Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Hellblazer Episode Guide, Part Two

Right. In case you missed it, here’s PART ONE

And just so we know what the score is, here’s a list of things we’ll keep track of as we go along. Just for laughs, eh?

Plot - What happens in the story worth noting, without giving away too much. Our job isn’t to tell you the story. It’s to help those who read the story keep track of the details. Go buy the comics and read them yourself, you lazy, cheap wankers!

Prominent People - Characters whom we see more than once. First appearances, mentions of reoccurring characters, anything on the hierarchy of Hell and real life figures drawn into the story and anyone else who deserves noting.

Deaths - Any deaths of prominent people or any particularly gory and interesting ways of dying. This is a horror book, after all. Also, a running tally of all the times John has directly been involved in a friend or family member’s death. Deaths of enemies, except where John directly murdered the person in question, are not counted. Instances where it is unclear if the person died (Talbot in Issue #22) or where they probably would have died with our without John showing up (i.e. Una in Issue #25) are not counted.

John Screws Up - This happens quite a bit, but anytime John is directly or indirectly responsible for some bad thing or another happening, we note it. We advise not making a drinking game of this for two reasons – first, you’ll get pissed very quickly and be unable to keep reading and second, because you might spill lager on your comics!

Pub Trivia - Anything else worth noting that doesn’t fit one of the other categories.

Simple enough, right? And now, a few words about...

The Garth Ennis Run

Hellblazer #41-83

As most would have it, these are the golden years of Hellblazer. And for once, I agree with most. What Delano built, Ennis built upon. John became more capable, facing greater threats with deader calm than ever before – the gift of his merging with his better half? Perhaps. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. For John Consantine, however capable or however much the crusader, was still the same smartass bastard we all knew and loved.

Of course Ennis had a tough time of it coming right off the back. As he notes in the introduction to the Dangerous Habits TP, Delano had done so much with John that Ennis was at a loss as to where to start with his new adventures. And then he hit on it – the only thing left to do was to kill him.

Hellblazer #41 – The Beginning of The End (Dangerous Habits - Part One)

Plot - Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, John starts making arrangements for his death only to find that he doesn’t want to give up yet.

Prominent People - Astra and Thomas Constantine appear for the first time as part of the Ghostly Horde. First appearance of Matt; another lung-cancer victim John meets while inspecting a cancer ward.

Hellblazer #42 – A Drop Of The Hard Stuff (Dangerous Habits – Part Two)

Plot - Desperate for a cure, John travels to Ireland to visit a friend he hopes can help him. But his friend may wind up needing John’s help, as The Devil comes to be given his due.

Prominent People - First appearances of Brendan Finn and The First of The Fallen.

Deaths - Brendan dies peacefully and his soul moves on to Heaven because of John’s actions. Despite this, he’ll occasionally show up in future issues along with the rest of the Ghostly Horde.

John Screws Up - While John bests The First of the Fallen in masterful fashion here, it does make his situation more urgent. After all, John was bound for Hell already if he died and if you’re going to be in prison, best not to piss off the warden.

Hellblazer #43 – Friends in High Places (Dangerous Habits – Part Three)

Plot - With no hope in Hell giving him a new lease on life, John pleads his case to a higher power.

Prominent People - First appearances of the succubus Chantinelle (aka Ellie), the archangel Gabriel (aka The Snob) and neo-Nazi leader Charlie Patterson.

Hellblazer #44 – My Way (Dangerous Habits – Part Four)

Plot - With a plan in mind, John makes his peace with friends and family.

Prominent People - Appearances by Cheryl Masters, Chas Chandler and Matt.

Pub Trivia - The first reference made to Mike Adams – a loanshark Chas knows who has a reputation for doing bad things to people.

Hellblazer #45 – The Sting (Dangerous Habits – Part Five)

Plot - With a slit wrist and Hell to Pay, John attempts the con of a lifetime.

Prominent People - First appearances of The Second and Third of The Fallen.

Pub Trivia - Best known for the last panel, with John flipping off The First of the Fallen. It was also in this issue that people noticed that The First, Second and Third of The Fallen seemed to be very different from the Three shown to be ruling Hell in The Sandman books. This would be explained later in Issue #59, with confirmation that Lucifer and The First of The Fallen are separate beings.

Hellblazer #46 – Falling Into Hell (Dangerous Habits – Part Six)

Plot - Recovering from the bender of a lifetime, John runs into an old friend only to lose another

Prominent People - First appearance of Kit Ryan.

Deaths - Matt dies of violent hemoraging. It’s a bit of a question if this is one small way The Devil is getting back at John or not.

Hellblazer #47 – The Pub Where I Was Born

Plot - An insurance scam goes wrong and one of John’s favorite bars is up in smoke, along with the bar’s manager.
Prominent People - First appearances of Freddie and Laura Collins as well as psychotic thug Joe Hollis.

Deaths - Laura dies rather horrifically in the fire.

Hellblazer #48 – Love Kills

Plot - John investigates the bar burning only to find that someone or something is killing the criminals before he can get to them.

Prominent People - First appearance of Lenny Fisher (an informant)

Deaths - Most everyone involved in the crime is killed, save Quincy, who John “persuades” to rebuild the bar, putting Freddie and Laura to rest.

Hellblazer #49 – Lord of the Dance

Plot - It’s Christmas Eve and John is looking for a gift for Kit. But it’s an odd homeless man with an odder story that inspires John to give a gift that can’t be found in a store.

Prominent People - First appearance of The Lord of the Dance.

Pub Trivia - John and Kit’s first kiss.

Hellblazer #50 – Remarkable Lives

Plot - Called from his bed by a bloody message on the mirror, John is called to an audience with The King of the Vampires

Prominent People - First appearance of The King of the Vampires

Pub Trivia - John and Kit’s “first time” together.

Hellblazer #51 – Counting To Ten

Plot - John’s stuck at the Laundromat with a bunch of old women. A dull night at last? Don’t you believe it.

Pub Trivia - A one-shot written by John Smith, this is the only issue during this period NOT by Garth Ennis.

Hellblazer #52 – The Players (Royal Blood - Part One)

Plot - John is brought in to investigate a number of killings – killings that involve a demon who has possessed a member of Britain’s Royal Family.

Prominent People - First appearance of Sir Peter Marston, the demon Calibraxis; Lord of Blades and Butcher To The Devil’s Court (though we don’t learn his name until the next issue) and The Caligula Club

Pub Trivia - John officially moves in with Kit and makes his promise to leave her out of the magic end of his life.

Hellblazer #53 – Revelations (Royal Blood – Part Two)

Plot - John holds a séance to get some answers and finds that, as usual, things are even worse than he thought.

Prominent People - First appearance of Nigel Archer (psychic hippie anarchist), Scot Guard’s Lieutenant David Hezlet, rich layabouts Hugh and Holly Elliot with cameos by Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Charles, Prince of Wales.

Pub Trivia - We find out the name Calibraxis and that he was responsible for the Jack The Ripper killings.

Hellblazer #54 – The Good Old Days (Royal Blood – Part Three)

Plot - John and Nigel plan a trap for Calibraxis as Sir Mastron and Lt. Hezlet plan a trap for them to keep the scandal quiet.
Deaths - Quite a bloody scene as a demonically possessed Prince Charles rips people apart with his bare hands and eats bits of them.

Hellblazer #55 – Dog Eat Dog (Royal Blood – Part Four)

Plot - The plot becomes clear and it’s up to John to stop a mad monarchist from putting a demon on the throne of England.

Deaths - Hugh and Holly Elliot are gunned down by Hezlet. Hezlet has his throat ripped out by a demonically possessed Sir Marston. And Sir Marston finds himself alongside Sir William Withey Gull (the man responsible for unleashing Calibraxis in the time of Jack the Ripper) in Hell after he eats himself to death.

Hellblazer #56 – This Is The Diary of Danny Drake

Plot - A ranting man on the London Underground tells John a tale of a demonically possessed diary and a bargain for incredible luck.

Prominent People - First appearance of Danny Drake and the Triskele, Wyrm Queen of the Succubae

Deaths - Though the story ends before it happens, it is pretty clear that Danny Drake is not long for the world after the last page.

Hellblazer #57 – Mortal Clay

Plot - John and Chas find a mystery after grave robbers try to steal the corpse of Chas’ uncle after his funeral.

Prominent People - First appearance of Dr. Amis

Deaths - John and Chas find Chas’ Uncle Tom dead of a heart attack – one of the few natural deaths in Hellblazer history.

Hellblazer #58 – Body and Soul

Plot - Captured by the corrupt ballistic tester Dr. Amis, John and Chas are in for a painful death. And what is worse, it seems Amis’ experiments are destroying the very souls of the bodies he is destroying

Deaths - Chas beats Dr. Amis to death with the butt of a rifle.

John Screws Up - John told the less spiritual-knowledgeable Chas that he was sure his uncle was in a better place. Given what happens in this story, it was something of a lie, though John could be forgiven for his ignorance at the time he said it – though he doesn’t forgive himself.

