For those playing catch-up, here’s PART ONE and PART TWO
And just so we know what the score is, once again, here’s all the 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, 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? So let’s get down to it and discuss...
The (brief) Return of Jamie Delano and (too brief) Run of Eddie Campbell
Issue #84 marked the start of what would become another tradition among Hellblazer writers – the brief return of an old writer to tell a new story. In this case, Delano explored one of the big unanswered questions regarding longtime Constantine companion Chas Chandler. We had heard John say several times, when Chas complained about John calling him yet again for a ride into some disaster area, that Chas owed him. Now we would learn the story of why.
This was followed by a four-issue mini-series by Eddie Campbell. Campbell was best known at the time for his work as an artist on From Hell with Alan Moore and was an accomplished writer/artist on his own self-published works. His one four-part story, Warped Notions, is a break-neck world-wide romp that, unusually for a Hellblazer story, seems to be require more issues than it was allowed.
Reportedly Vertigo editorial required numerous rewrites of the plot, which was more fantastic than horrific for their liking. Indeed, the story does feature some of the most overt use of magic and the supernatural of any John Constantine story ever and at times it feels more like an issue of The Invisibles than of Hellblazer. Despite this, I can’t help but like the story and wish Campbell might have been given a little more time to develop some of the ideas he was forced to deal with in brief here.
Hellblazer #84 – In Another Part of Hell
Plot - As John waits for Chas to return from the hospital with his daughter and first grandchild, he remembers how he and Chas met.
Prominent People - Bit of a family profile this. We get our first appearance of Chas’ wife Renee, Chas’ daughter Geraldine, Chas’ unnamed granddaughter, Chas’ mother Queenie Chandler and Queenie’s familiar, Stag.
Deaths - 21 and 22 on the dead tally. John strangles/drowns Stag and Queenie dies off camera due to her connection to Stag.
Pub Trivia - Though we have heard her shouting at Chas before in past issues, this is the first time we see Rene Chandler in the flesh.
Hellblazer #85 – The Delicate Power of Terror (Warped Notions, Part One)
Plot - While working on an exorcism for a friend, John is recruited into the latest incarnation of The Hellfire Club to stop the unraveling of reality.
Prominent People - First appearance of John’s friend Sam and her uncle Arthur. (Possible Bewitched reference?) The new Hellfire Club is led by the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood – the real life founder of what came to be known as the Hellfire Club in England. We also get introduced to Murnarr, a cat demon and the “unfortunate Bona Dea” – an armless and eyeless woman, which seems quite fitting if she truly is the goddess of the positive divine aspects of women, given how badly the feminine divine has been abused in the world of Hellblazer.
Pub Trivia - This may just be me, but I think the possessed Uncle Arthur DOES look a bit like Paul Lynde. Can anyone get a hold of Sean Phillips to confirm this?
Hellblazer #86 – The Everything Virus (Warped Notions, Part Two)
Plot - Gone to America, John meets Ben Franklin and is abducted by The Church of Virtual Reality, who believe a virus unleashed by deforestation is responsible for destroying reality.
Prominent People - The ghost of Ben Franklin (a real life friend to the real-life Sir Francis Dashwood) makes an appearance. We also have the first (and last) appearance of several members of The Church of Virtual Reality.
Deaths - Murnarr kills all of the Church of Virtual Reality members who are holding John, just as they are letting him go.
Hellblazer #87 – The Shout (Warped Notions, Part Three)
Plot - An emergency landing in Australia gets John to start questioning exactly what is causing reality to go crazy.
Prominent People - First appearance of Jeffo, an Aboriginal shaman and The Rainbow Serpent (a major god of the Aboriginal faith)
Deaths - Murnarr is struck by lightning while in battle with The Rainbow Serpent
John Screws Up - John has a revelation here that Sir Dashwood is the cause of reality’s collapse and that John’s helping him has only been facilitating a plan that would allow Dashwood greater power over the world. Ironically, this comes about as he’s watching Murder She Wrote in a pub and jokes that Angela Lansbury’s character must be a serial killer, all the times she keeps winding up at murder scenes.
