Saturday, December 30, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Hellblazer Episode Guide, Part Six

For those playing catch-up, here’s

And 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 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 to the last, and most recent, of the extended 40-issue Hellblazer runs...

The Mike Carey Run

Hellblazer #175-215

It was a time of rebirth for Vertigo Comics in late 2002. Sales were down across the board and many of the flagship titles that started the line were floundering or dead. Brian Vaughn, not yet the darling of fanboys everywhere, had ended a two-year run on Swamp Thing that was a critical disappointment. Hellblazer was in similarly dire straits, both with fans and critics. And even Sandman continued on only in a series of specials of varying quality and in a spin-off series staring Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer. This later book, easily the finest quality book Vertigo had at the time, was written by man named Mike Carey.

Perhaps Vertigo placed Carey on Hellblazer because of his success in creating a Sandman spin-off that was accepted by fans (who were notoriously harsh about anyone trying to follow up Neil Gaiman) and beloved by critics and hoped he could do the same to Hellblazer following the much-loathed Azzarello run. Perhaps it was because of his background in British comics, having created original series for 2000AD - which had proved to be a common factor in the background of the all the “great” writers of John Constantine. Or perhaps it was because Carey was, like John, a man of middle-years born-in-Liverpool and living in London.

Whatever the case, Carey’s first story on Hellblazer was a literal and figurative homecoming for the character after three years of being dragged around The States. It even featured artwork by Steve Dillon, considered by most to be the definitive Hellblazer artist. But would this prove to be enough to win back the fans? Only time would tell that tale...

Hellblazer #175 – High On Life (Part One of Two)

Plot - Newly returned to England, John sets about making contact with his family only to get dragged into a magical mystery involving the aura of evil that envelopes his sister’s new flat and a series of murdered young women.

Prominent People - First appearances of Angie Spatchcock (a waitress and amateur magician), Gladys Wren (a witch), Nigel Wren (Gladys’ skinhead son) and another unnamed man, who calls Gladys “mom” in the next issue. Appearances by Cheryl Masters (John’s older sister) and Tony Masters (Cheryl’s husband).

Pub Trivia - We find out that Cheryl and Gemma did receive word of John’s apparent death in an American prison (Hard Time). Gemma also apparently left home and become a teaching assistant in France and she sends postcards home though she never calls.

Hellblazer #176 – High On Life (Part Two of Two)

Plot - After seeing Angie to the hospital (and giving her a healing dose of his demonic blood), John sets about getting some answers from Mrs. Gladys Wren.

Prominent People - Cameo appearance by Watford, a policeman colleague of John’s from the Warren Ellis run.

Deaths - 38 on the death tally. Gladys dies of shock after being attacked by the ghost of one of the girls she was indirectly responsible for killing. It is possible, but unclear, that John may have killed the hood that attacked him with a broken bottle and that Angie may have killed Nigel with her attack on him. While such attacks aren’t usually lethal, it looks like the two murderers may have been left for dead and nothing is said about taking them to the police. The resolution here is somewhat unclear.

John Screws Up - John injects some of his demonic blood into Angie’s IV tube in the hospital in order to speed her recovery time so he can question her about her attackers and what she found out about Gladys’ apartment. He notes later that this was a mistake as Angie is just a dabbler and may not be ready to pursue the life a magus.

Pub Trivia - A hint of trouble to come – despite using an alias when talking to her, Gladys Wren calls John “Constantine” at one point, tipping off John that someone is messing with him. She also gives John a name – “Scrape”

Hellblazer #177 – Red Sepulchre (Part One of Four)

Plot - Returned to London and looking for Scrape, John finds himself stuck in the middle of a magical turf war with old friends and old enemies urging him to join their side.

Prominent People - First appearance of Domine Fredricks (a major player in the London magic community), Nicholas “Scrape” Gillis (a dealer in magical artifacts) Misha (a Russian sailor and Scrape’s lover) and Parker (owner of the Tate Club, last seen in Haunted). Cameos by Chas (who seems to be the only person not shocked to see John alive and well), Clarice, Albert and Map (all three John’s allies from the Warren Ellis story Haunted) Joshua Wright (the villain of Haunted, now a thug in Fredricks’ employ) and Gemma Masters (John’s missing niece).