Pub Trivia - We find out that Chas’ real name is “Frank William Chandler” but that Chas was a nickname because of him having the same last name as Jimi Hendrix’s manager. It probably made sense at the time. (Also, for those who care to know, “Hendrix” does not trigger a spelling mistake in Microsoft Word 2002)

Hellblazer #59 – Fallen Women (Guys and Dolls, Part One)

Plot - The Devil’s after Chantelle, wanting her as a pawn in some grand plan to catch John. She escapes and warns John, setting the two to plot an escape route for them both.

Prominent People - Appearances by Ellie, Triskele and The Devil.

Pub Trivia - The Devil speaks at length about he political structure of Hell referring to events in the DC Comics Universe - Heaven Standing Alongside Hell during “The War Against Shadow” six years earlier (a reference to Crisis?), Etrigan briefly becoming ruler of Hell, “those endless, bloody triumvirates” and Lucifer swearing revenge on Morpheus and then quitting his position as ruler of Hell (The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes and Seasons of Mist) This issue also confirms that Lucifer Morningstar, the most powerful archangel (and eventual star of his own Vertigo series) is a separate being from The Devil, who fell before him. It also confirms that The Morningstar is less powerful than The Devil.

Hellblazer #60 – Nativity Infernal (Guys and Dolls, Part Two)

Plot - Mostly a story in flashback, we learn of how Ellie came to owe John a debt – and of the deaths of her lover and child. Meanwhile, The Devil plots further as he tends to the torture of a former demon that also fought against John.

Prominent People - First appearance of the Angel Tali and Clive Peters (a demonically possessed child-rapist in Whitechapel).

Deaths - Tali dies, killed by his flaming swords of his fellow angels. His child disappears, presumably killed by the angels as well.

John Screws Up - John uses a protective spell to hide Tali and Ellie from the forces of Hell. It never occurs to him that Heaven would be equally displeased and unforgiving regarding the results of an angel and demon mating.

Pub Trivia - Negral has a cameo, having apparently been made mortal to experience the 10,000 year Demonic training process again as punishment for having failed to stop John.

Hellblazer #61 – She’s Buying A Stairway To Heaven (Guy’s and Dolls – Part Three)

Plot - With The Devil and Triskele on their trail, John must attempt a desperate plan to save Ellie’s soul and his own.

Deaths - Triskele is beheaded by the Devil and her head put on a spike. Agony and Ecstasy – unseen since Issue #12 when they took Negral – suffer a similar fate after they attempt to take The Devil to be tortured in John’s stead, via the “Rule Of Three Defeats” that John used to beat Negral.

Pub Trivia - John cuts a masking sigil into Ellie’s soul that prevents her from going to Hell but also protects her from being found by anyone. The Devil breaks the rules of Hell for the first time here, killing Agony and Ecstasy for noting that he suffer John’s punishment having been bested by him three times (saving Brendan Finn, saving himself and saving Ellie)

Hellblazer #62 – End of the Line

Plot - A family visit sends John after a magician with designs on his niece and to visit another old family member as Kit teaches Gemma you don’t need magic to get back at the girl who stole your boyfriend.

Prominent People - Appearances by Tony Masters, Cheryl Masters and Gemma Masters. First and last appearance of Harry Constantine.

Deaths - 12 on the dead tally - John kills his undead relative Harry Constantine, whacking his head off with a shovel.

Pub Trivia - The title of this issue is a bit of a double pun, at this issue was indeed the last Hellblazer published on the DC Mature Readers line. It would become a Vertigo book starting with the next issue.

Hellblazer #63 - Forty

Plot - John’s ready to celebrate his Fortieth birthday alone and miserable. But the Lord of the Dance has other plans and gives John a party he’ll never forget.

Prominent People - First appearances of Janine (liquor store owner), Scottish football hooligan Header, Mange(a magician trapped in the body of a rabbit) and Vicar Rick (aka Rick The Vic) Nielsen. Cameos by Ellie, Nigel Archer, The Lord of the Dance, Zatanna, The Phantom Stranger and Swamp Thing.

John Screws Up - John relieves himself on the shoes of a, for once, just trying to be friendly Phantom Stranger. He also passes out before getting a chance to clean up Kit’s apartment, leaving a mess of booze, pot and rabbit droppings.

Pub Trivia - This was the first issue of Hellblazer published under the Vertigo imprint. Odd, as it contains the largest number of DC Comics character cameos of any issue ever. Header also makes reference to Chas’s loan-shark Mike Adams, and how before Header killed another friend of John’s (Terry Butcher) for sleeping with both his daughters (Siamese twins), Mike Adam’s cut off most of the Terry Butcher’s penis.

Hellblazer #64 – For God And Country (Fear and Loathing – Part One)

Plot - The Archangel Gabriel experiences doubt regarding “his Father’s” righteousness when faced with the revelation that he’s been associating with racists and meets a nice mortal girl who he can talk to about his doubts. Meanwhile, neo-Nazi leader Patterson – whose plans have been disrupted by Gabriel’s doubts - plans to strike at John through an attack on Kit

Prominent People - First appearances of Dez Ridley (an old friend of John’s) and George Ridley (Dez’s younger brother)

Pub Trivia - John and Rick complete their bargain from last issue – Two Grand and a jar of angel semen in exchange for a pocket-sized Bible made from foreskins.

Hellblazer #65 – London Kills Me (Fear and Loathing – Part Two)

Plot - Kit handles the thugs sent after her easily. So easily, that Patterson sends thugs after John himself. Meanwhile, Gabriel finds romance with Julie during a walk in the park.

Pub Trivia - Reference is made to Joe Hollis from #47-48, when George calls a friend about getting a “sawed-off” being held for Joe Hollis.

Hellblazer #66 – Down To Earth (Fear and Loathing – Part Three)

Plot - At the mercy of the neo-Nazis, John is helpless but to wait as his plans unfold without him. Julie, who was really Ellie in disguise, cuts the heart out of Gabriel after sleeping with him – a crime that gets Gabriel kicked out of Heaven and puts him at John’s mercy.

Deaths - 13 on the dead tally. Dez is killed by the neo-Nazis, his face cut apart and left to bleed to death after a savage beating. Charlie Patterson and some of his men are gunned down by an angry George

Hellblazer #67 – Dear John

Plot - John may have an angel at his command, but what does it matter with Kit moving to Belfast and out of his life?

Pub Trivia - The infamous issue where John becomes homeless after Kit dumps him.

Hellblazer #68 – Down All The Days

Plot - John sinks lower and lower into alcoholism as The King of the Vampires comes to London.

Prominent People - The King of the Vampires appears. First appearance of Darius (a lover of the King of the Vampires) and Davy (a homeless male prostitute).

Pub Trivia - The King of the Vampires refers to the events of Royal Blood (52-55)

Hellblazer #69 – Rough Trade

Plot - The King of the Vampires finds John, unprotected in a back alley. And he’s hungry for the blood of a magus.

Prominent People - First and last appearance, in flashback, of John’s great-grandfather William Constantine. Janine, the liquor store owner from #63. also appears at the end of the issue.

Deaths - 14 and 15 on the dead tally. Davy is killed because of his proximity to John. The King of the Vampires dies due to the fire in John’s demon-tainted blood. Darius also commits suicide in a manner that evokes the name of Captain Oates.

Vertigo Jam #1 – Tainted Love

Plot - John shares stories and a bottle with another homeless man, telling him the story of how magic screwed up the life of a woman he knew and the friend she was dating.

Prominent People - First appearances of Seth (John’s womanizing friend) and Annette. Cameo by The Third of the Fallen.

Deaths - Seth bleeds to death after the unkindest cut of all and Annette is seen to have committed suicide shortly after.

Pub Trivia - This story is included in the Hellblazer: Tainted Love TP between issues #69 and #70

Hellblazer #70 - Heartland

Plot - Kit returns home to her family in Belfast and tries to adjust to a life without John Constantine.

Prominent People - First appearances of Claire Ryan (Kit’s younger sister), Peter Ryan (Claire’s twin brother), Ann (Claire’s friend), Sean (Ann’s husband) and Neil (Claire’s friend, who has a crush on Kit)

Pub Trivia - This is the first issue of Hellblazer in which John does not appear.

Hellblazer #71 – Finest Hour

Plot - Inspired by the psychic vision of a doomed pilot’s final moments, John finds the will needed to clean himself up.

Prominent People - First and last appearance of Sergeant Jamie Kilmartin

Hellblazer Special #1 - Confessional

Plot - John has a run-in with a pedophilic priest from his past – one who has also crossed paths with The First of the Fallen.

Prominent People - First and last appearance of Father Tolly

Deaths - Father Tolly commits suicide by putting pencils in his eyes and head-butting a pew.

Pub Trivia - John hitch-hiked to London in October 1969, and picked-up girls by claiming to be Paul McCartney’s cousin. Also, this story is included at the end of the Hellblazer: Tainted Love TP.

Hellblazer #72 – Brave New World (Damnation’s Flame – Part One)

Plot - Seeking an escape, John journeys to New York City. But an old associate is out for revenge and John is so very, very vulnerable.