Hellblazer #88 – Mountains of Madness (Warped Notions, Part Four)
Plot - John ventures into the rainforest, looking for a remote place to confront Sir Francis Dashwood.
Prominent People - First appearance of Delvene, an Aussie ship captain.
And now that that brief digression is out of the way, let us move on to the next major author to write a substantial portion of the Hellblazer mythology. I speak of the Yorkshire-born writer/editor for Mirage Comics (yes, the Ninja Turtle guys) and all around loveable guy, Paul Jenkins.
The Paul Jenkins Era
If Ennis had a tough time of it following Delano, than Jenkins had the toughest start of any Hellblazer writer to date. Like Ennis, he was an unknown and unproven writer in the American comic book arena. But unlike Ennis, Jenkins had the misfortune to follow after not one but three acclaimed writers. Despite the misgivings some had over Campbell’s brief Hellblazer run, he was still respected for his work on From Hell. Delano’s recent turn with #84 had shown new and old fans alike how it all got started. And Ennis had just recently started a new series, Preacher with frequent Hellblazer artist Steve Dillon that was won acclaim and attention from the very first issue.
Faced with such a legacy and pedigree behind him, Jenkins started his run the only way he could – by building on what had come before. His run would start with a tale using the characters from Campbell’s brief run as John had one more adventure in Australia. Later, he would take the book back to its’ Delano roots by doing more stories based on the unique mythology of England than the more Judeo-Christian themes explored by Ennis. But like Ennis, Jenkins would expand upon John’s past, introducing thus far unseen members of John’s wide circle of friends while utilizing some of the few members of Ennis’ cast that still lived.
Hellblazer #89 – Dreamtime
Plot - John learns from Jeffo that the Rainbow Serpent is planning to bring about the end of the world for “the white men” – unless he can con his way into saving a sacred site from land developers.
Prominent People - First appearance of Kate Grimshaw (a racist Aussie land-owner and right nasty cow)
Hellblazer #90 – Dangerous Ground
Plot - John comes face to face with The Rainbow Serpent and cuts a deal to save the white man and let the Serpent save face before her followers.
Prominent People - JFK’s face appears in a mural of Dreamtime images.
Deaths - A very cool scene here as Kate Grimshaw and her thugs are eaten by the Rainbow Serpent. Or an Earthquake, depending on your viewpoint.
Hellblazer #91 – Riding The Green Lanes
Plot - John runs into some old friends and goes to a punk gathering where a battle with police mixes with a ghostly memory of the War of the Roses. And John puts to rest the spirit of an old friend who disappeared while trying to fly on his bike.
Prominent People - First appearance of Rich The Punk (an old friend from John’s punk-rocker days), Michelle (Rich’s green-haired wife) Syder (Rich and Michelle’s son), Deanie (an old friend of John’s who loved bike-riding) and Muppet (a right nasty man with nasty habits)
Deaths - Quite a few bloody soldiers as the war goes on. John helps Dean to pass-on to the other side.
Pub Trivia - Rich’s nickname for John is “Conjob”. Rich is also reportedly based on Paul Jenkins’ brother. This issue is also somewhat famous as “The one with the ET parody cover”.
Hellblazer #92 – Bait (Critical Mass, Part One)
Plot - As John tries to enjoy a peaceful weekend of ghost-hunting, plans are put in motion to bring The First of the Fallen back to power.
Prominent People - First appearance of Buer (once a contemporary of Aleister Crowley, now a masochist demon lord in love with The First of the Fallen, who sees to all the children trapped in Hell). There’s also a flashback where we see most of John’s friends involved in the Newcastle incident.
John Screws Up - Really, the blame could fall on Rich and Michelle for not doing their job as parents and watching their child themselves, but if John had been watching Syder instead of watching his friends play, Buer would never have gotten a hold of Syder.
Pub Trivia - We find out the First of the Fallen didn’t die at the end of “Rake at the Gates of Hell” but was instead rendered mortal and that to rule Hell once again, he must win the soul of “the one most hated” (i.e. John Constantine). Also, we learn that John’s demon blood bubbles at the presence of true evil in the air, giving him a sort of proximity alarm of bad things coming.