Deaths - Scrape is killed, along with his Russian sailor lover, some six months before John comes looking for him.

Hellblazer #178 – Red Sepulchre (Part Two of Four)

Plot - Finding that Fredricks has the means to kill Gemma anytime he wishes, John is forced into aiding his search for The Red Sepulchre – a magical item apparently possessed by Scrape’s sailor lover that has a connection to John’s bloodline. Meanwhile, Fredricks’ thugs attack The Tate Club, forcing Clarice and Albert into hiding.

Prominent People - First appearance of Ghant (an elderly magician in the employ of Fredricks)

John Screws Up - John calls Angie asking for her to come to London to help him. Because of his smart-ass treatment of her two issues previous, she turns him down.

Pub Trivia - It is revealed in this issue that Clarice is responsible for having handed Gemma over to Fredricks and putting her in danger.

Hellblazer #179 – Red Sepulchre (Part Three of Four)

Plot - As John sets about digging through a warehouse full of artifacts looking for the Red Sepulchre, Clarice and Albert ready an attack against Wright and Fredricks.

Prominent People = Cameo in flashback of Aloysius Quinn – a relative of John’s on his mother’s side of the family, whose soul was apparently taken by The Red Sepulchre in the 1840s.

Hellblazer #180 – Red Sepulchre (Part Four of Four)

Plot - With Clarice and Albert in his debt thanks to a masterful con and some aide from Map, John has managed to get away from his captors. But it’s going to take a lot more magic and conning to rescue Gemma away from Fredricks.

Deaths - 39. 40 and 41 on the death tally. Thanks to John’s actions here, one of Fredrick’s thugs (Godall) becomes possessed by the spirit of Kali. He then goes on to kill Joshua Wright, another thug (Peake) and Fredricks himself. John then uses a spell on Godall that banishes the spirit and leaves him alive in the wreckage of Fredrick’s mansion before leaving with Gemma.

Pub Trivia - Gemma is reportedly angry and John for butting in and trying to get her out of his world. Also, we find out from Clarice at the end of the issue that Fredricks wanted the Red Sepulchre for a ritual to open a door between the living and the dead and that he had reoccurring nightmares about a very big dog.

Hellblazer #181 – The Game of Cat And Mouse

Plot - Warned of a magical assassination attempt by the ghost of an old friend, John is forced into a merry chase around London as he is perused by three of the most dangerous hunters in Hell.

Prominent People - Cameos by Watford, the ghost of Gary Lester, Clarice, Chas, Chas’s wife Rene and Chas’ granddaughter Trish. First appearance of The Lukhavim, demons specializing in hunting down souls.

John Screws Up - John sacrifices the ghosts of several mental patients in order to buy him time to spring a trap on the two Lukhavim that are chasing him.

Hellblazer #182 – Black Flowers (Part One of Two)

Plot - Angie and John are both separately pulled into investigating a magical disturbance in a Bedfordshire mental hospital.

Prominent People - First appearance of Angie’s brother Jason Spatchcock and Kev, a friend of Chas’ who works at the same garage who offers John a lift on his bike when Chas is forbidden to so much as light a cig for John. Also, first reference to King Arawn Pen Annuvin – The Celtic King of the Dead

Hellblazer #183 – Black Flowers (Part Two of Two)

Plot - With a doorway to the realm of the dead opened and his guards, the Gironnved, hunting down the spirits of old Celts seeking the pleasures of the flesh once more, it falls to John and Angie to close the door.

Deaths - 42 on the dead tally. John stabs one of the Gironnved to death as a sacrifice in order to close the portal to the realm of the dead.

Pub Trivia - There are dual flashback to #180 and #181 here, where John remembers Clarice’s words about what Fredrick’s hoped to do and the Lukhavim’s message about a dog pushing against the first door and Fredrick’s nightmares about some form of dog.

Hellblazer #184 – The Wild Card (Third Worlds: Part One)

Plot - John and Angie go on the road to find out more about the mysterious dog that threatens the world. But for John to get information from an old friend, he’ll have to risk his soul in a very dangerous game of Poker.

