, having been around for longer than Christianity, has no problem with the holy nature of the church, and starts eating the demons.
He also once sets up an ambush by waiting for chasing demons to reveal that they're standing on the grounds of an old church that was later turned into an insane asylum.
Seen also in Brendan's vain attempt in cheating the First, by entrapping himself in a fountain blessed by a saint. This however gave Constantine the edge to finish the job.
I Drank What?: Happens to the First of the Fallen when he and John are drinking from a spring with a working that turned the springwater into pure stout. John then reveals that the spring was blessed — making it a holy water spring — before cutting off the spell...
Newcastle went the way it did mostly because 'Sagatana' wasn't the real name of the demon John was conjuring up like he thought. It's Nergal.
In one story, Constantine was tied to the bottom of a peer by a mobster who'd disposed of quite a few unfortunate souls by letting the tide wash over them. Constantine eggs him on until he blurts out the names of the people he's killed, and is more than a little surprised to find his victims suddenly rising from the water, looking for revenge.
I'm a Humanitarian: In the Damnation's Flame story arc, castaways stranded in a different dimension tried to eat Constantine when he was thrown there.
Kill 'em All: Garth Ennis' final story killed off most of the characters he introduced.
This is becoming something of a tradition in the comics, with outgoing writers butchering most surviving cast members they introduced. By the end of Mike Carey's run, he killed off not only a surviving member of Ennis' cast Mange, but also almost every surviving character of any significance in the series' run before even then. Only Chas and Gemma survive from Delano's days, but Constantine's thoroughly alienated the both of them.
Knight Templar: Usually the forces of Heaven; also the Order of Saint Oran in "Empathy is the Enemy".
Long Runner: With the DC relaunch and cancellation of Uncanny X-Men, Hellblazer became the longest running series from the Big Two to never have been cancelled or renumbered (noting that Action Comics and Detective Comics went back to #1 without being given the chance to get to #1000).
Magical Society: John once was member of the Tate Club, a London-based sorcerer's guild.
John later becomes part of the Trenchcoat Brigade to fight the Cult of Cold Flame and save Timothy Hunter.
Made of Evil: The First of the Fallen, being the Devil and Satan, is the embodiment of sin and evil.
Magick: Unlike other fantasy genre magic who is filled with shooting lightning from your hands, and casting spells with wands. Magick in the Hellblazer mythos (and the whole Vertigo universe) is spontaneous and invisible. This means that although Magick is powerful, it is not flashy as seen in many fantasy genre.
Magic Versus Science: Magick in Hellblazer is heavily differentiated by users from science, though both can be combined to create greater effect. Magic and science are two different logical reasoning. But Science is greater accepted as it is easier to apprehend, where as magick is complicated. This is the reason why mages are executed in ancient times because of their powers. This can be further explained in Books of Magic.
The Magic Versus Technology War: John once defeated the god-demon Nergal by trapping him inside a computer, before the computer opened a gateway to Heaven where angels ripped Nergal apart.
Missing Episode: "Shoot," by Warren Ellis, was also known as issue #141. But, due to the fact that it was written when school shootings were all too common and the comic implied that some kids wanted to be shot, it was shelved pretty quickly. Thankfully, it was released in late 2010. It only took eleven years!
It should be noted that the cover art and a uncolored version of the comic was available well before Vertigo resurrected printed the comic.
Mr. Seahorse: A London gangster's pregnancy goes undetected, as everybody thinks he's just overweight. An enterprising demon wants to emulate the immaculate conception, only in reverse: gang boss Harry Cooper was selected for his sterling record of sadism (he raped his aunt at age 13). Making London the birthplace of the antichrist was no accident, either. ("Where the misery is built into the bricks and mortar...)
Mundanger: In "The Family Man", the titular monster turns out to be an elderly Serial Killer. In "Good Intentions", a creature that is killing people in the wilderness around a mountain village turns out to merely be an enormous boar.
Near Death Experience: In "Sex and Death", "Sins of the Father", "Staring at the Wall" and "Empathy is the Enemy".
Noodle Incident: The Newcastle seance - until "Critical Mass," in which more details are revealed.