Hellblazer #93 – Troubled Waters (Critical Mass, Part Two)
Plot - Faced with the ultimatum of giving up his soul or allowing Syder to become a plaything of Hell, John goes looking for an answer in the mystic town of Abaton.
Prominent People - First appearance (in this series anyway) of Jack of the Green – a plant elemental, like Swamp Thing, who is mystically bound to the green lands of England. Also the first appearance of Robert the Smith (aka Robin Hood) and Maewren, a seductress fae. Astra, or a vision of her, appears briefly being tortured by Buer.
John Screws Up - Because John has a demon’s blood, he is considered, by the laws of Hell, to be at least a demon on paper and responsible for the debts of the demon whose blood he shares. It is through this loophole that Buer is able to take possession of Syder. In short, it’s all John’s fault.
Hellblazer #94 – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Critical Mass, Part Three)
Plot - Finding he is doomed to Hell and haunted by visions of children suffering, John considers his bleak plight only to get some unexpected help from... a stranger.
Prominent People - Cameo appearance by The Phantom Stranger, who is amazingly eager to help John given his treatment back in Hellblazer #63. Reference is also made to “The Dream Lord” (aka Morpheus) who allows The Phantom Stranger to visit John in his dreams.
Hellblazer #95 – Coming Up For Air (Critical Mass, Part Four)
Plot - Inspired by a wrong number, John heads to Scotland in search of a legend. But is it inspiration? Or have the visions of children in Hell finally destroyed John’s mind along with his quickly rotting body?
Prominent People - Alister Crowley, an infamous real life magician of referred to appears in the flesh for the first time – apparently alive and well and hiding in a series of magic circles on a lake shore in Scotland for about 40 years. Also, the first appearance of what will become The Demonic John Constantine.
Hellblazer #96 – Hook, Line and Sinker (Critical Mass, Part Five)
Plot - With the soula of Syder and every child doomed to Hell in the balance, including Astra whom he was responsible for damning 15 years before, John pulls the ultimate con on Hell once again. But will there be a happy ending for John even if he can save the children?
Deaths - The First of the Fallen claims Buer’s soul along with The Demon John Constantine. Cameo appearance by John’s succubus friend Ellie.
John Screws Up - John almost pulls off a total victory. He saves Astra from Hell, along with every other child ever condemned to damnation. He gets rid of all the bad parts of his own soul, allowing the darker part of himself to ascend to demonhood in Hell. And he puts the screws to Buer but good by fulfilling the letter of the law if not the spirit (i.e. John’s sins plus his love for Kit grafted onto Alister Crowley’s soul) and bringing the First of the Fallen back but leaving him unable to get to the sweet spots of John Constantine – the only bits of the soul worth having for a demon. Yes, it works pretty well... except the Ellie, who saved John’s arse in “Rake at the Gates of Hell” now has the Devil tearing Hell apart looking for the one who helped John Constantine defeat him. John says it best – “I’ve given myself a chance at a better life – a fresh start with no complications and unnecessary baggage. Two hours in and already I’ve started to bugger it up...”
Hellblazer #97 – The Nature of the Beast
Plot - A chance walk into the woods at night leads John to a most unusual Tarot reading from a most unusual teller.
Prominent People - First appearance of Tom the Gypsy Shepherd (aka the Judeo-Christian God Almighty)
John Screws Up - Though John is attempting a fresh start in life, we get our first foreshadowing here that John is going to, sooner or later, return to his usual wicked ways.
Pub Trivia - The Tarot reading John receives is a basic past-present-future reading that results in The Fox (trickery and deceit), The Butterfly (change and choice) and The Fox.
Hellblazer #98 – Walking the Dog
Plot - John is called in to rid a friend’s flat of the angry spirit of an abused dog.
Prominent People - First appearance of Staff (a huge epileptic man and old friend of John’s), Betty (Straff’s equally epileptic mother) and Lofty (Muppet’s best friend)
Hellblazer #99 – Punkin’ Up The Great Outdoors
Plot - John plans a day trip to Abaton, only to have things go horribly wrong for two of his friends.