Prominent People - First appearances of Paho Bokhari (a magician) and Senor Gotereez (another magician). Cameo by Swamp Thing.

Deaths - 43 on the dead tally. John and Paho’s con results in Senor Gotereez’s getting stabbed to death to settle his bet.

Hellblazer #185 – Ordeal (Third Worlds: Part Two)

Plot - Traveling to Iran and a portal to Eden in search of answers about the mysterious dog, John is forced to stand trial for his theft of a sacred scroll.

Prominent People - First appearance of Salmi (an Iranian cab-driver with some form of magical tattoo), Ghursoon (leader of the Children of Cain) and Beriti (one of the Children of Cain, whom John seduced to steal a scroll) Cameo by Swamp Thing.

Hellblazer #186 –The Pit (Third Worlds: Part Three)

Plot - In Tasmania, John goes dream-walking to find a native Tasmanian to talk to about the mysterious dog. But it is Angie who will have a close encounter with the spirits of some very hostile natives.

John Screws Up - In making his dream-walk into the concentration camp, John forgets that the ghosts of the Tasmania natives are not likely to hang about someplace they were unhappy in the afterlife.

Pub Trivia - This issue marks John and Angie’s “first time” together. We also learn a bit more about Angie’s brother Jason, and his time in jail and apparent mental disorder.

Hellblazer #187 – Bred In The Bone: Part One

Plot - Sought out by Ghant, who has gone independent in the wake of Fredricks’ death, Gemma Constantine is recruited to take John’s place on a journey of some sort to a place where John and Ghant once fought something evil.

Prominent People - First appearances of Delilah (a prostitute), Paul (leader of a community of children), Beth (one of the girls in said community) and Bantham (a retired detective, with ties to Ghant and John).

Pub Trivia - We find out that Gemma has taken to using the surname Constantine. This is another of the rare issues without John as the main character. Indeed, he doesn’t appear at all except in flashback.

Hellblazer #188 – Bred In The Bone: Part Two

Plot - On Gruinard Island, Gemma finds herself trapped between some monstrous children and some diabolic humans as she tries to put right one of Uncle John’s past wrongs.

Prominent People - First appearance of Jinx, a bum.

Deaths - Bantham is ripped apart by The Demon Children in a rather gory display.

Pub Trivia - This is the issue where Gemma decides she really doesn’t want to follow in John’s footsteps. This is another of the rare issues without John as the main character. Indeed, he doesn’t appear at all except in flashback and at the very end.

Hellblazer #189 – Staring At The Wall: Part One

Plot - Back in London, John begins gathering allies to prepare for the arrival of The Shadow Dog. Meanwhile, Angie pays a visit to her brother to find that he is quite sane and having visions of The Dog himself.

Prominent People - First appearances of Nat Kuhn (aka Nathan Arcane – “the sane member of the family”), Alba Suria (a sorceress) and Donatus Chalice of the Closed Order of The Alexins (a man of God). Appearances by Map, Clarice, Angie’s brother Jason and, from The Sandman – The Ravi. Cameo by Swamp Thing.

Deaths - Chalice is killed by Alba’s magic after she is possessed by the Shadow Dog’s aura of madness. Thankfully, Map is able to subdue her before she kills anyone else.

John Screws Up - Chalice wouldn’t have died if not for John’s gathering of magicians – a fact that John will blame himself for out-loud next issue.

Pub Trivia - We find out Map’s real name – Ken Ondaatie.

Hellblazer #190 – Staring At The Wall: Part Two

Plot - An alliance is made as the magicians separate to do their respective duties. But is their course of action the right one?

Prominent People - First appearances of The Shadow Dog (a guardian of Man) and The Beast With No Name (the one creature that Adam did not name in the Garden of Eden and as such, the only one not limited to a single form).

Deaths - Though he has apparently been dead and possessed for a while now, we only just learn in this issue that Jason Spatchcock was possessed by The Beast With No Name.

John Screws Up - Without giving too much story away, it is made apparent that John has been tricked beautifully into destroying the means of his salvation.

Hellblazer #191 – Staring At The Wall: Part Three

Plot - With the partnership of magicians broken and The Beast With No Name feeding upon the minds and souls of humanity, John is forced to bring Gemma back into his life to create another plan.

