While our recaps of NBC’s Constantine may be over, we (Dave and Jay) still want to talk about one of our favorite characters, John Constantine, Hellblazer. We’ve decided to re-read the entire series starting with the first issue and going… well, let’s take this a week at a time, shall we?
We invite you to read along with us and share your thoughts and reactions.
Cover Date: February, 1988
Published by DC Comics
Written by Jamie Delano
Illustrated by John Ridgway
Last week we started out on this ambitious/stupid/doomed mission to re-read Hellblazer. We started with issue one, in which John returned home to London, following his shenanigans with Swamp Thing, to find Gaz Lester going cold turkey in his bathtub. Gaz botched an exorcism, and now a hunger demon, Mnemoth, is on the loose. John traveled to New York, and met up with Papa Midnite, before trying to confront the demon. Hilarity ensued.
What Happens in This Issue:
After failing to beat the demon in a direct confrontation, John Constantine decides he needs to fight dirty. He hands Gaz over to Papa Midnite, promising his friend that he’s only there as bait, and that they’ll be heading home the next day. That night, we see John haunted in his hotel room by the ghosts of other friends and allies, other people he’s let down. Meanwhile, across the city, more people fall victim to Mnemoth and the death count rises. The next morning Papa Midnite and John use Gaz as bait to lure the demon, but there’s a twist to the plan; Mnemoth enters Gaz, and John binds them together. Gaz’s addiction and Mnemoth’s hunger are a perfect match, and John watches on in a drunken vigil as Gaz and the demon consume each other.
So, What Did We Think?
Jay: I felt John’s P.I. narration was a little overdone in the first few pages. Just a little too self-conscious, a little too aware of what it was. Not enough to pull me out of the story, but something I picked up on. It settled down again once the story kicked in, and it felt like Delano was getting a firm handle on the character’s voice by the end.
Dave: I can see that. Still, there are some great lines in there, like “He’s not in the secret casino, where the high-rollers sweat off hundred-dollar bills.” Could be a line from a song, y’know? There’s poetry in this narration — if a little overwrought.
Jay: Yeah, you’re right. I’m maybe just a little sensitive to it. I like what we get to see of Papa Midnite’s ‘empire.’ In the TV show they’ve never really moved beyond him being involved in magic, and using that to control and manipulate. But here we get to see that he’s much more of a kingpin-type character, he has a lot going on and the magic is just one part of it. It makes him seem less of a cliché than the screen version.
Dave: The underground “fight club” where people bet on Zombie slaves forced to tear one another part? Pretty brilliant. I love the idea of this Houngan living in New York, drawing power from the excited bloodlust of his crowd. I’ve also got to credit Ridgway here for some great character acting on John’s part. John facing Gaz in his cell inside Papa Midnite’s “hold pens”? He flinches as Gaz pleads with him, turns away, turns back lights a smoke, and then on the following page, gives Gaz a wink and an OK sign with his fingers. We actually get to see John lose and regain his cool composure of the span of a few panels.
Jay: I also liked the way Big Papa M got under John’s skin simply by pointing out that John and Gaz were childhood friends. That showed a lot about John’s character, I think, and hinted at what was to come. Straight after that, we see him being haunted in his bedroom by ghosts of people he’s let down in the past. This was always a trick that I liked in this comic, and they do it well. Right down to the coloring- John’s hotel room is bright oranges and yellows, but the ghosts are black and white.
Dave: I noticed that was a change from issue #1. I wonder Emma being in color in the first issue was a mistake? But I like the ghosts here, and I love that they don’t say a word. Until Emma DOES, and it’s just to say, “G’night,” and it drives John to sobs. It’s tragic and isn’t afraid to show us that John’s barely holding it together.
Jay: I loved the first page to feature Mnemoth, with the city in the background and three images of the demon’s victims. It’s a bold and interesting layout, almost pop art. This is an aspect of the comic I’d forgotten.
Dave: Great stuff. I think, again, that they’re definitely pulling from the work Steve Bissette and John Totleben were doing in Swamp Thing, but Ridgway gives it his own spin. I also like Delano’s take on the demon — in a desert a simple cry for hunger was what fed the demon. But in America… that hunger has taken on new forms. My favorite is probably the bodybuilder who tries to devour himself.
Jay: The reveal is good; that John and Big Papa M have been lying to Gaz all along. He’s not just the bait, he’s the hook as well. We get to see the grief, too. John’s guilt and self-hatred at what he’s done. A lot of storytellers skip over grief, and it’s always good to see it dealt with head on.
Dave: Man, how effective are those panels where the flies “fill” Gary? Ugh. I need a shower. But yeah — I really like how uncomfortably complicated the morality is here. Gary let the demon out, therefore Gary is responsible. But it’s John who must be judge, jury and executioner. There’s blood on John’s hands. And we’re left with an understanding that he probably DID do the right thing… but we can see how heavily it weighs on him. That scene, as he watches the ghost of Gary Lester cross over to the other silent ghosts? Brutal.
Jay: This story has been a bold opening statement. It feels like, two issues in, we know who this character is, what he does, and why we want to read along.
Dave: Great establishing story. You know, before this re-read if you had asked me about this story I would have said that this opening arc was a four-parter. I’m AMAZED at how effective Delano and Ridgway are with just these two issues. An entire story that feels full, that doesn’t skimp on the grief, as you said. It’s picking all the right moments.
Are you reading along? What did you think?
Comics in your inbox? With our newsletter The Stack, you can receive a roundup of the best and brightest posts on Panels every week. Subscribe now!