After just a few years on the Hellblazer title, Jamie Delano’s body of work already began to seem somehow insurmountable as a creative statement. Could other writers achieve the same character affects Delano had? Could they map out the same neo-Victorian London-driven storytelling (which married so elegantly those hardboiled noir elements of Chandler with the utter mind-screaming horror of Lovecraft) in the same way that Delano had? Could they protract that quintessential magic? When Garth Ennis took the reins as series regular writer for Hellblazer, he reminded us not only of the power of the John Constantine character (the titular Hellblazer), but also that as significant as it was, Delano’s creative vision wasn’t a limitation, but an invitation.
It was the most simple plot twist, but also an inspired one. Ennis gave Constantine lung cancer, a logical consequence from a prop introduced by Hellblazer creator Alan Moore—those damned silk cuts that Constantine kept smoking. Ennis gave Constantine lung cancer, a logical consequence of his smoking at a time that that consequence didn’t seem at all that logical a conclusion.
Ennis gave Constantine lung cancer, and it was terminal, and it was inoperable. And by the end of the story, keeping the horror genre, Constantine does rely on supernatural means to excise the cancer. (If you’ve not yet read Dangerous Habits, grab this opportunity with both hands. It’s not so much that Constantine uses supernatural means to remove the cancer, it’s that he cheats the Devil, elegantly named the First of the Fallen, to achieve this. And this is some of the most moving character work in DC Vertigo’s catalog. It’s a pyrrhic victory that makes a permanent enemy of the Devil and at the same time kicks Constantine’s self-annihilation tendencies into overdrive). But the heart of Dangerous Habits is not the end of the story, but the getting there.
Ennis writing Constantine’s meditation on power and privilege in the shadow of Big Ben is some of the most elegant and most powerful neonoir/horror writing of all time. It works to find the heart of the political turmoil that ran rampant during the departed Baroness Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister, and abstract its underpinnings to a point where it becomes relevant far UK in the 80s.
And of course, Constantine’s cancer, and his curing it, was just the beginning for Ennis’ long journey with the character. If anything, it’s worth rereading these nascent steps of a significant writer, with a landmark character.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits.