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Committed: Why You Wish You Read Hellblazer

042810_hellblazer2After all these years together, I didn’t know that Hellblazer could still surprise me, but damn… This week I just about fell in love all over again. I’ve been reading Hellblazer for so long, it started just in time to mesh with my own grouchy rebellion, and over the years it feels like it’s grown with me. It’s been so long that I can see now that I began to take it for granted, didn’t really see it anymore, just assumed it would always be there every month, doggedly faithful and always available. Somehow this week, it turned around and did something entirely surprising, and reminded me why I love it.

042810_hellblazer4It wasn’t the kind of happiness that I get from the easy dalliances I have with sweet, limited series or perfectly self-contained graphic novels. That is the stuff of instant gratification. They are the reading equivalent of short, exciting, passionate affairs, where the excitement and allure can be easily maintained over a quick 12 or 24 issue runs. Monthly, ongoing comic book series’ are different, and nothing has stuck around with the reliability of my monthly fix of Hellblazer. Taking it for granted as a book that can deliver something basically satisfying was so easy that I never appreciated it until it turned around and delighted me this month.

It’s been easy to assume that Hellblazer will always be there, plodding away gently, reliable and decent, (if not incredible or truly exciting anymore.) About 10 years ago I wondered why it hadn’t been canceled, and even went as far as to stop buying it for a few months. If I’m honest, something ugly was depicted, something crass and pointless and I tried to walk away. Of course I couldn’t stay angry, not after 12 good years, and when Hellblazer caught my eye again, I had to spend a fair amount of time looking through back issues to find the issues I’d missed. There are still a couple of gaps, and those one or two missing issues remind me not to be so hasty next time, to remember the history I’ve enjoyed, to see the big picture.

042810_hellblazer3So I’m committed to the comic book, just as I am to the medium, but inexplicably to this comic book in particular. Inexplicably because it really isn’t my type, or at least I thought so anyway. At the beginning maybe, when I was an angry teenager and here Constantine was – the first British comic book hero created by my favorite British comic book writer. Flawed, confused, directionless, sneaky… at the time that all appealed to me, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d outgrown it a little. Obviously not enough to break it off, but enough to drift away, to pay less attention, to expect a lot less. Then Milligan and Bisley started working on Hellblazer, and I felt a gradual building of something good. I couldn’t put my finger on what they were moving towards, but it felt right and good. This week they hit the bloody nail on the head.

042810_hellblazer1Zombies, politics, anger, sex, violence, exorcism, love, and hate. This month’s Hellblazer has got it all.

Milligan and Bisley have fun. They basically characterize the Tory government as a demon infestation, using classic slogans and the trappings of zombies and Nazis. Fetid and decrepit, we’re encouraged to see these as the dying old guard, hanging on to the world with their fingernails while the spirit of anarchic punk fights against subversion and abuse.

Bisley draws us an incredibly beautiful young woman, with her perfectly round ass packed into vinyl pants, pawing at the contrast of a wrinkled, monolithic, middle-aged John Constantine. Despite his resplendent green mohawk, his girth and weariness betray a man long past the ineffectual teenage rebellion of his punk days. Bisley lets us see the way these trappings weigh on him, the pain he feels while acting out the tragedy of his past. It’s sexy and cruel and even if it’s an exhausting part of the job, it’s also something John needs to do, to remember why he doesn’t fight the system this way anymore.

042810_hellblazerThese are the moments I read comic books for. Remembering the spirit of punk was a gift. Anarchy and rebellion are an act of love, or rather, hate is just the flip side of love. Why else put so much effort into the fight? The timing of this issue couldn’t have been any better. Here we are, still shaken by the death of Malcolm Mclaren, and here’s John, diving into his punk past with both eyes open. Mclaren might be dead, but with Hellblazer this month, Milligan and Bisley remind us that the fires of play and chaos still burn within us. The ability to truly shock and surprise was one of the bywords of the punk movement at it’s inception, and the fact that it’s all surface and gloss now has helped us forget that. But once upon a time punk was obscenely shocking, and Milligan uses John’s memories to take us back to that time, and feel the raw pain of his 1979 self as Thatcher gripped the throat of Britain so tightly. Watching John delve into his past in order to exorcise his (and the worlds) literal and metaphorical demons is a delight. Simon Bisley does an incredible job of visually contrasting the pretty young version of Constantine with the imposing man he has become. Time and misadventure have scarred and hardened John, and the man he has become has the strength and will to transform his environment by channeling the anger that pained him so much as a young, fresh-faced, suicidal punk kid.

