You can call him Hellblazer, but don’t call him Keanu. DC’s John Constantine has been a thorn in the side of those that would do harm to others since his debut in the pages of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing run in the early 80s. Introduced as a supernatural advisor to Swamp Thing, he quickly grew into a star of his own and broke out with the launch of his own ongoing series in 1988, Hellblazer. By way of DC’s New 52, Hellblazer stands as DC’s longest-running uninterrupted title with issue 286 hitting shelves yesterday, but I wouldn’t recommend calling him old.
Moore envisioned Constantine as a working-class warlock who’s never at a loss for words – or reactions – to what happens around him. He’s got the unfortunate fate of having many of his close friends dying by his side just by being associated by him, and it’s fueled many of his most popular story. He’s usually clothed in a trench coat with dress clothes underneath, constantly chain-smoking Silk Cut brand cigarettes – something that’ll come to haunt him, even with his supernatural powers.
In the advent of DC’s New 52, Constantine has been reintegrated into the DCU as a member of Justice League Dark while also continuing his long life in his Vertigo series. Reading between the lines to conjure up the best entry-point to the Liverpudlian mage might be hard for someone not wise in the ways of witchcraft, but iFanboy has created a shopping list to get you started on good Mr. Constantine.
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits: This volume sees one of Constantine’s most erstwhile enemies come to claim his life: lung cancer from his smoking. Not the kind to sit back and let it happen, the Hellblazer makes deals with three powerful demons that end up with some fine print you’d never believe. Written by Preacher’s Garth Ennis, Dangerous Habits is for many the quintessential Constantine story and a good tale for people wanting to know John or just for someone trying to quit smoking.
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Haunted: In this volume, we see writer Warren Ellis take Constantine down a lesser-worn path as a detective on the case of his old flame’s death. Widely avoiding the use of magic, Constantine weaves through the lesser known aspects of the city of London’s history and creates an enriching read that’s standalone and solid.
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins: As the first story-arc in his ongoing series, Original Sins really sets out the world Constantine lives in – from friends on his side to the enemies who he has more in common with that he’d like to admit. Although Alan Moore created the character, many say that the debt is owed to writer Jamie Delano for this story-arc and others in defining the character. In this arc he stands between the armies of both heaven and hell trying to let humanity decide which way to go.
Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows: Although this volume doesn’t collect Constantine’s first appearance, it comes in shortly there-after in his first real arc. This is a supernatural crossover event 80s style, with Swamp Thing, Constantine and a host of DC’s other magical characters comic in to tell a story that’s more horror than hero. Swamp Thing plays only a minor role in this, with Constantine leading the charge and directing traffic to avert the apocalypse.
John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil You Know: There’s several stories in this collection, but the one that’s key is the one-off “Newcastle: A Taste of Things To Come.” This shows Constantine younger and more inexperienced in the ways of magic, delving into the key incident that helped make the blue-collar wizard who he is today. It keys into the unlucky fates of the people who would call Constantine his friends, and what he lives with trying to set that right.