Shortly after taking duties as regular writer on occult horror book Hellblazer, Andy Diggle gives protagonist John Constantine a sudden confrontation with a forgotten past. Reflected in a storefront window, Constantine sees the man he once was. In doing so, Diggle establishes arguably the most engaging central conflict for Constantine since Garth Ennis’ run in the 1990’s. Like readers, Constantine is confronted by a vision of his former self; elegant, dapper, draped in the finest clothes and steeped in confidence trickery. What ever happened to that Constantine? What ever happened to the arrogance, the self-assuredness, the cocky smile that would elicit a “thank you” as it bartered away your mortal soul?
When readers first encountered John Constantine in pages of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing, they were greeted by a working class magician, more a confidence artist than master-mage. Nothing but arrogance and a charming smile was more than enough to plant any curse or save a human soul or storm the houses of the holy. But this was not a Constantine that would endure.
Eventually appearing in his own title, meant Constantine would find his way back to the streets of his native London. With the relocation, Constantine would take on a different color. Hellblazer stories would emphasize Constantine’s personal history as a survivor of Ravenscar Asylum (where he was incarcerated following a botched exorcism). In the pages of Hellblazer Constantine would subtly be evolved as a character who survived by ingenuity, eventually to become the kind of character who simply survived. Over the years that unmistakable charm was delicately eroded, replaced by the jaded cynicism of a hardy survivor of the occult underworld. While Constantine was never meant to inspire unbridled optimism, there was a certain exuberance at always winning in a game of cosmic one-upmanship.
Diggle’s true gift is a capacity for exceptional characterization. Over twenty years of appearing in the pages of his own comicbook, Constantine’s slide into becoming a psychic survivalist was so subtle it remained barely perceptible. Diggle’s emphasizing of this muted degeneration, this near-imperceptible diminishing of the character, and his reversal of the trend sets the tone not only for engaging stories, but for a reinvigoration of the Constantine character itself.