Prominent People - First appearance of Terry and Sadie, two more of John’s friends from his punk days.
Deaths - 23 and 24 on the Death Tally. Because of their breaking the rules of Abaton, reality shifts so that Terry and Sadie – once a happy couple and happier in Abaton where their spirits were free of their troubled life – are less happy. Terry is left drugged out of his gourd, his mind truly in Abaton most of the time and Sadie, denied the same bliss, drowns herself.
John Screws Up - If John had never taken his friends to Abaton, Sadie and Terry might have survived in their slightly less miserable state.
Hellblazer #100 –
Plot - Knocked into a coma as his wicked lifestyle plays havoc on his newly purified body, John’s soul is taken on a tour of a remodeled Hell and to a meeting with his dear damned father.
Prominent People - Thomas Constantine, John’s father, makes an appearance here. He’s been damned to Hell by the hatred of his own son and for causing the death of his wife.
Deaths - It is revealed that Thomas Constantine was responsible for his wife’s death, having forced her to have an abortion while she was pregnant with John. His punishment for this in Hell is to be strung up by a string of wire coat-hangers.
Pub Trivia - The details of John’s birth here seem to contradict those shown during issues #39-40 with nothing being said of “The Golden Boy” (aka John’s healthier twin), suggesting that either John and The Golden Boy both had flawed visions of their respective births based on Thomas’ lies to them OR that when they were reborn in #40 reality was rewritten so there had only ever been one John Constantine in both realities, who wasn’t born in a hospital.
Hellblazer #101 – Football: It's a Funny Old Game
Plot - John is dragged out of his sick bed to go to what promises to be a relaxing English soccer game. At least until the demonic manifestation of football hooliganism shows up.
Prominent People - First appearance of The Football Hooligan Demon (FHD).
Deaths - 25 on the death tally. John picks a random hooligan causing trouble to satisfy the blood lust of The FHD
John Screws Up - John is forced to pick a random stranger so that the FHDwill be appeased and not start a riot.
Hellblazer #102 – The Single Sided Coin (Difficult Beginnings, Part One)
Plot - Feeling bored with life, John starts looking for answers – only to find that he must regain his dark side or be destroyed.
Prominent People - First appearance of Wong- a Chinese restaurant manager and I-Ching reader. First appearance of Mr. Dalton-Brewer, the evil doctor in charge of John’s care in Ravenscar.
John Screws Up - We find out here that in pulling the con he did in Critical Mass, John has screwed up his internal balance. There is no Yang to his Yin any more.
Pub Trivia - John is told by his I Ching reading that to find his balance again he must take a journey to become whole. The places he must go are The Earth (i.e. the forest in #98) A Place of Thunder (Ravenscar Asylum, where he goes at the end of this issue), A Place of Water – and then he will go either to The Mountain (for balance) or The Fire (for a darkening of the light).
Hellblazer #103 – The Trouble With Worms (Difficult Beginnings, Part Two)
Plot - John rides the Synchronicity Highway looking for his place of water, only to uncover the terrible secret of the most evil man in Britain.
Prominent People - First appearance of Trevor Pritchard, a grandfather and bait-salesman whose faked serial killer confession wound up delaying the police investigation of The Yorkshire Slasher, allowing the killer to claim another victim before being caught. We also see the first appearance of The Demon Constantine, as a demon.
Hellblazer #104 – The Darkening of the Light (Difficult Beginnings, Part Three)
Plot - With his bad self refusing to rejoin him, John’s only hope at regaining a dark-side lies in screwing an old friend. Literally.
Prominent People - Cameo appearances by Ellie, Alister Crowley (as the soul at the core of the Demon John being tortured) and The First of the Fallen.
John Screws Up - We find out here that when John created the sigil that protected Ellie from The First of The Fallen (way back in #61), he put some of his blood into the mix. What this means is that when John dies, the sigil loses its’ power. While this does keep Ellie from killing John after he uses her (sex with a succubus being as corrupting a force as any), this will have dire consequences for John later in the Jenkins’ run.