Prominent People - First appearance (in the flesh and in the flashback, at least) of Papa Midnite’s sister Cedella. Also the first appearance of Peter (a barman John met ten years earlier), Zeerke (a thug working for Midnite) and The Moon Child, Private Brown, The One Last Trive, The Streetsigns of Manhattan, The Greenbacks (several manifestations of the American Hell) and the ghost of John F. Kennedy. The First of the Fallen also turns in a cameo as Papa Midnite turns in a full performance.

Hellblazer #73 – Broadway The Hardway (Damnation’s Flame – Part Two)

Plot - John witch-walks through a hellish parody of America, fighting the cannibals of Central Park, flying Greenbacks and making an unlikely ally in a dead President.

Prominent People - Appareances by The Greenbacks, The Streetsigns of Manhattan and Papa Midnite, as well as JFK.

Hellblazer #74 – Trail of Tears (Damnation’s Flame – Part Three)

Plot - John C and John K travel to reclaim the stolen Throne of America and John learns who was responsible for him being trapped in the Nightmare America.

Prominent People - JFK and Papa Midnite appear. The Moon Child, Private Brown, The One Last Tribe and Cedella also appear.

Hellblazer #75 – Special Double-Size Issue - Hail To The Chief (Damnation’s Flame – Part Four)

Plot - Staring down an irate tribe of Native Americans and facing the First of the Fallen on unfamiliar territory, John strives to escape from Hell while honoring his commitments. Now if he can only do it before his body is destroyed on Earth.

Prominent People - The First of the Fallen appears in the form of Abraham Lincoln. Peter the Bartender, Zeerke, Cedella, Papa Midnite and JFK appear as well.

Deaths - Papa Midnite seemingly commits suicide in this issue, but this would later be ret-conned by the Hellblazer: Papa Midnite mini-series. JFK also appears to go mostly brain-dead, his arms ripped off by The First of The Fallen.

John Screws Up - John flees, rather than aid JFK in the fight with The Devil Lincoln.
Pub Trivia - This is the issue where John first briefly adopts a black trenchcoat.

Hellblazer #75 – Special Double-Size Issue - Act of Union

Plot - Another flashback story, this details the first meeting between Kit and John, back in the days when she was Brendan Finn’s girl.

Hellblazer #76 – Confessions of an Irish Rebel

Plot - Stuck on a layover in Dublin, John gets a visit from a ghostly visitor. A pleasant one, for once.

Prominent People - Brendan Finn returns from the dead for a staring role. Ric the Vic and Header have Cameos as does Jerry O’Flynn (from Hellblazer #23)

Deaths - 16 on the Dead Tally. In Flashback, John and Brendan’s friend Cox dies in a horribly unmanly fashion, getting his nuts blown off by Zeerke.

Pub Trivia - Quite a bit of flashback and back-story reference here. John refers to the deaths of Jerry O’Flynn (#23), Terry Butcher (#63) Sir Marston (#55), the burning down of the Northhampton (#47-48). Zeerke (#72) is mentioned in passing and mention is made of a gun called the Ace of Winchesters, which would appear again later in Ennis’s Hitman series. This issue also marks the first time we’ve seen a supporting cast member from the Delano run who wasn’t a member of John’s family interacting with members of the Ennis supporting cast.

Hellblazer #77 – And The Crowd Goes Wild

Plot - Chas tells a story of how John cheated death to some mates in a pub. Little does he know that John is about to enter into his life again.

Prominent People - First appearance of Beano, the drummer for John’s old band. Cameo appearances at John’s funeral by Ric the Vic, Tony Masters, Gemma Masters, Cheryl Masters, Richie Simpson, Emma, Ray Monde, Kit Ryan, Brendan Finn and Header.

Hellblazer #78 – Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part One

Plot - John sets to work his latest plan to beat the Devil, stopping to help rescue an old girlfriend fallen on hard times. Meanwhile, the First of the Fallen is approached by a young demoness with a plan on how to best Constantine once and for all. And George goes on the run after killing the neo-Nazi cop who killed his mother and set him up for a fake drug bust.

Prominent People - John’s ex-girlfriend Helen, Helen’s pimp Phil, John’s current girlfriend Sarah, Sarah’s sister Helen (a nurse), Detective Constable Kenfield and George Ridley’s mother appear for the first time. Header, Ric the Vic, Chas, The First of the Fallen, a demoness claiming to be Astra (the girl John failed to save at Newcastle) all have brief appearances.

Deaths - 17 on the Dead Tally. Header is shot in the chest helping John burgle the Caligula Club for some magic pages. George’s mother dies after being pushed down the stairs and George shoots the cop (Detective Shaw) who pushed her, starting himself down a path very much like John Constantine’s.

Pub Trivia - This was the first Hellblazer mini-series to lack individual chapter titles.

Hellblazer #79 - Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part Two

Plot - John continues his plotting as Helen goes into withdrawl as her pimp tries to track her down. George finds out that his friends are planning a riot against the police. And The Devil destroys the balance of Hell forever.

Prominent People - First appearance of Jo (a doctor), Zap (not Spaz), Shelly, and Frank (friends of George). Brief appearances by Lenny Fisher (tortured by Phil), Nigel Archer, the former Archangel Gabriel

Deaths - The First of the Fallen kills the Second and Third of the Fallen, having realized that the “balance” of Hell was a sham to keep any one of them from taking over.

John Screws Up - John leaves Helen unprotected, making her an easy mark when Phil tracks her down.

Hellblazer #80 - Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part Three

Plot - John offers George some help and is refused. Meanwhile, John learns of what happened to Helen and asks Chas to have someone deal with Phil the Pimp. Ric the Vic comes to a messy end that may prove even messier for John. And a full race riot breaks out in London.

Prominent People - First and last appearance of Betsy, Rick the Vic’s girlfriend. Jo, Lucy and Sarah appear, with the later telling off John for his want to try and fix things in people’s lives and making things worse when he tries. The First of The Fallen appears in quite an active role as does The Lord of the Dance.

Deaths - 18, 19 and 20 on the dead tally. Ric the Vic commits suicide to keep the Devil from hurting him, forgetting that suicide is the spiritual equivalent of a “Go Directly To Jail Card”. He winds up in The First of The Fallen’s clutches and tells him of John’s plans. Nigel Archer, who was holding onto the heart of Gabriel for John, is killed off panel. Finally, Gabriel dies licking The Devil’s boots.

Hellblazer #81 - Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part Four

Plot - Phil gets his, but John has little satisfaction. Taking refuge in a Church basement while London burns. Meanwhile, the riots get worse as George finds more and more of his friends die over what he has done. And The Devil and Astra watch and wait for John to come out of hiding.

Deaths - All of George’s friends from two issues previous die during this issue.

Hellblazer #82 - Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part Five

Plot - John has a chance encounter with Kit, who came to say her final goodbye on good terms. And with her kisses still fresh in her mind, John enters the battle field only to find Nigel Archer dead and The Devil waiting.

Prominent People - Kit makes her final non-flashback or special appearance.

Deaths - Although we heard of Nigel’s death two issues earlier, this time we get to see the body.

Hellblazer #83 - Rake At The Gates of Hell, Part Six

Plot - His lung cancer restored and a slow-death ahead of him, The Devil tells John of what he confessed to Father Tolly, not knowing that John has one last con to pull.

Prominent People - The First of the Fallen and Ellie appear. Helen and George appear for the last time.

Deaths - The First of the Fallen is killed, at least temporarily, by Ellie. It turned out she was the Astra demoness all this time.

Pub Trivia - We find out the pages John and Header stole detailed the history of The Fallen. This gave Ellie the knowledge on how to kill the Second and Third of the Fallen (which she gave to The Devil) as well as how to kill The Devil herself.

Heartland #1

Plot - Shortly after Kit’s return to Belfast and her family, old wounds are reopen and with it a family trauma.

Prominent People - All of the supporting cast from Hellblazer #70 are back.

Pub Trivia - This story, originally a one-shot special, is included at the end of the Rake at the Gates of Hell TP. It is unclear if it happens before Kit left Belfast to meet John for the last time or after the events of issue #82.

Recommended Reading

Quite honestly, there’s very little worth skipping and very little that is hard to find in the Ennis run of Hellblazer. Indeed, only issues 47-61 (about 1/3rd) of this period remain uncollected in any TP edition.

The reason for this is probably because the later issues all feature artwork by Steve Dillion, who would go on to work with Garth Ennis on what many consider to be his finest work ever - Preacher. Perhaps the decision to trade these Hellblazer issues may have been based more on selling the series to the fans of Preacher rather than promoting the series itself in a more portable format.

Either way, it is fairly easy to get most of the essential Constantine stories of this period. Dangerous Habits is a fan-favorite and rightly so, having had many parts of it ripped off for the horribly inferior Constantine movie.

Oddly, many important stories – at least in terms of introduced characters – are located in the the uncollected period. I personally recommend that any serious Hellblazer fan collect, at the very least, #49 (The Lord of the Dance’s first appearance), #50 (The King of the Vampire’s first appearance) and #59-61 for the story of how Ellie came to owe John Constantine if you want to fully appreciate the appearances of those characters in the later TP editions that cover 62-83. You owe it to yourself to get the whole set though, as Royal Blood is one of my personal favorite stories of all time.