Prominent People - Cameo by The Phantom Stranger. Gemma Masters returns.

Hellblazer #192 – Staring At The Wall: Part Four

Plot - With a little help from Chas and Swamp Thing, Gemma begins putting a comatose John’s plan into place.

Prominent People - Appearances by Chas Chandler, Gemma Masters and Swamp Thing. Cameos by Lucifer and Mazikeen (from Vertigo’s Lucifer book, also written by Mike Carey) and Tim Hunter (from Vertigo’s Books of Magic)

Hellblazer #193 – Staring At The Wall: Part Five

Plot - With all of his allies incapacitated, it falls to John to save the world. But can he save himself in the bargain and at what cost?

Prominent People - Appearances by Angie Spatchcock, Chas Chandler, Gemma Masters and Swamp Thing

Deaths - The Beast is devoured by the new Shadow Dog that Gemma conjures up.

John Screws Up - John’s plan, while saving humanity, costs Swamp Thing his soul and leaves John with amnesia.

Pub Trivia - The loss of Swamp Thing’s soul would be the centerpiece of the first six issues of a new Swamp Thing series that started shortly after this issue came out. These first six Swamp Thing issues were written by Andy Diggle, who would later go on to write Hellblazer.

Hellblazer #194 – Ward 24

Plot - Wandering the streets of London, an amnesiac John tries to help a burned little girl to the hospital. But though he is freed of his memories, John is hardly free of his fate as a psychic killer and a strange new enemy make themselves known to him.

Prominent People - First appearance of Peter Gill (a psycho killer, who someone learned the details of everyone in the world’s lives through The Beast With No Name) and Rosacarnis (a demon and daughter of Nergal), in the form of the girl Rose.

Hellblazer #195 – Out of Season, Part One

Plot - As Angie and Gemma get to work on tracking John down, Chas and family go on holiday and John blunders into an encounter with a new friend and a new enemy.

Prominent People First appearance of Rosacarnis in her demonic form and her butler Druoth. Appearances by Angie, Gemma, Chas, Chas’ wife Rene, Chas’ daughter Geraldine, Chas’ granddaughter Trish, Jinx (the bum John helped back in #188) and Peter Gill. Cameos by The Phantom Stranger, The First of The Fallen, The Demon Constantine and Triskelle, Queen of the Succubi.

Deaths - 44 on the death tally. Jinx dies because of his friendship with John.

Hellblazer #196 – Out of Season, Part Two

Plot - Things go from hot to hotter, with Peter Gill holding Chas and family hostage and Rosacarnis offering John the return of his memories in return for his allegiance to her.

Prominent People - First appearance of Agilieth, sworn brother of Nergal.

Deaths - 45 on the death tally. John shoots Peter Gill at point-blank range to save Chas and his family.

Hellblazer #197 – Stations of the Cross, Part One

Plot - Still suffering from amnesia and taunted by Rosacarnis, John stumbles into the machinations of another old associate in a most unusual church.

Prominent People - Cameo by Ghant. First appearance of Suzie, Terry and Margaret (disciples of Ghant’s cult)

Hellblazer #198 – Stations of the Cross, Part Two

Plot - Completely at Ghant’s mercy, John find an unexpected ally. But with his memories and his usual cunning still unavailable it may prove to be too little, too late.

Hellblazer #199 – Stations of the Cross, Part Three

Plot - With a horde of demons bidding on his soul, John faces a tough choice regarding Rosacarnis’ offer.

Prominent People - The First of The Fallen and Agony and Ecstasy are among the demons who show up to bid on John.

Deaths - 46 on the death tally. Suzie is killed for her attempts to help John by the other cultists.

John Screws Up - By agreeing to Rosacarnis’ offer here, John sets into motion the tragic events that will lead us throughout the rest of Mike Carey’s run on Hellblazer.

Pub Trivia - Agony and Ecstasy, presumed dead since the Garth Ennis run, are seen alive and well. Presumably The First of the Fallen revived them having felt he made his point. Also, it would seem that John’s request for God’s intervention at the end of The Paul Jenkins run took since The First of The Fallen’ made no mention of already owning John’s soul after having handily claimed it during “How To Play With Fire”.