Hellblazer #105 – A Taste of Heaven
Plot - John and Rich take a job as landscapers and John is told a tale of his ancestor, James Constantine.
Prominent People - First appearance of John’s 17th century ancestor, the magus/con-man James Constantine. Cameo by Kubla Khan author Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Pub Trivia - We find out in this story that John’s ancestor was the infamous “Person from Porlock” who interrupted Coleridge as he was writing Kubla Khan.
Hellblazer #106 – In The Line of Fire, Part One
Plot - John investigates a house that doesn’t exist and the ghost of a man who killed himself after he lost the girl he gave his all for.
Prominent People - First appearance of Jack Loudfoot (ghost of a WWII soldier at Dunkirk), Ellen (aka Nellie – Jack’s fiancé) and Bill Greenwood (friend of John and Nellie’s eventual husband)
Hellblazer #107 – In The Line of Fire, Part Two
Plot - John tries to put the ghost of Jack Loudfoot to rest, if not at peace.
Prominent People - First appearance of Weeble – a medium friend of John’s.
Hellblazer #108 – Days of Wine and Roses
Plot - John scores an invite to a high-society orgy with blackmail on his mind. Little does he realize that his fake fertility rite will have dire consequences.
Prominent People - First appearance of The Mendw, “the he and she of wine and flower”- nature spirits connected to The Green that seem similar to the Bacchae of Greek Myth.
Deaths - 26 on the dead tally. John’s summoning kills Jason Carpenter, a total bastard of a man, is ripped apart by The Mendw after trying to rape his own daughter.
John Screws Up - John’s summoning gets a man killed though it is no small loss given the man.
Hellblazer #109 – The Wild Hunt
Plot - John is dragged to the country to investigate a series of sheep killings, finding a werewolf and a sign of bad things coming.
Prominent People - First appearance of Chas’ Uncle Wilf, a shepherd and Phil, Chas’ cousin. More importantly, the first appearance of Danita “Dani” Wright – an American tabloid reporter and eventually JC love interest.
Deaths - While not really a death per say, Phil gets infected by lycanthropy and is forced to join with a tribe of werewolves leaving John to explain his disappearance to Phil’s parents and Chas.
Pub Trivia - This marks the moment John finds out that spirits, fairies and werewolves are, for some reason, being forced back into a world that no longer has room for them and it’s up to him to fix it.
Hellblazer #110 – A Different Kind of Tension (Last Man Standing, Part One of Five)
Plot - John’s found happiness in a new relationship, so the end of it all must be near. Signs and portents fortel the death of England as a Mr. Meardon plots to pave the last sacred sites of England and King Arthur’s knights rise up to search for their lost lord.
Prominent People - First appearances of Arthur’s last knights (Owain, Sgilti, Afagddu and Sandda) as well as Mr. Meardon (aka Merlin)
Pub Trivia - In this issue, John and Dani officially become a couple. And John is formally asked to be Godfather to Rich and Michelle’s new baby. Also, Sir Francis Drake’s drum beating itself and the ravens fleeing the Tower of London are true legendary portents of bad times falling upon England.
Hellblazer #111 – No More Heroes (Last Man Standing, Part Two of Five)
Plot - John learns of Merlin’s plot and that he must find the one true heir to Arthur’s throne to save England. Good news is he finds him easily. Bad news is it’s Rich the Punk.
Prominent People - First appearance of Dez, a computer-geek friend of John’s. (No relation to the now-dead Dez of the Ennis run, obviously)
Deaths - 27 on the death tally. Dez is killed as soon as he is introduced, to prove to John that Merlin can get at any of his friends at anytime. Merlin’s men kill the knights pretty easily but it is, we are reassured, not permanent given the blessing the knights have.
Hellblazer #112 – Human Punk (Last Man Standing, Part Three of Five)
Plot - Stoned out of his gourd, Rich is sent on a spiritual journey to reclaim the casket that Merlin seeks, as John stands buy waiting for an answer.