This may also count as a Double Subversion: you do see the exact incident in issue #11 (Newcastle: A Taste of Things To Come), but until recently, issue #11 had never been re-released in a trade paperback.
No One Could Survive That: Chas also has his few shares. The guy survived from almost being raped by a demon, to having a long nose fuel truck dropped unto his head... before exploding. And he even had no scratches.
The god-turned demon Nergal also has this. Years of fighting with Constantine, the demon survived the end of John's wit. This included being ripped apart when John bait him to the gates of Heaven (but not before trapping him in a computer!), to being completely destroyed by the First of the Fallen.
Not So Invincible After All: Done to the First of the Fallen twice in Ennis' run. Constantine tricks him into drinking stout transmuted from holy water, then transmutes it back. At the end of Ennis' run, Ellie kills the First outright, making him wonder where the Devil goes when he dies. Answer: Greece, if you must know.
Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: Seen in Hard Times story arc. During John's days incarcerated in a penitentiary, a gang of inmates decided to rape the Englishman while he was taking a shower. Unfortunately John isn't too keen in getting butt-plugged. Although readers never saw what was going on inside the shower room, John seemingly saves his ass by cursing the would be rapists with catatonia. Apparently it was too awesome to be seen.
Our Werewolves Are Different: Werewolves in the Hellblazer mythos looked vaguely different from traditional animalistic werewolf. Although still retaining their bloodthirsty instinct, they are still capable of communications, and can ride horses too.
The demon Norfulthing is a powerful werewolf/demon/elemental who eats people, and it can even detach its head and home in on its prey.
Out with a Bang: "Tainted Love", "Fear and Loathing" and "Bred in the Bone".
The Plan: Too many to count, perpetrated by John as often as his enemies. It makes sense, for a hero who is so much more about using cunning than using his fists.
These frequently spin off into Gambit Pile Up played straight, as John's enemies are both numerous and rarely fools themselves. If John's inadvertently pissed off the wrong bastard, odds are good he's relying on plans that his enemies have already countered, if not co-opted themselves.
Post-Modern Magik: In the Hellblazer mythos, magic exists even in the modern world, albeit mixed in with its culture. There are even sorcerers who can blend magic and technology as tenchnomancers such as Ritchie Simpson who can open portals to different realms using computers.
Prison Rape: In "Confessional", "Son of Man" and "Hard Time".
During the Hard Time arc, John almost gets this while taking a shower ala "drop the soap". But John, being one step ahead, curses the would be rapists with catatonia.
Razor Apples: When John gets locked up in prison, an inmate attempts to spike his food with ground glass. Tables get turned, but God only knows how. Results are messy.
Retcon: In Swamp Thing John said he was in a mental hospital for "a couple of weeks" after something terrible happened in Newcastle. In Hellblazer, that was retconned to several years. Additionally, the comic adds old (but hitherto unseen) friends and enemies on a relatively regular basis.
Satan: The First of the Fallen, the leader of Hell, is John's arch-enemy.
A bit more complicated than usual: the actual Lucifer, the former Devil, quit his job in Sandman... a plot point which was eventually carried over to Hellblazer, but then it had to be explained who the current Devil was. Turns out the First was God's first creation, and predates even angels. In the Hellblazer mythos, Lucifer and Satan are different.
Self-Inflicted Hell: Which now contains John's father, sister and brother-in-law. Also his evil half (don't worry, he got a new one).
Serial Killer: In "The Family Man", "Dangerous Ground" and "Out of Season".
Not only Ross, but his whole deranged platoon. After surviving Vietnam and each sent home, Ross and the boys were traumatized to a pulp. His family and the town attempt to pray for theirrecovery, but ends up with Ross and the others killing everyone in town, even his own wife and kids.
Villain Decay: The First of the Fallen was intended to serve as a powerful, terrifying enemy for Constantine, but a string of defeats and being outwitted by John made him such a joke that John once claimed that if he (John) were to be sent to hell he could easily run circles around the First and Hell, and would eventually take control from him.
Writer Paul Jenkins did tried to return him back to badassery during his run (the First even flipped the finger back on John), but ultimately it was Mike Carey who finally give the John his greatest lost, and the First's most powerful blow on him after getting the soul of John's sister.