Sadly, I do think the Ennis run suffered a bit toward the end. Rake at the Gates of Hell, while having many moments of brilliance, also feels severely rushed. The subplot with George and the race riot, while an interesting parallel for how John gets his friends into trouble, really has little to do with the story at hand and would have made a better mini-series. And after the slam-bang-whiz opening where there are several different plots going on at once, everything grinds to a halt to give Kit and John one last bit of rumpy-pumpy in the penultimate chapter.

The Final Analysis

Simply put, most believe Ennis to have been the finest writer to ever handle John Constantine. His detractors may note that he was not as subtle as Delano or that he depended entirely on Judeo-Christian mythology for his stories, rather than using a variety of sources as Delano did. In short, many of these fans either dislike Ennis for being Ennis (i.e. the shock-jock of comic literature) or for not being Delano.

Well, one thing everyone can agree on, fan or detractor, is that he was a major force of influence on John Constantine. His run, continuous for nearly four years (save for one issue) set a benchmark that equaled that set by Delano, starting a tradition of Hellblazer writers whose runs would go 40 issues or thereabouts. And if nothing else, Ennis’ later fame on more outrageous titles would bring attention back to the book where he got his start and create a whole new generation of Hellblazer fans in the process.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Looking To The Stars Hellblazer Episode Guide, Part One

Starting this week, I begin a project I’ve had in mind for quite sometime, but never quite felt inspired to start until now.

The leaves have started to turn where I am in The States. Halloween is fast approaching and I’ve had to get the old trench-coat out of storage for the chilly nights. Maybe it’s that garment or the mood of spooks and spirits that prompted it – but I feel like writing a bit about John Constantine. And that’s con-stan-tyne. We don’t care what the movie says.

Some of you may remember, some years ago, I did a sort of “episode” guide for the Kyle Rayner issues of Green Lantern. So big it required a Part One and a Part Two And way back in the Fanzing days, I did the same for the first volume of Green Arrow. Well, now, slowly but surely – and likely not all in one go – I am going to do the same for Hellblazer.

And just so we know what the score is, here’s a list of things we’ll keep track of as we go along. Just for laughs, eh?

Plot - What happens in the story worth noting, without giving away too much. Our job isn’t to tell you the story. It’s to help those who read the story keep track of the details. Go buy the comics and read them yourself, you lazy, cheap wankers!

Prominent People - Characters whom we see more than once. First appearances, mentions of reoccurring characters, anything on the hierarchy of Hell and real life figures drawn into the story and anyone else who deserves noting.

Deaths - Any deaths of prominent people or any particularly gory and interesting ways of dying. This is a horror book, after all. Also, a running tally of all the times John has directly been involved in a friend or family member’s death. Instances where it is unclear if the person died (Talbot in Issue #22) or where they probably would have died with our without John showing up (i.e. Una in Issue #25) are not counted.

John Screws Up - This happens quite a bit, but anytime John is directly or indirectly responsible for some bad thing or another happening, we note it. We advise not making a drinking game of this for two reasons – first, you’ll get pissed very quickly and be unable to keep reading and second, because you might spill lager on your comics!

Pub Trivia - Anything else worth noting that doesn’t fit one of the other categories.

Simple enough, right? But before we get into the nitty-gritty, I need to say a few words about what is broadly known (apart from three issues in the middle and one toward the end) as...

The Jamie Delano Run

Hellblazer #1-40

Jamie explains the history of Constantine fairly well in the introduction to the first Hellblazer trade-paperback Original Sins. The character was created by Alan Moore during his now legendary run on Swamp Thing. John proved to be a popular character right form the start – popular enough that he won the Eagle Award that year for “Character Most Worthy Of His Own Series" in his first year of existence. John is described as “an insouciant, somewhat amoral occult dabbler and “psychic detective” with a British working-class background.”

Short but pat, that is our Johnny-Boy. On paper, at least. The truth is, as always, a good deal more complicated.

Whoever and whatever he is, John proved very popular and it was decided that he was enough of a character that he warranted his own book. Delano was recruited as a writer and went on to establish the foundations of a character that still maintains a loyal fanbase nearly 20 years after the publishing of Hellblazer #1.

Hellblazer #1 - Hunger

Plot - John returns home to England, following the events of “American Gothic” in Saga of the Swamp Thing. He quickly finds himself hoping the globe again, as he tries to help his former band-mate contain the Famine Demon Mnemoth that he accidentally released.

Prominent People - First appearance of John’s landlord Mrs. McGuire, his cabbie friend Chas Chandler, former band-mate Gary Lester and voodoo king Papa Midnite.

Deaths - 4, counting what happened in Sage of Swamp Thing. Nobody important dies this time around, but John’s dead girlfriend Emma turns up as a ghost and reference is made to John’s friends who died in “American Gothic”

Pub Trivia - Chas Chandler is named for Jimi Hendix’s manager and ex-rocker Bryan “Chas” Chandler. He was born in, and went on to develop an arena in ...Newcastle.

Hellblazer #2 – A Feast of Friends

Plot - John forms a reluctant partnership with Papa Midnite in order to save the world from Mnemoth.

Prominent People - The Ghostly Horde of John’s friends he was responsible for the deaths of appears for the first time. Currently made up only of Frank North, Benjamin Cox, Sister Ann Marie and Emma, Gary Lester will join it at the end of the issue.

Deaths - 5, Gary Lester

John Screws Up - It’s not really accidental, but John gives in to the idea of having to use Gary Lester as bait for Mnemoth knowing full well it will mean his death without even considering any alternatives.

Hellblazer #3 – Going For It

Plot - It’s Election Day 1987 and what starts out as a simple investigation of weird yuppie murders drags John into the middle of a plot involving demon yuppies from Hell and a stock market for souls.

Prominent People - We meet Ray Monde (a gay shop owner with a nose for magic) for the first time. Margaret Thatcher cameos. We also meet Blathoxi, Lord of Flatulence, who is backing the group of demons going after Yuppie souls.

Pub Trivia - This is the first time in the series we see John do overt magic, transforming a medallion into a necktie.

Hellblazer #4 – Waiting For The Man

Plot - John’s having a lucky day – he cleans up at the pool hall and meets a gorgeous, magically inclined pavement artist. But can his luck hold out when a demon-worshipping madman kidnaps his niece?

Prominent People - Gemma Masters (John’s niece), Cheryl Masters (John’s older sister) and Tony Masters (John’s brother-in-law) are seen for the first time. Zed makes her first speaking appearance and we also get out first glimpses of The Resurrection Crusaders, their leader Elder Martin and the Damnation Army, who will figure prominently in the next few issues.

Pub Trivia - Zed makes her first speaking appearance here. She did a brief cameo in Issue #1, doing graffiti art outside John’s window.

Hellblazer #5 – When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Plot - Traveling through America, John stumbles upon the town of Liberty, where the Resurrection Crusaders have promised to use their power to bring back the sons of Liberty lost during the Vietnam War. And they do – but in a fashion that nobody expects and John is powerless to stop.

Deaths - Some rather horrific ones here as a group of time-displaced spirits see their loved ones as Vietnamese villagers and set about committing a war crime.

Hellblazer #6 – Extreme Prejudice

Plot - The Damnation Army is at work in London and while the cops think it’s all anarchist pranks, John thinks different. His suspicions are confirmed when both the Resurrection Crusaders (who call Zed Mary, for some reason) AND the Damnation Army go after Zed.

Prominent People - The Demon Negral appears for the first time. John also calls a reporter named Tony Baxter for information about the Damnation Army.

Deaths - Cool moment here with John’s rather ingenious way of getting the hybrid demon made from the four Nazi lads (two of them Arsenal fans, two of them Chelsea fans) to literally rip itself apart.

Hellblazer #7 – Ghosts in the Machine

Plot - Looking for more information on the Resurrection Crusaders, John turns to an old friend, who discovers that The Crusaders are tapped into some kind of magical power. Zed is kidnapped by the Resurrection Crusaders and is revealed to be the daughter of their leader. Confronted by the ghostly horde about his sins, John jumps off a moving train.

Prominent People - First appearance of Richie Simpson (last survivor of The Newcastle Crew, apart from John)

Deaths - 8 on the dead friends tally. See below for details.

John Screws Up - John sends Richie to his death (or at least the destruction of his physical form) and pulls the plug on Richie’s computer rather than tell him what happened. He’s also indirectly responsible for Ray’s death, having left Zed with him hoping she would be safe there. Ray is beaten to death by the Resurrection Army.

Hellblazer #8 – Intensive Care

Plot - Zed/Mary is prepared for some sort of ceremony meant to bring about the birth of a new Messiah. Meanwhile, a hospitalized John Constantine suffers nightmarish visions of his past and is forced into an unholy alliance with the power behind the Damnation Army.

Pub Trivia - Quite a bit in this one. This is the issue where John gets his demonic blood-transfusion, which will figure prominently in future stories. Negral also refers to having met John twice before. Once when John was “an insolent child” whom he gave a lesson in manners and once during The Newcastle Incident, though John doesn’t making anything of this until Issue #10 Negral speaks of a war between humans and demons in Hell, the events of which were also covered in the Saga of the Swamp Thing story “A Murder of Crows” (#43-50) and of a prophecy of a marriage between natural and supernatural that WILL take place to give birth to a savior – but what manner of savior is up in the air.

