John Constantine: Where Do I Start?

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.

Comments

  1. I picked up Demon City by Sean Murphy and Peter Milligan as my first HB book and it was awesome. Well worth a read.

  2. JimmyF1982 JimmyF1982 says:

    For some unknown reason, I only own the first Jamie Delano trade, but beyond that I own more Hellblazer trades than any other. Fascinating character with great writers and artist in every era. I just wish they would collect the Paul Jenkins run to fill in the gap left between Ennis and Ennis.

  3. Callum Callum says:

    John Constantine is the greatest fictional character of all time.

  4. Hellblazers the only series ive went back and collected all the issues

  5. Dangerous Habits was the first trade I read, then followed it up with Tainted Love and Fear & Loathing. I have some of Brian Azzarello’s run with Richard Corben that’s really good. At some point I’ll get to Delano’s stories. Constantine seems to bring out great writing from these creators. As someone who quit smoking several years ago, I get a kick out of reading of a character who’s a chain-smoker.

    • brassai2003 brassai2003 says:

      I wish they would collect American Gothic. JC’s original appearance. It’s Moore at his best. The current run by Milligan is shaping up to be legendary. Try to grab the trade of his work from #250 on.
      As a JC fan from the very beginning, I’m amazed that he’s the only non superhero comic that’s reached what? 285 issues?
      That’s an impressive feat and serious kudos for DC for keeping one of the best comics in history around.
      Also, try to find the birthday issue (Delano run) where Swamp Thing provides the party with some umm….killer weed. :)

    • Appreciate the suggestions and I’ll try my best to them. The birthday issue you mentioned is in the Tainted Love trade (Ennis & Dillon). Good story.

    • vladamih says:

      American Gothic is collected in new hardcover edition, Swamp Thing Volumes 3 and 4

  6. OttoBott OttoBott says:

    All His Engines was also wildly stellar, and the art was fantastic, too.

  7. KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

    Thanks, I wanted to ask for this for a while and now you just made it! :D

    I guess I’ll blow 100$ on trades after Xmas…

  8. KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

    Also, I’m the kind of person who likes to read everything…but I just checked on DCcomics.com and there’s like…20 volumes of Hellblazer!!!

    Are there like some volumes that I could just skip altogether or some writer’s not as good as the others? That would help sooth the mental illness that I have in wanting to read everything! ;)

    • Sockman Sockman says:

      Read as much as you can. Everyone’s interpretation of John has something worth while in it. DC is currently collecting the series in larger soft cover collections that I am hoping will continue and include everything.

    • KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

      Alright then, thanks for the honesty, I’ll try to check it all out eventually! :)

      I loved the Annual that came out recently and I browsed the first trade a bit at my LCS. Guess I’ll give it a go and buy one or two every once in a while!

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      I say skip the first writers run… Most other writers take the book in a different direction.

  9. HailScott HailScott says:

    After having read a ton of Hellblazer books I borrowed, I’d have to say that Peter Milligan’s run is by far the best of the series so far. I hope he keeps writing it for a long, long time.

  10. the1captain says:

    I collected Hellblazer for almost 20 years. Left just before the Milligan run started. The book had been running on fumes for awhile for my tastes. Then I hear Milligan’s run has been great. Dammit!

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Ya its a more positive spin.. its refreshing.. and im pretty sure its the best because i read hellblazer 1-275 all at once earlier this year for the first time… So its still fresh for me. I still say i dont like Delano’s run.. The first 40 issues were hard to get through for me.

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      not all at once..ha.. over a coupla months.. ha.. I meant to say i read pretty much only hellblazer for a a few months a dozen issues or so a day.. till i was caught up.. about a year ago or so i guess…

  11. JesseCuster says:

    “By way of DC’s New 52, Hellblazer stands as DC’s longest-running uninterrupted title with issue 286 hitting shelves yesterday”

    Can someone explain this? I’m having the hardest time wrapping my head around it… not trying to be a troll, just genuinely want to understand.

    What I mean is… even with the reboot, Detective and Action ended at what, around issue 700? and have been in print since the 40s? Or are there some gaps in history of those titles?