Prominent People - First appearance of Bran the Blessed (a severed head). Cameo appearance by Geoffrey Chaucer – author of The Canterbury Tales.
Pub Trivia - Bran the Blessed bears more than a striking resemblance to actor Brian Blessed.
Hellblazer #113 – You’re Just A... (Last Man Standing, Part Four of Five)
Plot - John tries to scare his friends off with the truth and a most horrific meal. But Merlin’s plans are easily adaptable and while John may have averted disaster for England, his friends may pay the price regardless.
Deaths - 28 on the death tally, though we don’t find out until next issue. John stews Bran the Blessed’s head so that the knowledge he safeguarded will be spread about all of John’s friends.
Hellblazer #114 – No One Is Innocent (Last Man Standing, Part Five of Five)
Plot - With all his friends’ on the line, John lets Merlin in on his master-plan and King Arthur returns in the flesh to explain all.
Prominent People - King Arthur, seen before in John’s visions, makes his first true appearance.
John Screws Up - John pulls a total bastard maneuver, breaking up with Dani and saying she’ll never see him again only to show up on her doorstep saying he’s changed his mind.
Hellblazer #115 – In The Red Corner
Plot - When Dani’s abusive ex-boyfriend makes a move on her, John sets about revenge as only he can.
Prominent People - First appearance of Lady Jamma (a voodoo priestess) and Greg, Dani’s ex.
Hellblazer #116 – Windershins, Part One
Plot - John and Rich’s gang join in to help a friend move, as the ghosts of a local cemetery suddenly become restless.
Prominent People - First appearance of Solobodan (a Serbian immigrant and ex-soldier) and his daughter.
Hellblazer #117 – Windershins, Part Two
Plot - The cause of supernatural unrest proves to have a most mundane cause. And for once, John is able to fix the signs of the problem.
Prominent People - Cameo appearance by Sir Francis Bacon in flashback.
Hellblazer #118 – Life and Death and Taxis
Plot - John winds up leading two hurried trips to the hospital as Michelle goes into labor and Straff’s mother has a heart attack.
Prominent People - First appearance of Ivy Mae (Rich and Michelle's baby daughter)
Deaths - Betty, Straff’s mother, dies in the hospital at the same time Ivy Mae is born.
Hellblazer #119 – Undertow
Plot - While trying to replace Dani’s dead goldfish, John is suddenly hit by a psychic vision of the spirit of disaster infecting a small airplane above him.
Hellblazer #120 – Desperately Seeking Something
Plot - An exercise in meta-fiction, John, self-aware that he is a fictional character for one story, takes the reader on a personal journey into his world.
Prominent People - First appearances of Archie Fein (who runs a magic shop), Tony (a friend who does a miracle healing scam) and Chas’s Uncle Dave, a ventriloquist who once helped Chas play a joke on the too serious John. As for reoccurring characters, Chripes, who DOESN’T reappear in this issue? Among the confirmed real-life living folks represented are John Constantine writers Alan Moore (in silhouette), Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano and Paul Jenkins (aka Rich’s little brother) – Hellblazer artists Will Simpson and Sean Phillips. – Hellblazer editors Lou Stathis, Stuart Moore and Axel Alonso. Jack of the Green and King Arthur appear and Death of the Endless makes an appearance as the bartender in the bar hosting the Ghostly Horde of those killed because of their connections to Constantine. This includes Gary Lester, Ray Monde, Ric the Vic, Header, Astra, Thomas Constantine, Nigel Archer, Brendan Finn, Kate Grimshaw, Sister Ann Marie and Frank North.
John Screws Up - John botches the containment of the demon he wishes to show the reader.
Pub Trivia - Despite having been freed to Heaven or having died in a manner unrelated to John’s dealings, Astra and Brendan Finn are seen with the ghostly horde. This seems to lend credence to the theory that the ghosts are just figments of John’s guilt-ridden imagination. Problem with that theory is, when we see them in this issue, John is nowhere in sight. Perhaps they get a day-pass from Heaven to haunt John out of sympathy for the friends John was responsible for leading astray. The reader is also offered a bribe by John for keeping his darkest secret – he makes dollhouse furniture as a hobby.