Hellblazer #9 – Shot To Hell

Plot - Psychically poisoned by the demon blood infusion, John wanders a city in America waiting for the end. Haunted and then inspired by a ghost of himself, John cleans up, returns to England and sets about foiling The Resurrection Crusaders.

Prominent People - Ray appears as part of The Ghostly Horde and tries to talk John out of self-destruction.

Pub Trivia - This issue indirectly crosses-over with Saga of Swamp Thing, with John having the idea to talk to Swamp Thing as it also comes to Constantine to ask for a favor. Jamie Delano explains the favor in the introduction to the Original Sins trade-paperback, which only covers the first nine issues of Hellblazer and ends on a sort of odd note. I’ll explain it more in the next entry.

Hellblazer #10 – Sex and Death

Plot - Trapped on the astral plane, John sees his plans come to fruition and discovers the past connection between himself and Negral.

Deaths - Well, John indirectly kills all of the Resurrection Crusade leadership present for the disastrous attempt to mate Zed with an angel. He’s also indirectly responsible for Negral killing everyone in his building.

John Screws Up - John commits a rather serious psychic faux pas jumping back into his own body at the...uh... climax of the story, as he does.

Pub Trivia - This issue marks a bit of an odd-crossover with Swamp Thing. John needs to help facilitate a marriage between the natural and the supernatural in order to fulfill the prophecy just in case his plan with and in last issue was about to contact Swamp Thing about this at the same time that Swamp Thing comes to ask Constantine if it can borrow his body so that it may conceive a child with it’s wife, Abby. This allows the birth of a child that fulfills the prophecy without tipping the balance in the war between Heaven and Hell.

Hellblazer #11 – Newcastle: A Taste of Things To Come

Plot - John returns to Newcastle and relives the events at the Casanova Club that set him down the dark path he now walks.

Prominent People - First appearance of Astra Logue.

Deaths - 9, for John’s bungling his attempt to save Astra.

John Screws Up - Here’s the biggie. John fails to get Astra out of Hell and the event drives him mad, resulting in him being committed, blamed for the murders at the club, and abused by the staff at the Ravenscar Asylum.

Pub Trivia - Oddly, this was never collected until recently (Rare Cuts TPB) despite being one of the most important Hellblazer issues historically. Many references made in earlier issues are explained in this issue.

Hellblazer #12 – The Devil You Know

Plot - Negral needs to deliver John’s soul to Hell or face severe punishment himself. As he searches, John meets up with the spirit of Richie Simpson on-line and begins to plot a way to fight back.

Prominent People - Agony and Ecstasy, twin demons of Hell’s inquisition, are introduced for the first time.

John Screws Up - John’s problems, save finding Richie a new body, would actually have solved themselves had he not gone looking for Negral in this issue. Typical Constantine Luck. Also, John winds up doing worse than killing Richie here trying to save his own skin – allowing Richie to be turned into a demon and then being doomed to 10,000 years of training in Hell to become official.

Pub Trivia - By some obscure law of Hell, any mortal who can best the forces of Damnation three times is granted a reprieve from punishments due to The Rule of Insult. John does this by crashing the soul stock market (Issue 3), besting a demon (Issue 6) and eluding Negral after blocking their attempts to birth a hell-controlled Messiah.

Hellblazer #13 – On The Beach

Plot - John’s trip to the seaside to escape from his troubles only results in horrific, and possibly prophetic, visions of a future ruined by pollution.

Hellblazer #14 – Touching the Earth (The Fear Machine, Part One)

Plot - Now wanted for the murder of everyone in his old home, John finds more than he bargained for as he flees London and falls in with The Freedom Mob as they travel to Salisbury Plain.

Prominent People - First appearance of teenage psychic Mercury, her mother Marj, shaman Eddy, music fan Errol, strong-woman Sam, Jo and the rest of The Freedom Mob.

Hellblazer #15 – Shepherd’s Warning (The Fear Machine, Part Two)

Plot - Wandering in the woods, John and Mercury uncover armed men guarding a fenced in set of standing stones. And while under the influence, John has a revelation regarding a feeling of fear.

Prominent People - First appearance of Myra, Officer Davis (the security man around the stones), Doctor Fulton (aka Fungus Face)

John Screws Up - John attempts some mind magic on Myra when she recognizes him from the paper, but winds up blowing the spell. This leads to Myra spiking his tea with Fly Agaric – the same substances used by Vikings to go berserk. Also, it is revealed that Zed is apparently alive and well and back to her old self.

Hellblazer #16 – Rough Justice (The Fear Machine, Part Three)

Plot - With the police called in to raid the camp, and Mercury captured for unknown reasons, John hits the road to do some investigating.

Pub Trivia Mercury shows signs of having a crush on John and is about to slip into bed with him (after John slept with her mother!) when the police raid occurs.

Hellblazer #17 – Fellow Travelers (The Fear Machine, Part Four)

Plot - John’s trip takes a turn for the worse as everybody on the train suffers a panic attack – the result of a targeted blast of Dr. Fulton’s device, which uses the ley lines of England and psychic people as a weapon to cause fear.

Prominent People - First appearance of Officer Beale (leader of the cops working with Dr. Fulton), Mr. Webster (head of security for Geotroniks and Hangman for the Freemasons), Sergei Antonov (a KGB agent and agent of the Leninegrad Institute of Paranormal Research)

Hellblazer #18 – Hate Mail And Love Letters (The Fear Machine, Part Five)

Plot - We John’s investigation continue and learn of what he, Marj and Mercury have been doing through letters and diaries.

Prominent People - First appearance of Ken and Hal (John’s temporary landlords), Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Talbot (retired cop who investigated Officer Beale and his bent cops) and reporter Simon Hughes (who is investigating the suicides of Geotroniks scientists).

Pub Trivia - Zed is confirmed alive and turns out to be Errol’s old girlfriend. John confirms he’s not wanted by the police and that what was in the papers was all sensational reporting.

Hellblazer #19 – The Broken Man (The Fear Machine, Part Six)

Plot - Having saved Simon Hughes from an early grave, John learns about Geotroniks and how their leading scientists seem to keep killing themselves.

Pub Trivia - This issue crosses over with Issue #3 of The Sandman, as we see John return from his business with Morpheus.

Hellblazer #20 – Betrayal (The Fear Machine, Part Seven)

Plot - The pieces come together as Simon Hughes, Inspector Talbot, Sergei and John come together and pool information – a secret branch of Freemasons plan to use the Fear Machine to topple the government. Meanwhile, Mercury has turned the tables on one of her captors and escaped. But is she, or anyone else, really safe?

Prominent People - First mention of the name Jallakuntilliokan.

Deaths - Dr. Talbot is hung by Mr. Webster- a death that was foreshadowed in a vision that Mercury showed him earlier.

Hellblazer #21 –The God Of All Gods (The Fear Machine, Part Eight)

Plot - Mercury is safe and John returned to the Pagan Nation and Freedom Mob. But John’s allies in London have been captured by Webster and his Freemasons, to be sacrificed to further empower the Mason’s God of All Gods.

Prominent People - First appearance of Parliamentary Under-Secretary Bartholomew Carter-Browne

Deaths - Simon Hughes is the first of the five captured (Hal and Ken, Sergei and Talbot being the other four) to be sacrificed by Webster.

Hellblazer #22 – Balance (The Fear Machine, Part Nine)

Plot With Jallakuntillokan drawing power and riots rising up around the Isle, it falls John, the Pagan Nation and the Freedom Mob to save the world.

Deaths Hal and Ken were killed off panel, along with all the other people captured by Webster’s men. Sergei is killed on panel. Officer Davis is strangled by Talbot. It is unclear if Webster or Talbot both die or not.

Hellblazer #23 – Larger Than Life

Plot - John visits his old friend, the die-hard collector and dealer Jerry O’Flynn; a larger-than-life character who claims to be haunted by the spirits of famous fictional characters.

Prominent People First appearance of Jerry O’Flynn

Deaths Not quite a death in the traditional sense, by Jerry being dragged away by Winnie the Pooh to “wait for his copyright to expire” is one of the series more comedic and disturbing images.

Hellblazer #24 – The Family Man

Plot - Crashing at one of Jerry O’Flynn’s other pads, John stumbles across another of Jerry’s side-lines- finding victims for a serial killer and then selling off serial killer belongings.

Prominent People First appearance of The Family Man.

Deaths A nice little scene where we seen the latest victims of The Family Man.

John Screws Up Without knowing what is going on, John hands The Family Man the information for his latest victim.

Hellblazer #25 – Early Warning

Plot - John journeys northward to Thursdyke- a town where strange experiments are conducted at the nuclear power plant. Experiments meant to unleash the beasts within the human psyche.

Prominent People First appearance of Una, a schizophrenic psychic John met while in Ravenscar. John also dons a Margaret Thatcher mask.

Pub Trivia - One of the two Hellblazer issues written by Grant Morrison.

Hellblazer #26 – How I Learned To Love The Bomb

Plot - Chaos envelopes Thursdyke, but it may have nothing to do with the experiments at the nuclear plant. This begs the question; can a town commit suicide?

