Hellblazer

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John Constantine, from the cover of HB #214

"My name's John Constantine. I'm not the nicest bloke you've ever met, but I do me best."

There's been a lot said about John Constantine, all right, and everyone who's known him has their own pet theory.
Really, though, he's just a man.
Perhaps one day, if we let him, he can be a hero.

A long-running Vertigo Comics horror title that spun off from Swamp Thing, Hellblazer follows Con Man, Occult Detective, gambler and magician of ill repute, John Constantine (rhymes with "turpentine"), as he tangles with Hell, Heaven, the police and the criminal underworld. The comic typically combines horror and fantasy elements (demons, ghosts, vampires etc) with a gritty 'real world' setting and an occasional dash of political and social commentary. The majority of the series is set in modern urban Britain, particularly London.

Constantine is a creation of Alan Moore and Steve Bissette, first appearing in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 (June, 1985). He gained his own series in 1988, said series is still ongoing. He has been written by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Denise Mina, Paul Jenkins and Andy Diggle, among others.

Constantine himself is generally portrayed as an adrenaline junkie who's constantly getting involved with the supernatural because everything else bores him to tears. Although he is a Badass Longcoat Anti-Hero, he's usually portrayed as being a poor fighter (unless he's fighting dirty or gets the first punch in) and generally eschews guns. Instead, he uses his brains to outwit, trick and manipulate his enemies. Well, brains, magic (mind-reading and gambling a specialty!), bullshit and not infrequently the power of his own reputation.

One of his most persistent traits is his habit of manipulating his friends into fighting for him or getting them involved in his schemes. However, this usually winds up in them getting killed. Indeed, the series became notorious at one point for introducing a new "old friend" of Constantine's, then killing them off, every few issues. Despite this, the comic is very good about killing men and women equally, and so far, only one of Constantine's lovers has been Stuffed Into the Fridge (plus another in its parent comic Swamp Thing).

Despite this, Constantine is generally a sympathetic character who refuses to absolve himself of his guilt- except for the time that he turned it into a demon baby and threw it off a cliff- and generally does the right thing, even if he does it in a particularly nasty way. He is a strident humanist and sort-of anarchist who fights for humanity's right to make its own decisions free of the control of Heaven, Hell, politicians or other forces of control. The fact that he does this by manipulating people is an irony that has not been lost on several writers.

It is a major theme in the comic that Constantine never has any unequivocal permanent victories—enemies will always return, revenge will be sought and friends will be lost. Ultimately, Failure Is the Only Option.

The character of John Constantine started out firmly entrenched in The DCU—his first appearance was in a Swamp Thing crossover with Crisis on Infinite Earths, even! -- but has gradually drifted off into his own self-contained universe. (Although the likes of Zatanna and The Phantom Stranger still pop in from time to time, as has Morpheus.) An ancestress of his, Johanna Constantine, appeared in some issues of The Sandman and was fairly Badass. The end of Brightest Day sees him returning to the main DCU. In the reboot, a younger John works as a member of Justice League Dark, a magic-themed JL. The original is staying in Vertigo.

The comic was turned into a In Name Only movie, Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves as a Catholic, repentant, brunet, American, gun-wielding exorcist version of Constantine. It was received well enough by critics and general public that a sequel has been proposed. A television series, also called Constantine, premiered on NBC in October 2014, and as of the end of its 13-episode first season has been generally received well, being regarded as having adapted the comic much more faithfully than the movie did.

A cute (!) version of John appears with other Vert-goMites in the Batmite story Mitefall.

Alan Moore also claims to have met him. Twice. In Real Life.

Hellblazer is now the longest-running monthly DC Comics comic never to be rebooted or cancelled.