Hellblazer #121 – Up the Down Staircase, Part One
Plot - John travels to American to meet Dani’s family, only to bring a certain unwanted someone along with him. Meanwhile, Gavin, an old associate of Constantine contemplates suicide over the death of his girlfriend, Pam.
Prominent People - First appearance of Dani’s family, including her grandfather, mother Mary, uncle Fred, cousin Terrel, Terrel’s wife “The Zombie” and Dani’s brothers Kyle, Ethan and Eldrick. Also the first appearance of Gavin and Pam.
Hellblazer #122 – Up the Down Staircase, Part Two
Plot - Pam returns to Gavin, hole in her head and all. Meanwhile, The First of the Fallen taunts John with how the consumerist American lifestyle is bringing the whole nation over to the side of the devils as John must ask himself one question to stop it; what is a quiz?
Prominent People - First appearance of Lenny (a hypnotist con-artist) and George (a Vietnam Vet)
Hellblazer #123 – Up the Down Staircase, Part Three
Plot - Pam tells Gavin that John Constantine was to blame for her death, not him. Meanwhile, tensions mount in the Wright family household as John struggles to find out what a quiz is and turns to the unlikely George for an answer.
Hellblazer #124 – Up the Down Staircase, Part Four
Plot - John gets Weeble and Lenny to help him with freeing Dani’s family of the greed and consumerism that threatens to destroy them. Meanwhile, Gavin – spurred on by what he thinks is the ghost of Pam – sets about destroying John Constantine.
Hellblazer #125 – Blowing on the Embers (How To Play With Fire, Part One)
Plot - Gavin and “Pam” put their plans into motion as Muppet is injured in a car wreck and The Demon Beur is summoned to goad Lofty into wrath against John Constantine. Slobodan is forced to relive the nightmares of his time in war, while being told John is the one responsible. Finally, Jack of the Green is forced to remove Abaton from the mortal world, due to Muppet’s injury releasing the power within him. And “Pam” reveals herself to be Ellie.
John Screws Up - While John’s actions in Last Man Standing helped to stop Merlin at the time (i.e. take the poison meant to destroy all the immortals on Earth), here they lead to the accidental poisoning of the fairy realm of Abaton when Muppet is injured. Also, it is worth noting again that had John been straight with Ellie about why he needed to sleep with her before, he might well have avoided spurring her to revenge.
Hellblazer #126 – Fanning the Flames (How To Play With Fire, Part Two)
Plot - Ellie’s plans continue to unfold, as Bauer bargains with Crowley to remove Weeble from the picture and end his own personal torments. Straf becomes lost in his own torments and the Masters family become haunted by images of Thomas Constantine’s torture in Hell. John finds out the Demon Constantine is now suffering the full pain of Hell, with Crowley having won his freedom. And Ellie breaks up John’s relationship with Dani, after framing him for cheating on her.
Hellblazer #127 – Burning Down The House (How To Play With Fire, Part Three)
Plot - Faced with no other options before him, John sells his soul to The First of the Fallen to save his friends and then goes to God for some answers.
Deaths - 29 on the Death Tally. Ellie may not be technically alive, but John does set about making her eternal state of existence awfully unpleasant.
Hellblazer #128 – Sifting Through the Ashes (How To Play With Fire, Part Four)
Plot - John has a chat with God and tries to bargain his soul back with the threat of his taking over Hell.
Prominent People - Triskele, Wyrm Queen of the Succubae makes an appearance torturing Ellie. Beur is also back in Hell, being tormented by The First of the Fallen AND The Demon Constantine.
John Screws Up - John says it himself as he reflects on how he saved his friends, but can’t ever see most of them again. “In the end, it didn’t work out too terribly. Really. I mean, nobody got hurt too badly. Nothing that can’t be fixed, given enough time. Nobody died. Except me.”