Deaths - Pretty much the entire town, including Una, is nuked.

John Screws Up - John is rather embarrassed by how easily he was taken over and that his inner demons manifested as a desire to dress as Margaret Thatcher. Can’t blame him, really.

Pub Trivia - The second of the Hellblazer issues written by Grant Morrison.

Hellblazer #27 – Hold Me

Plot - John confronts a zombie who just wants to be loved and a woman who just wants him for his sperm.

Prominent People - First appearance of Anthea, a lesbian friend of Ray Monde.

Pub Trivia - This story is collected in the Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days TP and is reportedly based on something that really happened to Mr. Gaiman. (No word on if it was the lesbian wanting him to father her child or meeting the cold-radiating zombie of a homeless man). This is the only issue of Hellblazer he ever wrote and, probably because of his fanbase, one of the most popular and valuable.

Hellblazer #28 – Thicker Than Water

Plot - After three months of avoidance, John finally gets to work on hunting down The Family Man. Unfortunately, The Family Man is also hunting him.

Prominent People - First appearance of John’s father, Thomas Constantine.

Deaths - 9 on the dead tally. The Family Man kills Thomas in order to get back at John.

Hellblazer #29 – Sick At Heart

Plot - With The Family Man on his tail and his dad’s death on his conscience, John begins making plans to fight back.

Prominent People - First appearance of Chas’s cousin Norma, a girl who is “on the game” with whom John spends the night.

Pub Trivia - John is given an invitation to a serial killers convention meant for The Family Man. This refers to the now famous Serial Killer Convention shown in Sandman: The Doll’s House, which was published at the same time.

Hellblazer #30

Plot - The Family Man is closing in and John’s only way out may be to cross a line even he’s never dared crossed.

Deaths - 10 on the dead tally. John kills The Family Man.

Pub Trivia - This is the first time John has willingly murdered someone. It is also the first untitled Hellblazer story.

Hellblazer #31 – Mourning of the Magician

Plot - Gemma Masters is being haunted by the ghost of her grandfather and it’s up to Uncle John to put the dead to rest.

John Screws Up - We find out in this issue that John put a curse on his father as a teenager – one that linked his father’s soul to a dead cat and caused him to weaken as the cat decomposed. Relenting, John couldn’t break the spell but he did find a way to slow it by preserving the cat in a jar of formaldehyde which he buried by his mother’s grave. In this issue, he burns the corpse and frees his father’s spirit.

Hellblazer #32 – New Tricks

Plot - John investigates a series of odd disappearances only to find they are the work of an old Bulldog – a cop, that is - who found a found a way to bring himself back as a real old Bulldog, with the power to control other dogs...

Prominent People - First appearance, in the flesh, of John’s reporter contact Tony Baxter

Pub Trivia - Despite what the cover says, this actually was actually guest-written by Dick Foreman.

Hellblazer #33 – Sundays ARE Different

Plot - Another ecological metaphor tale – John has a surreal Sunday after running into an old friend who has become a 90’s man.

Prominent People - First appearance of Patrick McDonell, a reformed friend of John’s.

Hellblazer #34 – The Bogeyman

Plot - With recent events disturbing him, John tracks down Marj and Mercury for some healing, sexual and otherwise.

Prominent People - Marj and Mercury return. Reference is made to Zed and Errol appears in a brief cameo.

Hellblazer #35 – Dead Boy’s Heart

Plot - A flashback issue, we see a young John take his first steps towards using magic.

Prominent People - A teenage Cheryl Constantine is seen. We also see John’s Aunt Dolly for the first time.

Deaths - 11 on the dead tally. John accidentally kills “The Bogeyman”.

John Screws Up - Little John learns why you shouldn’t ever throw rocks.

Hellblazer #36 – The Undiscover’d Country

Plot - Angered by her view inside his soul, Mercury helps John astral project into a future incarnation of himself, so he can experience his death

Prominent People - The first appearance of an 80-year old John Constantine. Delano would do more with this idea in the Hellblazer: Bad Blood mini-series.

Deaths - John’s future self dies – drowning while trying to escape from a wild-dog pack.

Pub Trivia - Mercury makes the first reference to John’s brother. Marj also does a tarot reading about John that proves quite prophetic – “Creative Male Force blocked by Greed for Secret Knowledge – Wants to be a Parental Wiseman and Teacher but subconsciously craves unsymbolic sex. Excited by promise of the future by blocked by obsession and suppression of love. Living in a hopeful vision, passing time waiting for the rule of pattern to exert itself. Reaching for the freedom to experience all of life’s extremes – an outside, hung up trying to find the courage to break the Devil’s block”

Hellblazer #37 – Man’s Work

Plot - Dragged into the country by one of Mercury’s feelings, John wrestles with a broken bus and Mercury finds her first love – a young man in need of rescuing from a brutal father.

Prominent People - First appearance of Martin

John Screws Up - John proves equally incapable of repairing a motor vehicle as driving one.

Hellblazer #38 – Boy’s Games

Plot - Mercury takes center stage as she works her magic to save Martin

Pub Trivia - Along with #37, this marks one of the few times a Hellblazer story has not featured John as the main character or at least as a topic of conversation

Hellblazer #39 – The Hanged Man

Plot - Conflicted and worried about screwing up things for his friends, John goes on a spiritual journey after an unwelcome revelation regarding his past.

Prominent People - First appearance of “The Golden Boy”

John Screws Up - It is strong suggested that John was responsible for killing his twin brother in the womb.

Hellblazer #40 – Magus

Plot - In another reality, John Constantine is a powerful and respected magician. But an evil threatens his idyllic realm. An evil from within.

Recommended Reading

The first 12 issues should be required reading for any fan of the character. Shame that Original Sins only covers the first nine, for some strange reason.

The Fear Machine would really benefit from a TPB edition. In a monthly format, the story goes on way too long and indeed rumor has it that it was originally planned to run for a full year. Still, it isn’t a bad story though it does take forever to truly get started.

The Hanged Man story suffers somewhat for having the three month gap in the middle, but is one of the most effective Hellblazer stories ever, with John having to face a mundane evil that can’t be bluffed.

Grant Morrison has written a lot better than his two issues here. Indeed, this reads less like a Hellblazer story and more like an issue of Doom Patrol or The Invisibles.

Neil Gaiman’s one story depends entirely upon how much you like the idea of John Constantine as a basically decent bloke who acts like a bastard as opposed to BEING a bastard. If you like it, it’s one of the best ever. If you don’t, then it is one of the worst.

Dick Foreman’s one-shot is effective for what it is –a typical Hellblazer one-shot. John wanders in where he doesn’t belong and barely gets out alive.

Delano’s one-shots (13, 23 and 33) are all effective stories, as is the “present, past and future” spread of stories he does in #34-36. And Mercury deserved her own mini-series after the showing she gave in #37-38 – a shame some writer didn’t think to show what happened to The Mob after John’s departure.

I know some readers who are confused by the metaphors of 33 (John’s living nightmare about the 60’s idealism being converted into 90’s capitalism with a conscience) or put off by the environmental message of 13 and admittedly, they can be hard reads. But #23 and it’s tale of a man who becomes too much of a character to live a normal life is a wonder.

Equally confusing is Delano’s closing salvo, which ends with John’s friends in the Freedom Mob finding a tombstone with John’s name on it. I’ve heard conflicting ideas as to what actually happens in the last issue but my personal belief is that the souls of John and “The Golden Boy” twin join and are reborn, giving John a slightly brighter outlook (The John Constantine as written by Garth Ennis was a bit more upbeat) but no less worried about dooming his friends. Hence John leaving The Freedom Mob for a fresh start elsewhere.

The Final Analysis

Other writers may have become more acclaimed than Delano for their work with the character but there is no denying that he was the first and is one of the best to tackle the man and myth that is John Constantine. Garth Ennis, whom a fair number believe to be the best writer to handle the title, once said that his biggest challenge early on was thinking a way to match or top the quality and ideas of the man who had come before him.

In looking at these issues, I agree with Ennis’s assessment and can only imagine how daunting it was for him – who had little experience with American comics - to have to continue on after Delano brought the series to a masterful conclusion of sorts. Hellblazer could well have ended with issue #40 and it would have been a good story told.

But it didn’t stop, and thank goodness for it. For a while Ennis had a thankless task in trying to follow up Delano, he proved an apt successor. Indeed, the apprentice would quickly prove to be a capable magician in his own right.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Stan Lee Meets Dr. Strange - A Review

How is it that a story can be three things at the same time?

I ask this because I read the new Stan Lee Meets Dr. Strange book this week and I find myself puzzled by the second story in that collection. Written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley, the story is both a commentary on modern Marvel, a tribute to the old Stan Lee Tales of the Marvel Bullpen stories and a big upraised middle-finger to every Marvel Critic everywhere.

The plot focuses on The Impossible Man – the weird little green alien with reality altering powers who made life interesting for The Fantastic Four every once in a while. He shows up at the Baxter Building ready to cause mischief, only to find a laid-up Johnny Storm. Johnny explains that the rest of the team is gone – Ben has fled to Europe because of the Civil War between the superheroes in America.