Tropes used in Hellblazer include:
  • All Myths Are True
  • Alternate Continuity—The John Constantine who's now showing up in the DCU in Justice League Dark is apparently the young thirtysomething who first helped Swamp Thing come to terms with his identity, rather than the one in Vertigo's Hellblazer who's possibly pushing 60.
  • Ancient Conspiracy—The Order of St Oran in "Empathy is the Enemy" (also a Cult).
  • Anonymous Ringer—In "Royal Blood", various members of the royal family are portrayed as braying, cocaine-addled, incestuous perverts - but to appease DC's lawyers, they go unnamed.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling—Actually an annoying niece; Gemma Masters, who wants to follow in her uncle's footsteps.
  • Another Dimension—In "The Magus", John went to an alternate dimension where he died in the womb, not his twin brother. Also, a 2006 tie-in novel describes the ill-fated movie as taking place in an alternate universe (Yes, but why did it have to be this one?).
  • Anti Christ
  • Anti-Hero -- Depending on the Writer he can move up and down the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes, but mostly seems to fall into a Type 4.
  • Arch Enemy—Nergal. Later, the First of the Fallen. Then Nergal again.
  • Author Tract—As many as one would expect during Garth Ennis' run on the series.
  • Auto Cannibalism—A bodybuilder in the first issue of Hellblazer falls victim to a demon's curse that makes people ravenous for what they desire most; he starts devouring his muscular arms.
  • Back From the Dead—The First, in "Critical Mass".
  • Backstory—Hinted at in Swamp Thing, explained in detail in Hellblazer.
  • Badass Longcoat—Literally. After years being worn on various mystical encounters, the damn thing's developed sentience.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil—In "Critical Mass".
  • Bawdy Song—Constantine frequently sings these when drunk.
  • Becoming the Costume
  • Bedlam House—Constantine spent a considerable length of time here and often reflects on the traumatic impact it had on his life.
  • Beleaguered Childhood Friend—Gary Lester in "Hunger", Chas in "Son of Man".
  • Bi the Way—John is bisexual, though it's rarely been mentioned and he's been shown to have far more female than male lovers, though that may have to do with the people writing him.
    • It doesn't help that, of the two storylines that make anything of his bisexuality, one is written by Brian Azzarello, and therefore the subject of Fanon Discontinuity by most fans.
  • Black Magic
  • Bury Your Gays—John's friend Ray Monde.
  • But Not Too Bi—partially due to Executive Meddling
  • Butt Monkey—The amount of crap the universe slings at Chas is unbelievable.
  • Character Overlap—John has appeared in dozens of other comics. Other characters to appear in Hellblazer include Swamp Thing, Zatanna, The Phantom Stranger and Lucifer.
  • Combat Pragmatist—Is one of these to make up for being bad in a fight, but every so often ends up getting his ass kicked by some random thug anyway.
  • Comic Book Time—Ignored; John has aged realistically since he first appeared. His birthday is 10 May 1953.
    • More subverted and played straight. An early incident in the series is heavily implied to have produced side-effects like prolonging his life and youth, but everyone else in the comic ages in real time. Gemma, when first introduced, is about eight years old, and has gone through grade school and her early 20s at appropriate times.
  • Continuity Overlap—The Family Man/serial killer convention overlapped with The Sandman; the vampires and The Ace of Winchesters overlapped with Hitman.
    • In a funny continuation thereof, Kathryn O'Brien from Hitman is explicitly the same character who later shows up in several arcs of Garth Ennis's run on The Punisher under Marvel's MAX imprint. That connects Hellblazer to The Punisher, one step removed. There's a conversation I'd like to see.
  • Corrupt Church—In "Stations of the Cross".
  • Crapsack World—Constantine's world is NOT a nice place to live in. It's filled to the brim with demons, a spiteful entity first created by God known as The First who wants nothing more than to see Constantine suffer, said God being insane, and humanity's hope lying in a cynical, cancer ridden man whose life is doomed to continue soaked in bloody death and misery. As for humanity itself, they're often just as bad as any demon or angel when it comes to sheer depravity or blind zealotry.
  • Crossover Cosmology—Death of the Endless called him in to help spread the message on AIDS and practicing safe sex. His embarrassment over the demonstration of how to use a condom with a banana is a crowning moment of funny.
  • Deadpan Snarker—How else do you describe a guy who'll call the Dark Knight "Squire"?