18 Comments

Milligan’s Hellblazer has been SO good! After years of what I thought was a relatively static status quo, Milligan has done something fresh and new, he’s aging Constantine. It’s been obvious given John’s calling that he never expected to be around for a while, so now that he’s into his fifties/late forties, how does he deal with it. What’s a mid-life crisis look like for a guy who regularly faces down Hell? It’s been great.

Quote of the week! “The ability to truly shock and surprise was one of the bywords of the punk movement at it’s inception, and the fact that it’s all surface and gloss now has helped us forget that.” I’ll be reading this issue when I get home for sure.

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 28, 2010 at 10:42 am

Shame on you, you should’ve been reading Hellblazer since the day you were born, or before then!

There is absolutely no excuse. ;-)

After thinking “Hey, this guy is pretty cool” in many guest appearances, I started buying it because there was a Jason Aaron fill-in. One of the best decisions I ever made. The Milligan/Cammuncoli/Bisley run has been incredible.

I’ve been loving Milligan’s Hellblazer in general, and the last two issues particularly. I love that DC/Vertigo agreed to publish a story by Milligan that portrayed the Conservative Party as soulless demons without pulling any punches – it really does have a lot of that true punk spirit. And it stands in stark contrast to Marvel’s cowardly apology for using a “Tea Party” sign in a book featuring angry anti-government protesters.

Out of interest, what was the the “ugly, crass and pointless” event that made you almost drop the book?

The first trade of Milligan’s run has just arrived at my local library and I’m seriously looking forard to it. I did really enjoy Andy Diggle’s run as well though. Especially the Joyride arc.

Milligan’s first trade did little for me, almost as little as Mina’s first volume.

The terrible/great part about Hellblazer is that he’s become so entrenched (pardon the lame minor pun there) in his character that nothing can really change, so on the one hand, that hinders creative freedom a bit, as nothing will ever really stick (except for John’s dead buddies staying dead, I guess), and on the other hand, that means that another creative team can pick up and tell good stories after the last team does nothing with him.

I did like most of Diggle’s run, even though I think it started much better than it finished. Perhaps it’s just that for me, the high points of the series (Ennis and Ellis) are very unlikely to be surpassed.

The thing that’s so amazing with Hellblazer is that almost every run has basically the same over-arc but it somehow always seems fresh, clever, and emotionally intense. It almost always goes John gets girl, John loses girl to mystical bullshit, John goes off the rails, John gets his shit back together to take on some huge evil. That same story gets told repeatedly, but each writer does something different with it.

Okay… Dammit… I’m sold…

I’ve always been an on-again-off-again Hellblazer fan… I love the character, I love the stories… but every now and then the feeling is TOO dark and TOO depressing for me and I fall away and go and read some fluff…

It may be partly that I’m a manic depressive, and some things just get too heavy.

Either way, I must admit the Bisley/Mlligan combo has been tempting me for a while…

What I’d really like to see is Vertigo start putting out Deluxe Editions of Hellblazer, just like the Fables and Y: The Last Man collections…. After all, Hellblazer is their longest running series (there since the inception of Vertigo) and itwould make it easier for me to tackle one book at a time, rather than allowing huge piles of comics to accumulate unread…

funkygreenjerusalem

April 29, 2010 at 3:54 am

. I love that DC/Vertigo agreed to publish a story by Milligan that portrayed the Conservative Party as soulless demons without pulling any punches – it really does have a lot of that true punk spirit. And it stands in stark contrast to Marvel’s cowardly apology for using a “Tea Party” sign in a book featuring angry anti-government protesters.

There wasn’t a Delano story that went by without him calling some conservative cause or another souless or demonic.
I love that my Original Sins collection has ‘Voting Tory’s can damage your health’ on the cover.

Out of interest, what was the the “ugly, crass and pointless” event that made you almost drop the book?

It’s the one we’re all wondering!

At ten years it was either Ellis or Azzarello (holy shit – that was ten years ago???), with the outside chance of Son Of Man or the Darko Macan two parter.
Probably something in Azzarello – he shook a lot of people… though I’d say the last high point in the book until Milligans current run.

