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 and Andy Diggle, 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.John Constantine is a creation of Alan Moore and Steve Bissette, first appearing in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 (June, 1985). The character started out firmly entrenched in The DCU — his first appearance was in a crossover with Crisis on Infinite Earths, even! — but gradually drifted off into his own self-contained universe. (Although the likes of Zatanna and The Phantom Stranger still popped in from time to time, as has Morpheus.)Constantine himself is generally portrayed as an adrenaline junkie who's constantly getting involved with the supernatural because everything else bores him to tears. Although he is a Badass Long CoatAnti-Hero, he's portrayed as being a poor fighter (unless he's fighting dirty or gets the first punch in) and generally eschews guns. Instead, he uses his brains to outwit, trick and manipulate his enemies. Well, brains,magic (mind-reading and gambling a specialty!), bullshit and not infrequently the power of his own reputation. His reputation gave him the title of being the World's Greatest Con Man.One of his most persistent traits is his habit of manipulating his friends into fighting for him or getting them involved in his schemes. However, this usually winds up in them getting killed. Indeed, the series became notorious at one point for introducing a new "old friend" of Constantine's, then killing them off, every few issues. Despite this, the comic is very good about killing men and women equally, and so far, only one of Constantine's lovers has been Stuffed into the Fridge (plus another in its parent comic Swamp Thing).Despite this, Constantine is generally a sympathetic character who refuses to absolve himself of his guilt- except for the time that he turned it into a demon baby and threw it off a cliff- and generally does the right thing, even if he does it in a particularly nasty way. He is a strident humanist and sort-of anarchist who fights for humanity's right to make its own decisions free of the control of Heaven, Hell, politicians or other forces of control. The fact that he does this by manipulating people is an irony that has not been lost on several writers.It is a major theme in the comic that Constantine never has any unequivocal permanent victories — enemies will always return, revenge will be sought and friends will be lost. Ultimately, Failure Is the Only Option.There is a 2005 film adaption, starring Keanu Reeves as a Catholic, Californian, raven-haired, gun-wieldingexorcist version of Constantine.A cute (!) version of John appears with other Vert-goMites in the Batmite story Mitefall.Alan Moore also claims to have met him. Twice. In Real Life.The end of Brightest Day saw him returning to the main DCU. In the New 52 reboot, a younger John works as a member of Justice League Dark, a magic-themed JL. The original remained in Vertigo until the comic was cancelled with its 300th issue in 2013, to be replaced by a DC solo title called simply Constantine. Hellblazer was at the time the longest-running monthly DC Comics comic never to be rebooted or cancelled.
Alternate Continuity: The John Constantine who's now showing up in the DCU in Justice League Dark is apparently the young thirtysomething who first helped Swamp Thing come to terms with his identity, rather than the one in Vertigo's Hellblazer who's possibly pushing 60.
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.
Anti-Hero: John, when his motivations are purely selfish.
Arch-Enemy: Nergal. Later, the First of the Fallen. Then Nergal again.
Author Tract: As many as one would expect during Garth Ennis' run on the series.
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.
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.
Combat Pragmatist: Is one of these to make up for being bad in a fight, but every so often ends up getting his ass kicked by some random thug anyway.
Comic Book Time: Ignored; John has aged realistically since he first appeared. His birthday is 10 May 1953.
More subverted and played straight. An early incident in the series is heavily implied to have produced side-effects like prolonging his 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.
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 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.
Deal with the Devil: Pretty much 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.
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).
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.
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.
Evil Twin: John himself; he strangled his brother in the womb with his own umbilical cord.
Exiled from Continuity: The adult nature of his comic has kept John from being a major player in the more mainstream titles of The DCU, rarely making appearances outside of crowd shots or the occasional mention.
Averted by the end of Brightest Day, where it seems he'll now be a big player in the DCU again.
Kinda sorta. The John Constantine now appearing in Justice League Dark is an alternate version to the one in the still-running Hellblazer series.
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.
Fatal Flaw: John's addiction to the occult and the havoc it wreaks on his (increasingly few) attempts to have a 'normal' life.
Gorn: Most prevalent when Garth Ennis is writing the series (it's practically his calling card), but crops up occasionally in other writers' runs as well.
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.
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...
In the Blood: The Constantine line consists of a long history of somewhat dodgy magic users, although John's father, sister, grandfather and uncles were Muggles. Apart from John himself, Lady Johanna (18th century) is the most famous.
It Gets Easier: Constantine used to be freaked out by horribly mutilated bodies but these days he's cold as stone.
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).
Magnetic Hero: John is a very magnetic personality, able to pull people into being allies. Woe them.
Memetic Badass: John is an in-universe example, which is Lampshaded in The Books of Magic. A threat from him gets an entire club of monsters and dark magicians to back off from Timothy and Zatanna, even though Zatanna has far more magical power than him.
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.
My Greatest Failure: After messing up a summoning in 1979, John accidentally damned a little girl to Hell. This hung over him until the "Critical Mass" arc, when he freed her and all the other damned children.
As a troubled young man, John was blackmailed into reviving the dead son of a gangster ("Son of Man"). Putting aside the fact that this is an impossible task, the lives of John's relatives were on the line. So, John simply summoned a demon and installed him in the boy's body. Cut to the present, where archdemon "Harry" is now running the whole crime syndicate, raping women on a daily basis and harvesting blood from babies to maintain his form. Repeat ad nauseum (pun intended) for ten years. You do the math. Constantine unwittingly stumbled upon the warehouse where Harry keeps his leftovers.
Narrator: All the time - and in "Son of Man", he looked at and talked directly to the reader. (Lampshaded in the final part, when people overhearing him are laughing at the mad bloke talking to himself.)
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: John's plans, as he himself can attest, frequently lead to the horrible deaths of everyone involved, even the ones he's trying to save. Sometimes, he even does this on purpose.
No Bisexuals: Peculiarly, both averted and played straight (so to speak). One issue mentions that John has occasional bisexual tendencies...but then it is never mentioned again.
Until a storyline during the Azzarello run in which he pulls off a con based around seducing another man.
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.
Not So Invincible After All: In "Dangerous Habits", Constantine contracted lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. However, he tricked the Lords of Hell into curing him. He also suffered from alcoholism.
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.
Occult Detective: Though he usually does it out of curiosity or necessity instead of money.
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.
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".
Smoking Is Cool: John is rarely without a cigarette and the the most iconic images is Constantine lighting his cigarette like the page image. Also averted that he actually has to face the consequences of lung cancer at least till a Deal with the Devil.
Weak, but Skilled: John is a poor fighter, has no real combat skills, and doesn't use magic all that often. Yet he still manages to take on Heaven, Hell, and whatever else, if only because he's really good at planning and manipulating others.
Weirdness Magnet: Turns out John's unborn twin is using synchronicity (the ability to warp reality, making things work out for him that comes with being the "Laughing Magican") to screw with Johns life. The twin uses the power to attract all the bad stuff that happens to John whilst using the power to stop him dying from it (neatly explaining all the bad stuff that happens to everyone around him but John manages to escape). Why may you ask? so John will give up, commit mental suicide and allow the twin to take over
Lampshaded by a demon in ''Son of Man':
''"You belong here, don't you, Constantine? This is your world. Eyelids slit off and babies on hooks. Guttings and rapings. I swear to fuck, yours is the kind of life serial killers wank off to."
We Want Our Jerk Back: In-universe example. Following the events of "Critical Mass," John is left entirely good. Deciding he doesn't like it, he goes on a journey to recover his inner bastard.