  • Deal with the Devil—Pretty much every variation used, too, including both figurative and literal ones. Whenever someone asks John for help, it's a crapshoot as to which one of them's the devil in the deal, too, even if the real Devil is involved.
    • The worst one, though, goes to John's just-murdered sister. The Devil tells her she's free to go to heaven or back to the world of the living, but her husband -- her murderer -- killed himself, too. The Devil tells her that if she stays in Hell with her now twice-damned husband, he'll fairly divide the infinite torment for eternity between them. She still loves her husband, and accepts the deal.
  • Demon Slaying
  • The Devil Is a Loser: The First of the Fallen.
  • Discontinuity—Even the other writers seem to prefer to pretend that Brian Azzarello's run on the comic never happened.
  • Distaff Counterpart—John's ancestor Lady Johanna Constantine (premiered in The Sandman), who lived at the time of the American and French Revolutions. Her miniseries implies that the Constantine/the Laughing Magician is the same entity reincarnating along their bloodline (and killing his/her twin in the womb).
  • Downer Ending—Many stories.
  • Dreadful Musician: In his youth, Constantine was in a punk band called "Mucous Membrane" that he freely admits was terrible.
  • Drunken Song—Check Bawdy Song above.
  • Early-Bird Cameo -- "Original Sins" contains two exceptional examples, a nameless shaman who tells Constantine the history of the opening arc's demon, and a crime boss quoted in an article as an old friend of Constantine's. Neither show up again until Andy Diggle's run, nearly 20 years later.
  • Easy Amnesia—In "Ward 24".
  • Everybody Lives -- "How to Play With Fire".
  • Evil Twin—John himself; he strangled his brother in the womb with his own umbilical cord.
  • Exiled From Continuity—The adult nature of his comic has kept John from being a major player in the more mainstream titles of The DCU, rarely making appearances outside of crowd shots or the occasional mention.
    • Averted by the end of Brightest Day, where it seems he'll now be a big player in the DCU again.
    • Kinda sorta. The John Constantine now appearing in Justice League Dark is an alternate version to the one in the still-running Hellblazer series.
  • Failure Is the Only Option
    • Perhaps the closest to an unequivocal victory John ever has is in the issue End of the Line, where he kills an ancient ancestor and dissuades his Gemma from a magical initiation, apparently ending the Constantines' Weird Shit heritage. He maintains that "I beat fate. It's no failure to be the last Constantine, cause now no one else has to be." You know your life sucks when your ultimate success is removing yourself from the gene pool.
      • And it doesn't stick. Not only does John have an estranged biological daughter in Tefé Holland, Gemma still goes back to magic.
  • Fatal Flaw—John's addiction to the occult and the havoc it wreaks on his (increasingly few) attempts to have a 'normal' life.
    • Not to mention the cigarettes.
  • Forgotten Birthday—In "Forty".
  • Fuku Fic—The absolutely delightful Crack Fic Sailor Hellblazer
  • God and Satan Are Both Jerks—And John won't hesitate to tell the minions of either one of them that, either.
  • Gorn—Most prevalent when Garth Ennis is writing the series (it's practically his calling card), but crops up occasionally in other writers' runs as well.
  • Hate Plague—Inverted in "The Red Right Hand", in which the plague makes people incredibly empathic - to the point that they share each other's misery and cause mass suicides.
  • Have a Gay Old Time -- "Fags" being British slang for cigarettes, and Constantine being a chain-smoker, lines like "...you'd better go and get yourself three days worth of food and fags" can sound rather odd to American readers.
    • Though in the case of John it could also be male homosexuals.
    • Naturally, during American Brian Azzarello's first storyline, the double meaning is exploited as Constantine emerges from a shower in prison and claims, "We're all out of fags."
  • Hide Your Children—So horribly, horribly averted.
  • Hustler—John himself has been shown doing short cons for cash as well as to get himself out of trouble.
  • I Did What I Had to Do—Frequently does, although few of his friends/associates happen to like it.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming
  • I Drank What—Happens to the First of the Fallen when he and John are drinking from a spring with a working that turned the springwater into pure stout. John then reveals that the spring was blessed -- making it a holy water spring -- before cutting off the spell...
  • Infant Immortality—As with older children, this is averted. Babies die. A lot.
  • Inner Monologue
  • In the Blood—The Constantine line consists of a long history of somewhat dodgy magic users, although John's father, sister, grandfather and uncles were Muggles. Apart from John himself, Lady Johanna (18th century) is the most famous.