Still looking for someone to play with, The Impossible Man teleports to the Avengers Mansion. Or rather, what WAS the Avengers Mansion. A helpful T-shirt vendor (selling “Not Like This!” memorial Hawkeye shirts) fills IM on what happened to The Mighty Avengers – namely that Scarlet Witch went crazy, blew up the mansion and killed Hawkeye. “And Ant-Man, but nobody seems to care about him,” the vendor notes sheepishly. After a quick glance at the top of the eyesore of a New Avengers base, The Impossible Man moves on to Xavier’s School.

The Impossible Man then spends a goodly while conversing with a random Asian female student. “Who cares?” she says when IM asks who she is. “I’ll be dead in six issues anyway!” IM is filled in on why exactly Sentinels are patrolling the grounds, why there are so few students and indeed, why there are a lot less mutants. Disgusted, The Impossible Man continues on to the Marvel Comics offices, where he is bumped from editor’s assistant to editor’s assistant.

If the idea of Tom Brevoort begging Mark Millar to turn in his Civil War script on time or Joe Quesada showing everyone the clip of him on The Colbert Report for the hundredth time is funny to you, then you’ll love this little section. (Tom Brevoort’s To-Do list includes “Listen to Ed Brubaker babble” and “Take It All Out on Dan Slott”) Not much happens concerning the plot, save that The Impossible Man cares only about talking to Stan Lee himself. And eventually, one of the aides tells him that Stan no longer works in New York – he’s out in Hollywood.

One quick trip later and IM is at the back of a line of other Marvel Comics characters who have complaints about how the company is being run without Stan Lee’s influence. Eventually, after a small fight scene, IM gets to speak to the Man himself. And Stan assures his creation that change is a part of life and comics and that people are always going to complain about change and life and by extension, comics. He notes how much hate mail he got over changing the team make-up of The Mighty Avengers when all of the original team left, leaving Captain America to lead a team of three reforming criminals in Avengers #16. He also notes slyly that he got more than a few complaints about a certain character being a rip-off of Mr. Myxlplyx.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This story is very funny in parts. The scenes in Marvel Comics offices are a nice tribute to the old stories Stan Lee wrote about what was going on in the Marvel bullpen. And this story does articulate most of the complaints that many critics of New Marvel quite well – ironic given that this story was written by the man responsible for so many of the big changes (and arguably, big problems) with the modern Marvel Universe.

At first, that was enough. I was amused by the story and I was glad to see that Bendis could poke fun at himself a little bit. His writing is hit or miss with me most of the time but even if I don’t like a writer’s writing I can usually at least respect them if they can laugh at themselves. And then I reread it to see if I missed any sly in-jokes in the panels – and that’s when it hit me.

There’s not a negative word to be said about any of the writing itself! Just the changes.

Now believe me, I understand the need for change and drama in comics as much as anyone, I’m a Kyle Rayner fan, for crying out loud! But there is a world of difference between the fanboy belly-aching about how all change is bad and the fanboy who says “Well, I think there could be a good story told about Peter Parker revealing his real identity to the world – I just don’t think THIS is a good story.”

Reed and Sue having marital strife? Ben leaving the Fantastic Four? The Avengers having a bunch of new misfit members? All of those stories have happened before and things turned out fine! So yes, people DO need to stop whining about that. But when remodeling a home, there is a world of difference in complaining about the new color of the kitchen and in complaining about the termites destroying the foundation.

Those of us who have questioned Tony Stark’s fall to the dark side, Reed Richards’ apparent indifference to Sue’s leaving him and killing off a no-name hero (and an Black hero at that) just to prove a point – those people, who are respectful in their questions, deserve answers.

What Bendis has done in this story is attempted to equate reasonable criticism with whiny trolling in an effort to dismiss both. In short, the story is a metaphor with Impossible Man playing all critics everywhere and Stan Lee as the voice of reason, according to Brian Michael Bendis.

And that is the most insulting part of this tribute book. For all his faults, Stan Lee has never tried to silence or dismiss his critics. Whenever talking about his past and some of the more questionable elements of how he has done business, he has always told his side and his side alone and left it for people to decide for themselves. In every print and tape interview I’ve seen, I have never seen him say a bad word about Kirby, Ditko or any of the other creators who felt they had been cheated by “The Man”.

When Stan Lee kids himself, there is something sincere in it. Consider the stories he wrote in the two “Stan Lee Meets-“ books so far. In the first, he promoted merchandising in order to get Peter Parker to stay Spider-Man, pointing out all the people – t-shirt makers, toy-makers and such- whose livelihood would be ruined without Spider-Man, not mentioning himself though he certainly did think about it. In the second, Stan Lee derides merchandising as he goes to visit Stephen Strange and finds out that the Sorcerer Supreme has taken to selling t-shirts and guided tours of his home in order to make ends meet.

Anyone here remember the musical Music Man? Stan Lee is our Harold Hill. Yes, he has an aura of questionable integrity barely concealed by a slick smile and a “trust me” wink. But when Stan tells a story or even just introduces a story, not only do you believe that the band and the instruments are real - they actually WERE real. He may have been a con-man but he his heart was in the right place when you got right down to it.

Stan mocked himself and his friends in his writing but never with any malice. The hobbyist themselves were rarely a target. And even on the rare occasions he has made fun of some of the scarier sects of Fandom, it has always been in a concerned and dare I say loving way, like his famous cameo in Mallrats.

Any hint of that love is absent from this tribute story. It is skillful, yes. It parodies the tone of Stan’s older works quite well, yes. But the wink to the camera isn’t there. The “don’t worry – it’s all a gag” smile is absent. The man who was once the heart and soul of Marvel Comics is truly gone.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Heroes, Civil War and More!

It’s official. I am addicted to Heroes. This is partly due to the execution and in part because I really DON’T know what to expect next. With the comic industry and a better part of comics fandom right now being so obsessed with previews and nearly every geek out there being eager to know more than all the other geeks out there like that makes them “better” somehow, it is welcome change to see something relating to superheroes that actually maintains the mystique and wonder of the genre.

So if you haven’t caught Heroes yet, do so. You won’t regret it. You should also give a look-see to the official on-line comic. It’s a pretty good read, particularly the most recent installment centering upon Hiro – the Japanese office worker who seems to have developed the ability to alter his position in time and space at will.

And speaking of comics, I believe I have a few – very few, since this was a light week – titles to review.

52 Week #22
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid
Art: Various

Give this one props for having a great parody title (if you don’t get the joke, ask your parents – assuming one of them read the old Gold Key comics in the 60s) but not much else. I am pleased to note that they finally explained away the 1990’s series where the Metal Men were retconned into being real people in robot bodies – especially if the explanation makes Doc Magnus into a somewhat more interesting, if troubled, character. Then again, that may be redundant for a man who created a nominally female robot who is madly in love with him.

Grade: B

Detective Comics #824
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Paul Dini
Artists: Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher

I may sound like a broken record, but Paul Dini is doing wonders on this title. He’s found the perfect blend of humor and mystery that made so many of his Batman: The Animated Series stories sparkle and, in doing so, he has made this the best Batman title in a long time. On the humor side, we have Bruce Wayne stuck with a nightmare date that only bares a slight resemblance to Paris Hilton and a new villain, Mr. Zzz – a narcoleptic who is an amazing fighter when he is asleep. On the mystery side, we have Penguin attempting to go legit as a nightclub/casino owner and someone attempting to the bank on his casino on opening night. All this and a Lois Lane cameo.

Grade: A

Doctor Strange: Oath #1
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Artist: Marcos Martin

I’ve given up my general disregard for all things Marvel at the moment in regards to this comic for two reasons. First, I’ve always had a weak spot for Dr. Strange and wish SOMEONE would do a monthly title for him. Second, this was written by Brian K. Vaughn. Brian K. Vaughn CAN’T write a bad comic. It’s impossible. Seriously. Beyond that, you really don’t need to know much about this going in. It’s a fairly standard plot – hero risks all to save a friend only to have things get more complicated. But it’s Brian Vaughn so it’s far from standard in execution.

Grade: A

Fantastic Four #540
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Mike McKone and Andy Lanning

Whoever is in quality control at Marvel needs to be fired. Now.

Seriously, you’d think it would be an easy matter to coordinate between TWO writers and get them to agree as to just exactly how and when Sue Richards left Reed Richards. But noooooooo.

(This last paragraph brought to you by Sarcasm Awareness Month.)

Mind you, I have a hard time believing that Sue would ever abandon her children and leave them with the man she’s leaving for being a fascist scumbag totally different than the man she loves and had children with. Still, I will give props to Straczynski for handling Sue in a slightly more believable manner here than the way Millar handled it in Civil War #4. Telling off Reed while holding back the tears (“Do you think I need you to protect me?”) vs. A ‘Dear John’ letter and disappearing into the night after honoring National Steak and a Blowjob day?

Grade: C

And speaking of Civil War, you can’t miss the best art-based parody of Civil War yet.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Looking To The Stars - All American Supergirl

I had something of a revelation this week at the comic shop while I was reading the new Supergirl. You see, last month I was told to read the book and I didn’t regret it, though I usually find Joe Kelly’s writing to be hit or miss. But this time – now that he is not tiding up Greg Rucka’s abandoned storylines – it seems that he is hitting the kind of notes he once played back in the days of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.