Hellblazer #200 – Happy Families

Plot - Trapped into one day’s service under Rosacarnis, John lives several years in three alternate lives in one day and sires three demonic children.

Prominent People - First appearances of Adam Constantine (a young boy), Saul Constantine (an older male teenager) and Maria Constantine (a younger female teenager). There are cameos in the dreamed-up alternate lives of Kit Ryan (John’s lost love from the Garth Ennis days), Zed (John’s lover and accomplice from the Jamie Delano run), Angie Spatchcock, Gemma Masters, Abby Cable (Swamp Thing’s wife) and Swamp Thing.

Pub Trivia - John gets his memories back at the end of this issue.

Hellblazer #201 – Event Horizon

Plot - Three thugs break into John’s lock-up of magical artifacts and come into contact with a cursed bracelet.

Pub Trivia - This is one of the few stand-alone stories during Mike Carey’s run on the book and the only one that is not directly tied into another story.

Hellblazer #202 – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part One

Plot - John’s demonic children are set loose on the world and begin to tear his life apart, friend by friend.

Prominent People - Cameos by Alba Suria, Albert, Clarice and Map.

Deaths - 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51 on the death Tally. Maria Constantine kills Alba Suria with her own power. Albert is killed during Adam’s attack on the Tate Club protecting Clarice. And thanks to Maria’s seduction of a truck-driver while on the road, everyone in Chas’ family is burnt to death in a fiery explosion, though Chas himself is somehow spared.

Hellblazer #203 – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Two

Plot - John’s children continue to work against all of his friends and allies as John finds a mysterious ally in Hell, who now possesses Chas Chandler’s body.

Prominent People - Nergal, though we won’t know it’s him for a while yet, makes his first appearance in a long while through first a rat and then Chas Chandler’s body. Cameos by Straff and Straff’s Mother (from the Jenkins run) and the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood (from Eddie Campbell’s brief run). We also get an update on the whereabouts of Angie and Gemma. First appearance of Simon, a boy dating Gemma who is approached by Saul Constantine about killing her.

Deaths - 52, 53 and 54 on the death tally. Straff and his mother are both cut apart by telekinetically manipulated flatware. And the ghost of Sir Dashwood is dashed out by Adam Constantine.

Pub Trivia - Nergal drops a hint to his identity here, saying that he has known John for even longer than Chas has known him.

Hellblazer #204 – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Three

Plot - As John and his uneasy ally begin to try and rescue some of John’s loved ones, Angie is tormented by the nightmares from her childhood and Gemma prepares for what could be a very deadly date.

Prominent People - Cameos by Tony Masters (Gemma’s father), Helen (an old girlfriend of John’s), Mange (the magician trapped in a rabbit’s body from Hellblazer #63), Robbie Brooks (the amateur magician who John pretended to curse in Hellblazer #62) and Uncle Fred, Cousin Terrell and Brother Kyle (from Dani’s family in ‘Up The Down Staircase’)

Deaths - We are told that a hecatomb of people who loved, mistrusted or had even met John Constantine are killed behind the scenes in this issue. The only confirmed deaths we get for the tally are 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 and 60 for Helen, Mange, Robbie Brooks, Uncle Fred, Cousin Terrell and Kyle.

Pub Trivia - Nergal drops another hint to his identity here, knowing about John’s time in Ravenscar and also noting that Angie’s blood tastes like John’s – as John’s original demonic blood downer, he would presumably know. It is interesting to note that nothing is said specifically about any of the women in John’s life in all this cleansing, though you’d think Kit or even Marj or Zed would be among the first targets John’s children would go after.

Hellblazer #205 – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Four

Plot - With Angie safe, John and his mysterious new ally burn pavement to save Gemma from John’s children, little knowing they already have a new target in mind.

Prominent People - Cameos by Tony and Cheryl Masters (Gemma’s parents)

John Screws Up - John makes a major error in judgment here, going after Gemma before Cheryl – not trusting Gemma to take care of herself against a relatively mundane threat when Cheryl was in just as much, if not worse, danger.