All of Jenkins’ multi-part stories are worth checking out, in my humble opinion. Critical Mass compares quite well to Ennis’ first ‘John Outsmarts Hell’ tale Dangerous Habits and How To Play With Fire is every bit the equal of Rake At The Gates of Hell as far as conclusions go. Indeed, I actually find Up The Down Staircase to be a superior Brit criticism of American culture than Ennis’ Damnation’s Flame.
Some of the single-issue stories are hit-and-miss, but not particularly bad if just not as epic as one expects from a Hellblazer story. Windershins is perhaps the most most anti-climactic Hellblazer story ever, as John stops a supernatural invasion by turning a directional sign around.
Issues #100 and #120 however, should be required reading for any fan of the character and indeed, should be collected in a TP edition along with other brief stories of note.
The Final Analysis
Most Hellblazer writers can have their vision of John Constantine divided into one of two camps – Good-Hearted Fool or Total Bastard. Jenkins’ John Constantine is easily one of the former. And this is why I believe many fans late to Hellblazer eschew the Jenkins run.
Many of these fans, coming to the book from the fandom of the other works of Ennis, Ellis or Azzarello do not want to read about a John Constantine who has any emotions apart from guilt and contempt. They do not want John to have any motivations for what he does other than self-preservation and the curiosity of a child poking a chained dog with a stick. And then certainly don’t want John to contemplate, however briefly, the idea of settling down and trying to have as normal a life as possible. Perhaps this is why Jenkins’ work continues to be the only major part of the series not collected in trade-paperback form?
Or perhaps it is simple marketing - all the other major authors on Hellblazer, who had their works made into TP format wrote acclaimed works for Vertigo and Wildstorm Comics. Perhaps their stories were traded only to take more money out of the fans of 100 Bullets, Preacher and The Authority?
Or perhaps it is simple politics and the fact that after his Hellblazer run, Jenkins was signed on by Marvel and went on to become a popular writer on Spider-Man?
Whatever the case, the fact that such pivotal stories as Critical Mass and How To Play With Fire go uncollected while rather lackluster stories like Freezes Over are put into TP format is nothing less than criminal.
This is not to say that Jenkins’ run was entirely flawless. But I do not believe it is all as bad as its’ critics claim. Their main beef with Jenkins’ work seems to be that it is not Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer.
Some claim that Jenkins work is too derivative of Ennis’ while lacking the stomach to be as gruesome. While it is fair to say that Jenkins did borrow a lot of characters and concepts from Ennis’ work (and indeed, Delano’s run), I believe it was more to continue a legacy than to steal from the ghosts of the past - to stand on the shoulders of giants to see further, as Sir Issac Newton once said.
As for the charges that Jenkins was never gruesome, I don’t recall Ennis’ John Constantine tricking his friends into committing cannibalism. But then again, my sense of gruesome extends past vomiting blood and gaping wounds.
As for the supporting cast, while it is true that Rich, Michelle, Dani and company were not quite as colorful as Brendan, Ric the Vic and Header, they were never meant to be. Jenkins run introduced a sort of mid-life crisis to John – something he had never truly had despite his worries about growing older in the Ennis run – hence the more low-key and domestic characters to show John another path taken by the people he once lived the wild life with.
I think perhaps the problem is that Jenkins made these characters too complex compared to the rather broad supporting cast Ennis and Delano favored. Great as all these characters are, it took a lot more time to set up family-man punk Rich than it did to set up the stereotypes of Ennis’ hard-drinking Irish magician Brendan or Delano’s Rastafarian hippie Errol. To the mind of many fans, this difference was bad, though Jenkins is now celebrated for his ability to create such nuanced supporting characters.
The one bit of criticism I do agree with is that Dani was a rather poor choice for a Constantine love-interest. She was a good character but she was no Kit Ryan and her whirlwind courtship with John was too much, too fast compared to the slow courtship Kit and John had under Ennis. But given the trauma that John had come though, his falling for a more openly loving, more “normal” woman made an odd sort of sense for a rebound relationship.
In conclusion, Jenkins run is the buried treasure of the Hellblazer series. It may not shine as bright as the golden age of Garth Ennis. But it shines like sterling silver, nevertheless.
Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.