PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


John Constantine Walks His Path Alone in 'Constantine the Hellblazer #1'

Constantine's back, and up to old tricks.

Constantine the Hellblazer #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2015-08

John Constantine has had a rough go of it of late (but what else is new). His celebrated and pioneering horror comic, Hellblazer, published under DC’s Vertigo imprint, was cancelled two years ago after an astounding 300 issues. His namesake television show Constantine, starring Matt Ryan of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior renown was recently cancelled after one season. And since his transition back from the adult-themed Vertigo to the mainstream DC Universe, he’s had a hard time finding his place. He was awkwardly placed into a leadership position in the supernatural series Justice League Dark despite the character being anything but a team player, and the follow-up comic Constantine, despite a return to the character’s roots in horror, struggled to find its footing.

It’s an unfortunate fate for one of the best characters the comics medium has ever produced (Empire Magazine rated him #3 on a list of the 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters of all time behind Batman and Superman). An English, chain-smoking, iconoclastic con man and magician, Constantine has influenced such famous horror and fantasy series as The Dresden Files, Hellboy, and Supernatural (Castiel’s attire is a direct homage to Constantine’s famous trench coat and tie), as well as inspired horror comics for years to come. Part of Constantine’s enduring appeal is that despite his often fantastical and surreal settings, he’s one of the most realistic characters in comics: a man who literally walks through Hell and tells off demons but is ultimately most vulnerable to his own failings and flaws.

Returning the “Hellblazer” moniker to Constantine, this new series definitely has some big shoes to fill. Thankfully, this first issue is at least a step in the right direction.

The issue opens with Constantine in New York City, naked and covered in (animal) blood in a clothing shop. Because why not start off a New York day with a tall glass of WTF.

Constantine manages to hypnotize the rightfully terrified counterwoman into believing that he’s a finely-dressed man through the sheer power of monologue. Constantine famously narrates like a 1940s private eye, and this issue effectively restores that trait to him. As Constantine then rummages through the shop for new clothes, we’re reintroduced to another staple of his stories: his ghosts. Throughout Hellblazer, Constantine had a long history of throwing friends under the bus to pursue his supposedly righteous goals and defeat whatever Hell threw at him. Every time a friend of his died, he had another ghost added to the posse that followed him around (which Constantine prosaically refers to here as “polter-gits”). It’s served as a powerful representation of a man literally haunted by his past.

Despite the content restrictions of mainstream DC books, it’s the little details carried over through the old series that compliment this new representation. For every swear word that’s obscured, there’s a scene of John having sex with a demon woman in the back room of a nightclub (arguably a worse habit). It shows a dedication to making this representation as faithful to the character’s classic depictions as possible. One lesser-addressed detail of the old comics that is brought to the forefront here is John’s bisexuality. Whereas beforeit was mentioned he had been with a few men in the past, here we see a scene of him openly flirting with a burly restaurant owner. Maintaining John’s reputation as a notorious flirt and cavort while exploring his diversity is a very nice touch.

After the aforementioned nightclub encounter, said demon woman, named Blythe, asks John for help in exorcising her club from an imp infestation. She explains she can’t do it herself at the risk being dragged herself into Hell for a hundred years. John agrees to help, and what follows is the issue’s most visually impressive scene: an inverted, two-page spread illustrating John and Blythe’s descent through the nine floors of Blythe’s club,referencing Dante’s nine circles of Hell. It’s a colorful and inventive sequence that provides a detailed look at what could be an interesting new locale in DC’s new world of Constantine.

Arriving in the bottom circle, John and Blythe enter an office where they encounter Blythe’s business partner, a demon named Haluk. John then realizes that Blythe has actually brought him there to exorcise Haluk, giving her full control of the club, which is actually a front for a soul-harvesting business. The bureaucratic setup of the demons is a clever scenario, and one that foils John’s anti-establishment mentality, whether the establishment be human or demon. When an outraged Haluk transforms out into a monstrous brute, John is forced to begin an exorcism on him. However, John pretends to forget the incantation halfway through, forcing Blythe to finish it. John then reveals the card up his sleeve: because she said the words, Blythe too is going into the pit. It thereby proves entirely fitting that the final circle of Dante’s Inferno is Treachery. It’s a clear reminder that whatever good intentions he may have, and whether concerning friend or foe, John Constantine is a regular perpetrator of man’s greatest sin.

Unfortunately, the most problematic aspect of this first issue is the artwork. Which is not to say that it’s bad: Riley Rossmo is a very talented artist whose work has done wonders in books such as Cowboy Ninja Viking and the short-lived Green Wake, varying in style from more light-hearted, cartoonish tones to outright unsettling shades and outlines. As it stands, the artwork here is more towards the former, and it simply doesn’t fit for a character like John Constantine. Perhaps as the series progresses and comes into its own, the artwork will transition more towards the traditional horror style Constantine is known for.

Constantine the Hellblazer #1 hits all the right notes concerning John Constantine’s character, and is an encouraging return to form. Once it begins to change its look, it could be a worthy successor of, if not replacement for, the Hellblazer of old.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.