Pub Trivia - Nergal reveals himself to John in this issue, raising the question of how he escaped the torments we saw him enduring back in Hellblazer #60.

Hellblazer #206 – Cross Purpose

Plot - Free from Negral’s possession but not from his influence, Chas Chandler wanders the streets with Maria Constantine close behind.

Pub Trivia - This is another of the rare issues where John is not the focus of the action.

Hellblazer #207 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part One

Plot - With Cheryl technically dead and her soul dragged into Hell, John and Nergal form an uneasy alliance to storm Hell’s gates together.

Pub Trivia - Reference is made to Gladys, the soul-stealing serial killer from “High On Life”.

Hellblazer #208 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part Two

Plot - As Angie and Gemma come to terms while waiting with Cheryl’s body, John is confronted by his old friend and his Demonic “better” half.

Prominent People - First appearance of Stercorax, brother of Nergal. Cameos by most of The Ghostly Horde, which now includes everyone killed in the last few issues, including Alba, Straff, Straff’s mom, Helen and Albert. Gary Lester appears, now in the service of The Demon Constantine.

John Screws Up - In order to win a fight with the Demonic version of himself, John allows Nergal to possess him.

Hellblazer #209 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part Three

Plot - Nergal relates to John the story of how he had come to know John and how Rosacarnis had come to rule his House.

Prominent People - Cameo by The First of The Fallen, in flashback.

Pub Trivia - Most of this issue is a flashback that relates the events of the first year of Hellblazer from Nergal’s perspective. This is another of the rare (but increasingly common during the Carey run) issues where John is not the focus of the action.

Hellblazer #210 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part Four

Plot - As John and Nergal continue their journey to Rosacarnis’ estates, Nergal tells John of how he came to be reborn in Hell. But is there something Nergal is not telling John?

Prominent People - Chantinelle The Succubus, last seen being tortured in “How To Play With Fire”, makes an appearance apparently having served her time for betraying The First of The Fallen.

Pub Trivia - It is revealed, although not made apparent, that Cheryl’s soul is in Nergal’s possession.

Hellblazer #211 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part Five

Plot - Having reached the keep, Nergal and John part ways to launch a two-pronged strike against Rosacarnis. But Nergal has something up his sleeve for everyone. Luckily, so does John.

Prominent People - Cameo by The First of the Fallen.

Pub Trivia - It becomes obvious that Nergal’s whole goal has been to get revenge on his daughter and he uses both John and Cheryl as tools (literally in the later case) to get himself into the invincible body of his brother Stercorax.

Hellblazer #212 – Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, Part Six

Plot - With an angry and invincible Nergal at the door, it falls to John, to save the demonic family that exists only to destroy him if only to save his sister Cheryl’s soul.

Deaths - 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66 on the death tally. The First of the Fallen, in order to deny John a noble and heroic death, kills Rosacarnis, Adam and Saul Constantine. He rips apart Nergal to get Cheryl’s soul free and then, already possessing the soul of the damned Tony Masters (suicide + his wife’s murder), convinces Cheryl to stay in Hell so that Tony’s punishment will be halved.

John Screws Up - All of John’s planning here, and he still loses. Cheryl is damned to hell and Gemma’s trust/love for her cunning uncle is completely shattered.

Hellblazer #213 – The Gift

Plot - A flashback tale, John tells Angie of the first time he conned somebody into thinking he was a more powerful magician than he really is.

Prominent People - First appearances of Kenny Nelson and Anita Nelson.

Hellblazer #214 – R.S.V.P. , Part One

Plot - John tries to get his life back into some semblance of order and patch things up with his best friend. But it won’t be nearly as easy to get back into routine as he hopes and indeed John is spurred to make a very big decision about his life.

Prominent People - Appearances by Chas and Chas’ cousin Norma. Cameos by Map and Clarice.

John Screws Up - We find out that thanks to John’s involvement with Nergal and what Chas did while he was still under the influence, Rene has left Chas and his own daughter refuses to speak to him anymore, having cost Chas his family as sure as if John had killed them himself.

Hellblazer #215 – R.S.V.P. , Part Two

Plot - John readies himself to end his magical career with style, giving a speech at The Tate Club that will turn every magician in London against him.