I say this because for the first time since her return, Kara Zor-El seemed to be a real teenage girl. I thought about why this should be so after reading Supergirl #10 and why so many of the professed fans of Supergirl whom I know can’t stand the way that Kara Zor-El is portrayed these days. And no, it has nothing to do with the anorexic way she is often drawn nor the belly-baring costume. Lest we forget, we’ve had a belly-baring Supergirl for a goodly while now – just not in the classic blue costume.

These friends of mine don’t like the idea of a Supergirl who tries smoking, hangs out with Captain Boomerang or who is actively trying to get away from her cousin’s shadow. But all of them agree with me that since her return in the pages of Superman/Batman, Kara Zor-El did not seem like a real teenage girl.

I reread the story that reintroduced Kara into the modern DC Comics Universe this past week and I had a further revelation – that the character of Supergirl has, in an odd way, always been a reflection of the zeitgeist (or spirit of the times) for young women in the United States of America.

Unfortunately for me, my research into the history of Supergirl found that someone had already written a rather good article on this point– Supergirl as the ideal All-American Girl – that repeated most of what I thought were brand new, original ideas. I highly recommend you all read this article by Mike Madrid [EDIT NOTE: Apparently Mike turned his articles about Supergirl into a book. You can read this chapter on-line here.] as it is one of the more thought provoking pieces regarding the character of Supergirl and how female characters are viewed I have ever seen.

Regardless, this had little effect on my original idea of Supergirl’s becoming more “real” as a female character. And having reread Jeph Loeb’s original story, I now see what the problem is.

Now, don’t misunderstand me- I like Jeph Loeb’s writing quite well and think he’s a very talented man. But I do believe that he is better at writing Icons than he is People. That is to say, he can write the larger than life colorful characters quite well but that he is somewhat less skilled in handling more common and realistic characters. To put it another way, he writes in metaphors quite well but isn’t much for plain speech.

This is all very well and good when dealing with iconic figures such as Superman and Batman... but not so good when you are introducing what is essentially a brand new character with a new personality. And here we have the problem. Kara, as written by Loeb, was not so much a teenage girl as she was a metaphor for ALL teenage girls.

Here’s the basic back-story. Kara arrives on Earth in a rocket launched from Krypton. She is found by Batman and Superman, who is astonished to find that the girl in this Kryptonian rocket is his cousin. After that, he locks her up inside the Fortress of Solitude and doesn’t let her out for an extended period while he himself is forced into hiding due to the Kryptonite raining down on the Earth at this time. Even when Batman chides him into letting her out, Clark is severely over-protective and doesn’t let this 16 year old girl out of his sight for a moment.

An overreaction? Without a doubt. And yet, this goes beyond Clark’s need to protect people in general or his worries about her adjusting to her new strength on Earth. It even goes beyond his selfish wanting to keep her around so he can learn more of Krypton from one who was old enough to (amnesia aside) remember it. Quite simply, Clark has fallen into the traditional father role – wanting to protect Kara from the world regardless of how mature she is and how ridiculously well protected she is from the physical dangers of Earth. He even goes so far as to literally lock her away from the world in an effort to protect her.

Wonder Woman learns of this and insists that being locked up anywhere is no place for a young girl who is, eventually, going to have to learn how to live in the world. Diana takes Kara to Themyscira – the Amazon homeland – and starts putting her through a boot camp of sorts over Superman’s objections. All part of Diana’s efforts to prepare Kara for what will, presumably, be a life of superheroism.

The problem here is that despite Diana’s good intentions in trying to prepare Kara for “the real world”, Amazon warrior training is not doing much in that regard. Oh, Kara has learned how to fight and how to control her powers much better. But Themyscira is not, for most people, the real world. Diana has forgotten that despite her power, Kara is still a young woman. More intelligent and wiser than her years, perhaps, but she still has a lot of growing up to do.

What is more, Diana has fallen into the same trap that her mother, Hippolyta, did years before. Hippolyta tried to guide Diana’s destiny and decide what was best for her – forbidding her to compete in the contests to become an ambassador to Man’s World because she thought Diana’s place was to be her successor and watch over the Amazon homeland. But Diana wanted more than that and knew she was destined for something other than what her mother saw for her. So it is with Diana and her own blindness as to the difference between what Kara needs and what Diana THINKS Kara needs.

In essence, Diana has become a foster mother to Kara. Like most mothers with regards to their daughters, they are a little more realistic about what to expect – at least, more so than fathers. Despite this, mothers are often quite clueless about how things have changed from when they were young. And despite Diana being the only child to be born and raised on Themyscria she seems surprisingly dense in regards to Kara’s similar status as an outsider. Wonder Woman confuses education with empowerment and leaves Kara with little of what she really needs – support. Small wonder then that the closest friend Kara seems to have among the women on Paradise Island in this opening story arc is the heroine Harbringer – who is not an Amazon and also separated from the Amazons who have never left the island by her power.

So here we have this girl – ripped from everything she ever knew and granted the powers of a god. She doesn’t remember much about her homeland and she’s as much of an outsider as you can be in her new one. Her closest relation has basically imprisoned her as part of his misguided efforts “to protect her” because he doesn’t trust her to be able to take care of herself. And then, when she finally does escape the prison she was in, she finds herself on what is an island paradise but is essentially just another prison. And yes, there are other women here she can talk to but they all see her as an outsider because of her age and her alien nature.

Taking all of this into account – an controlling father figure trying to keep her innocent, an oppressive mother figure pushing her towards adulthood and the general atmosphere of feeling imprisoned, mistrusted and like a perpetual outside and freak... Sweet Lord Almighty, is there any better description of the feelings of your average American teenage girl?

And I’m not even going to touch the fact that Kara’s first exposure to Earth culture is an island full of mostly gorgeous, mostly young, all-thin, physically perfect, scantily-clad women and the obvious comparisons to women’s portrayal in American Pop Culture. Too easy.

What isn’t immediately obvious is that until recently, Kara has been a blank slate with no real personality outside of being a metaphor for teenage girls in general. Her stories by Loeb were not so much about Kara as they were the reactions of other, more-developed characters to Kara. Much was said about Superman’s feelings about this cousin and wanting to protect her. Much was said about Batman’s suspicions regarding this long lost relative suddenly showing up. But even in the first few issues of her own book, Kara seems to be more of a reactive character – with the first few issues showing how The JSA, The Outsiders, The Teen Titans reacted to this new Supergirl – but very little was done to show how Kara was feeling about everything apart from her not feeling like she belonged anywhere and still felt mistrusted by everyone.

This is why Kelly’s run, even after only two issues, has been such a breath of fresh air. Yes, the idea of Kara being an outcast who feels (forgive the unintentional pun) alienated from everyone around her is still a strong theme but at least now she is doing something about the problem and trying to make a life for herself and friends outside of her being a superhero.

Speaking of friends, Good on Kelly for doing something Loeb neglected – setting up a friendship between Kara and Cassie “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark. Given the connection that both girls had as having Amazon-training while not actually being born and bred Amazons, it is amazing that the two never had a peaceful on-panel meeting until Supergirl #9 where Kelly showed the two morning the loss of Themyscria during Infinite Crisis together. Ditto Captain Boomerang.

Yes, I know. He’s a reformed (somewhat) villain in his early 20’s who is trying to make good and become a hero. And yet, who better for Supergirl to befriend out of all the new generation of heroes? Yes, he has a bad streak and no doubt part of Kara is attracted to the bad boy element and the fact that Clark would probably flip if he knew. But it goes deeper than that. For all his personality problems, Owen Mercer isn’t a judgmental person which is probably a welcome change for Kara given all the expectations everyone has of her based on her costume and her legacy. And who knows better about being mistrusted by other superheroes than a villain who is trying to reform?

Issue #10 was a perfect continuation of this theme and these relationships, with Kara trying to adopt a secret identity and become a “normal” girl for a time because of her need to try and fit in somewhere. And for a time, she does find a cliché that she can fit in with. But Owen and Cassie both warn her that what she’s experiencing isn’t typical and indeed Kara starts to remember her youth on Krypton and being taunted because of her family name (presumably Jor-El was the Al Gore of Krypton only even less respected) and this leads her to try and reach out to an overweight, unpopular girl.

Sadly, all Kara gets for her trouble is the experience of finding out that her friends aren’t really her friends and that the girl she tried to help would forget everything in order for a chance at revenge. – Kara having been blamed for a prank that completely humiliated the overweight girl. With nary a word, Kara removes her disguise and walks out of the school in costume, declaring that she’s decided she’s better off being herself than trying to fit in by being someone she’s not.

This is all metaphorical as well, of course. But for the first time, Kara shows signs of being concerned with acceptance on a normal level – not just as a superhero wanting the respect of her peers. And what is more she tries to be a better person and to make a difference on a level that doesn’t involve beating up Lex Luthor or pulling girls out of the way of oncoming cars. In short, she tries to be a good person and seems like an ordinary girl without doing anything super.

And that, to my mind at least, is everything Supergirl should be. Belly-bearing outfit or no.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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