  • It Gets Easier—Constantine used to be freaked out by horribly mutilated bodies but these days he's cold as stone.
  • Killed Off for Real—All the time. Well, in a world with afterlives and resurrections.
  • Kill'Em All—Garth Ennis' final story killed off most of the characters he introduced.
    • This is becoming something of a tradition in the comics, with outgoing writers butchering most surviving cast members they introduced. By the end of Mike Carey's run, he killed off not only a surviving member of Ennis' cast Mange, but also almost every surviving character of any significance in the series' run before even then. Only Chas and Gemma survive from Delano's days, but Constantine's thoroughly alienated the both of them.
  • Knight Templar—Usually the forces of Heaven; also the Order of Saint Oran in "Empathy is the Enemy".
  • Long Runner—With the upcoming DC relaunch and cancellation of Uncanny X-Men, Hellblazer will soon be the longest running series from the Big Two to never have been cancelled or renumbered.
  • Magical Arsehole—He is by no means a total dick, but he can be sometimes.
  • Memetic Badass—John is an in-universe example, which is Lampshaded in The Books of Magic. A threat from him gets an entire club of monsters and dark magicians to back off from Timothy and Zatanna, even though Zatanna has far more magical power than him.
  • Magnetic Hero—John is a very magnetic personality, able to pull people into being allies. Woe them.
  • Missing Episode -- "Shoot," by Warren Ellis, was also known as issue #141. But, due to the fact that it was written when school shootings were all too common and the comic implied that some kids wanted to be shot, it was shelved pretty quickly. Thankfully, it was released in late 2010. It only took eleven years!
    • It should be noted that the cover art and a uncolored version of the comic was available well before vertigo resurrected printed the comic.
  • Monster Progenitor: The King of the Vampires is this to the Vampires.
  • Mundanger—In "The Family Man", the titular monster turns out to be an elderly Serial Killer. In "Good Intentions", a creature that is killing people in the wilderness around a mountain village turns out to merely be an enormous boar.
  • Mushroom Samba—John takes a LOT of drugs in the earlier issues
  • My Greatest Failure—After messing up a summoning in 1979, John accidentally damned a little girl to Hell. This hung over him until the "Critical Mass" arc, when he freed her and all the other damned children.
  • Narrator—all the time - and in "Son of Man", he looked at and talked directly to the reader. (Lampshaded in the final part, when people overhearing him are laughing at the mad bloke talking to himself.)
  • Near-Death Clairvoyance—In "Sex and Death" and "Sins of the Father".
  • Near-Death Experience—In "Sex and Death", "Sins of the Father", "Staring at the Wall" and "Empathy is the Enemy".
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands—John has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of minor spells.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero—John's plans, as he himself can attest, frequently lead to the horrible deaths of everyone involved, even the ones he's trying to save. Sometimes, he even does this on purpose.
  • No Bisexuals—Peculiarly, both averted and played straight (so to speak). One issue mentions that John has occasional bisexual tendencies...but then it is never mentioned again.
    • Until a storyline during the Azzarello run in which he pulls off a con based around seducing another man.
  • Noodle Incident—The Newcastle seance - until "Critical Mass," in which more details are revealed.
    • This may also count as a Double Subversion: you do see the exact incident in issue #11 (Newcastle: A Taste of Things To Come), but until recently, issue #11 had never been re-released in a trade paperback.
  • Not So Invincible After All—In "Dangerous Habits", Constantine contracted lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. However, he tricked the Lords of Hell into curing him. He also suffered from alcoholism.
    • Done to the First of the Fallen twice in Ennis' run. Constantine tricks him into drinking stout transmuted from holy water, then transmutes it back. At the end of Ennis' run, Ellie kills the First outright, making him wonder where the Devil goes when he dies.
  • Occult Detective—Though he usually does it out of curiosity or necessity instead of money.
  • Old Friend—Loads, usually doomed.
  • Out with a Bang -- "Tainted Love", "Fear and Loathing" and "Bred in the Bone".
  • Photographic Background
  • Pietà Plagiarism—Literally, on the cover of issue 217.
  • The Plan—Too many to count, perpetrated by John as often as his enemies. It makes sense, for a hero who is so much more about using cunning than using his fists.
