In this new Hellblazer special, which sets up the upcoming John Constantine, Hellblazer ongoing series from Si Spurrier and Aaron Campbell, we join John Constantine — petty dabbler in the dark arts and all-around worst friend to have in a jam — at the end of the world. The final magic war of the age has begun, the sun has been eaten by some impossible thing and it’s not looking good for the capes and tights set… and then things get weird.
Allow me to state right up front that I am a massive fan of John Constantine as a character. Even when his original Vertigo stories came to an end and we got a younger version of the Hellblazer folded into mainstream DC Comics continuity as part of The New 52, I have remained invested in the various incarnations and takes on the character. While I feel that he best belongs tucked into his own corner of the world, outside of direct confrontation or alliance with the colorful superheroes of the DCU, I do believe that the last few takes on the character have been valid in their own ways, with the most recent run by Tim Seeley even giving John something of a happy ending.
I say all of that so that I won’t come across as one of those “beleaguered” fans who feels like DC is finally getting John right. I also don’t want to sound like a cynic who believes that John’s glory days are over. Mainly, I want to make that all clear so that it sounds slightly less like hyperbole when I tell you that this issue feels like the start of what may be the best John Constantine/Hellblazer story in at least a decade.
The first step to getting this right, it turns out, is to take us back nearly to the beginning… kind of. We meet John during a word-for-word recreation of an infamous apocalyptic sequence from Neil Gaimain’s 1990-1991 Books of Magic miniseries, wherein boy wizard Timothy Hunter sees what will happen to the world of man if he ends up letting his quest for power get the best of him. That’s right; in some ways, this series is essentially a follow-up to the original Books of Magic.
We see this sequence of events from John’s perspective, perfectly setting the tone for how desperate the character has become by this point. It also tells us everything we need to know about why he may be so hellbent on his new lease on life.
It certainly helps that the artwork by Marcio Takara is jaw-droppingly stellar, showing us maybe the most gorgeous armageddon imaginable. The skies burn in a neon glow, with eldritch abominations and undefinable, Lovecraftian horrors permeating the edges of each frame. It’s a nightmare, but it’s dreadfully pleasing to look at. The storytelling evident in Takara’s panels is incredible, with some silent moments telling more about someone’s intentions than any dialogue or explosion could. The final pages of this issue may make longtime fans pause and wonder at their darker implications.
As for the story itself, you may be wondering how Spurrier’s script aims to approach Constantine’s years and years of twisted continuity. How can he possibly hope to reconcile the many different tones (and even ages for our lead) the franchise has shown over the last several iterations. The simple answer is: he both does and doesn’t. The longer answer is that Spurrier essentially take the Hawkman approach: it all happened and it all matters, as long as it serves the story at hand.
The reasoning behind all of this is explained eloquently through John’s narration over the course of the issue, so I won’t spoil it here. All I’ll say is that fans of the character will be pleased that their investment over the years hasn’t been completely thrown out. There’s a genuine love on display here for the character of John Constantine and the many men he’s been since his introduction. It has the added bonus of being an elegant meditation on the very nature of comics continuity, while also giving us a few surprising cameos along the way.
What we’re left with is a John Constantine with a renewed sense of purpose and a mission that may lead him down a darker road than we’ve ever seen him take. This may be a different John, but he’s the same old bastard he’s always been. I don’t trust him in the slightest, but I can’t wait to follow him on this new journey.