For me it was Carey’s dead boring run that turned me off for a bit.
An the fact that every writer since hasn’t been up to the task.

I did like most of Diggle’s run, even though I think it started much better than it finished.

Wow.
Must have been a horrific ending.

“I love that DC/Vertigo agreed to publish a story by Milligan that portrayed the Conservative Party as soulless demons without pulling any punches – it really does have a lot of that true punk spirit. And it stands in stark contrast to Marvel’s cowardly apology for using a “Tea Party” sign in a book featuring angry anti-government protesters.”

Reason #1 that i only have a handful of Hellblazer comics & never re-read them.
DFTBA

FGJ, what’s wrong with the Joyride arc?

funkygreenjerusalem

April 29, 2010 at 8:56 pm

FGJ, what’s wrong with the Joyride arc?

It took John back twenty years in time… Diggle did a Geoff Johns basically.

Other than that, it just felt a little generic to me.
As we’ve got Dleano, Ennis, Ellis and Azzarello runs on the book, a writer has to really lift their game for it to work.
I don’t think Diggle did that.

I’ll be honest, I felt like Constantine could have used a Johns at that point. Carey’s run was so bland and pointless to me (I read maybe a third of it) that the title definitely needed a jolt, and I liked the result. It’s a bit of a shame that the rest of Diggle’s run didn’t seem to maintain that energy.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 30, 2010 at 2:33 am

Carey’s run was so bland and pointless to me (I read maybe a third of it)

I think I did 2/3’s before I realized it wasn’t going to kick into high gear – I’d only read what was in trade -Delano, Ennis, Ellis Azzarello – so I’d never read a crap Constantine story… I just didn’t grasp it was happening until he gave birth to three kids over three life times or something.

The Carey/Manco OGN was alright.

I’d maybe have liked Diggle more if he hadn’t followed Carey and Mina.

FGJ, I really liked the Joyride arc. Hellblazer started out really relevant to current British politics, but it felt like he’d been whining about Thatcher for over a decade since she was gone (even if it was directly mentioning politics, it just seemed like that dated world view) Maybe its just because British people didn’t have much to complain about throughout the majority of the Blair years. Hellblazer started so topical but it seemed stuck in the 80s whenever it got political.

Even if the ‘evil hoodie’ angle was a little obvious, Joyride actually felt like a story taking place in 2006 (or whenever it was) Britain, not the 1980’s.

I’ve always loved John Constantine, but strangely, the only run I’ve read in its entirety was Garth Ennis’s (and John’s original appearances in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing).

As for comparisions between Marvel and DC, I think we have to be fair. It takes a lot more balls for an American company to openly attack American Conservatives than to attack British Conservatives. The American fans with Conservative sympathies don’t take it so personally.

Also, it’s John Constantine, it’s vertigo. We came to expect controversy and politics in Vertigo. A catchphrase of a certain kind of fan is “Don’t put your politics in my funny book superheroes!” It’s much more acceptable when it’s a horror comic.

funkygreenjerusalem

May 1, 2010 at 7:09 am

Maybe its just because British people didn’t have much to complain about throughout the majority of the Blair years.

There was plenty bad, but Thatcher left a hell of a scar – imagine if Bush, instead of just being evil by being simple, was evil by choice, and instead of being folksy, flaunted their evilness.
That was Thatcher.

Blair was a bit like Clinton – tricked people whilst selling them out.
Milligan has began to address it in the meantime.

(Though as I mentioned to Greg Burgas when he wrote about John – there hasn’t been a politically focused writer on the book since Blair got in, until Milligan – Delano focused on Thatcher, but after that she, and politics, was only something in John’s past).

Even if the ‘evil hoodie’ angle was a little obvious, Joyride actually felt like a story taking place in 2006 (or whenever it was) Britain, not the 1980’s.

Which is ironic, as it existed only to take the character back to like he was in the 1980’s.

Well, back to the way he was when he was an enigmatic character in a different characters book, not a fleshed out star in his own book.

It takes a lot more balls for an American company to openly attack American Conservatives than to attack British Conservatives. The American fans with Conservative sympathies don’t take it so personally.

British comics attack British political views all the time.
Americans, despite all their bluster of free speech, get well sensitive, regardless of wing, if their views are mocked without a knowing wink.

Also, it’s John Constantine, it’s vertigo. We came to expect controversy and politics in Vertigo.

Because of John Constantine.

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