    • These frequently spin off into Gambit Pileup played straight, as John's enemies are both numerous and rarely fools themselves. If John's inadvertently pissed off the wrong bastard, odds are good he's relying on plans that his enemies have already countered, if not co-opted themselves.
  • Poor Man's Substitute—Constantine's look is modeled after Sting, specifically as he appeared in the film Quadrophenia.
    • Reverse version: Castiel was supposed to be Constantine according to both the actor and the writers.
  • Prison Rape—In "Confessional", "Son of Man" and "Hard Time".
  • Rage Against the Heavens—In "Original Sins", John fought off an attempt to create a new messiah; in "How to Play With Fire", he blackmailed God himself.
  • Really Gets Around: The title character. From his appearance in The Books of Magic alone, it's clear he's been involved with Madame Xanadu and Zatanna.
  • Retcon—In Swamp Thing John said he was in a mental hospital for "a couple of weeks" after something terrible happened in Newcastle. In Hellblazer, that was retconned to several years. Additionally, the comic adds old (but hitherto unseen) friends and enemies on a relatively regular basis.
  • Revenge
  • Satan—The First of the Fallen, the leader of Hell, is John's arch-enemy.
    • A bit more complicated than usual: the actual Lucifer/Satan, the former Devil, quit his job in Sandman... a plot point which was eventually carried over to Hellblazer, but then it had to be explained who the current Devil was. Turns out the First was God's first creation, and predates even angels. Less powerful than Lucifer, but not subject to angelic (or demonic) limitations.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell—Which now contains John's father, sister and brother-in-law. Also his evil half (don't worry, he got a new one).
  • Serial Killer—In "The Family Man", "Dangerous Ground" and "Out of Season".
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Ross in "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
  • Shout-Out—Issue 214 had the screen names of various Hellblazer fans as graffiti on a wall; issue 229 featured one of the fans as a character; issue 230 featured two fans as ghostly apparitions.
  • Shrouded in Myth—John is this trope.
  • Significant Monogram—John Constantine and several of his ancestors and relatives.
  • Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes—John is usually a Type IV, though he sometimes slips into Type V when his motivations are purely selfish.
  • Smoking Is Cool John is rarely without a cigarette and the the most iconic images is Constantine lighting his cigarette like the page image. Also Averted that he actually has to face the consequences of lung cancer at least till a Deal with the Devil.
  • Stuffed Into the Fridge—Isabel Bracknell in "Haunted".
  • The End of the World as We Know It -- "The Fear Machine", "Staring at the Wall" and "The Red Right Hand".
  • The Vicar—Rick the Vic
  • The Vietnam War—In "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".
  • The War on Terror—In the graphic novel "Pandemonium".
  • To Hell and Back—In various stories, most notably "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go".
  • Too Soon—The reason why Warren Ellis' "Shoot" was never published; see Missing Episode above.
  • Trademark Favorite Cigarette Constantine prefers Silk Cut Cigarettes
  • Tragic Hero
  • Trenchcoat Brigade—Just guess. John actually coined the term.
  • Trickster Archetype
  • Unwitting Pawn—If you're a friend of John, odds are you're one of these and you don't know it. Same goes for his enemies too.
  • Villain Team-Up—In "How to Play With Fire".
  • Violent Glaswegian—Header.
  • Weak but Skilled—John is a poor fighter, has no real combat skills, and doesn't use magic all that often. Yet he still manages to take on Heaven, Hell, and whatever else, if only because he's really good at planning and manipulating others.
  • Weirdness Magnet Turns out John's unborn twin is using synchronicity (the ability to warp reality, making things work out for him that comes with being the "Laughing Magican") to screw with Johns life. The twin uses the power to attract all the bad stuff that happens to John whilst using the power to stop him dying from it (neatly explaining all the bad stuff that happens to everyone around him but John manages to escape). Why may you ask? so John will give up, commit mental suicide and allow the twin can take over
  • We Want Our Jerk Back—In-universe example. Following the events of "Critical Mass," John is left entirely good. Deciding he doesn't like it, he goes on a journey to recover his inner bastard.
  • Whatevermancy
  • What the Hell, Hero?—It's rare to see a story arc without it.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame—The place where Constantine "died".
  • Woman Scorned—Ellie.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair—Epiphany Greaves in the more recent books.