Prominent People - Cameos by Clarice and Swamp Thing. We briefly see Angie and Gemma at Cheryl’s funeral. The Ghostly Horde of John’s dead friends also make an appearance.

Recommended Reading

Quite honestly, if you’re going to read any of Mike Carey’s Hellblazer you’d best be prepared to read all of it. More than any writer, even including Garth Ennis, Carey’s entire run is one big story that demands to be read in order. Indeed, while one does not have to have read the entirety of Hellblazer before reading any of Mike Carey’s stories, it does make the experience all the richer.

Thankfully, more and more of Carey’s run is becoming available in Trade Paperback format and the single issues are still relatively easy to track down on-line or at a decent comic book shop. Even more thankfully, there is not a single bad issue in the lot, by my reckoning and only two stories in the whole run that do not relate or tie into another part of the overall arch.

The Final Analysis

Mike Carey was precisely the shot-in-the-arm the Hellblazer franchise needed to guide it after some very, very dark days. Unlike Warren Ellis and Brian Azzarello, who completely ignored John’s past and the rich creations of the writers who came before them, Carey picked up and built upon the mythology of the series just as Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins did before him.

But Carey was no slouch when it came to his own creations and he created the ideal mate for John Constantine in Angie Spatchcock. Angie was, in all honesty, the first equal John had ever had romantically. Not to disparage the great Kit Ryan but while she was capable of handling herself, she was never truly capable of handling all of John’s life. Angie, for better or worse, was able to stand by John’s side in the midst of all the supernatural weirdness and be more than just a girlfriend.

To put it simply, I do believe that Mike Carey is my favorite writer to tackle John Constantine. Ennis was the funniest. Delano was the most hearfelt. Ellis’ was the most dangerous. And Jenkins was the most fun. But Carey managed to take the essence of all four takes on John Constantine and distill it into something different and yet wholly familiar.

I think Neil Gaiman said it best when he said that Mike Carey wrote “the quintessential Constantine.” For what it is worth, I agree with Mr. Gaiman.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Looking To The Stars - The Holiday Heroes Special

First of all, Happy Holidays to all of you Comics Nexus readers around the world.

Secondly, our deepest sympathies to the family and fiends of Hardin “Jack” Burnley, who passed away this week. Burnley was an artist for DC during the 1940’s - perhaps most famous for being the first artist to draw Superman and Batman together in a story as well as being the penciler for the daily Superman comic strip as well as an uncredited cover-artist for Action Comics.

He was also, although I’ve seen little mention of this in the obituaries regarding his work, the artistic creator of the Golden Age Starman.

Two Golden Age creators in a week. I think DC needs to do a very special tribute to both Jack and Mart Nodell every soon. They deserve it.

Finally, on a happier note – I have a little gift for those of you who are, like me, going Heroes withdrawal. I recently introduced several of my friends to the show and they had some questions. Questions they thought I, being the big comic book expert, I might have answers to. Well, I thought some of you might like to hear the answers.

If not, my apologies. And rest assured we will be back to trying to finish the Hellblazer Episode Guide next week. No, seriously.


It seems pretty well established at this point that we can accept a few basic truths about super powers.

1) They are based in the brain and written into genetic code.
2) They are passed along family lines and onto children, though the same power does not follow along a family line. For instance, Phaser DL Hawkin’s son Micha has a Mechanical Empathy power. Likewise, brothers Nathan and Peter Petrelli both have superpowers, but not the same one.
3) Most powers, with some exceptions, require a great deal of focus or stress to manifest. Hiro, for example, can only use his time-bending powers with a good deal of squinting and concentration. This also explains why most of the characters have had their powers activate accidentally (i.e. Nikki suddenly crushing a coffee mug in her hand with her super-strength) The only exceptions to this appear to be passive powers, such as Matt’s telepathy and Peter’s empathy.
4) All powers, with time and practice, can be brought to the level of a controlled reflex. Eden and The Haitian, for instance, are clearly operating at a higher level of ability than most of the other heroes.


That Peter Petrelli has the power to mimic the superpowers of others has been fairly well established by this point. What has not been explained, however, are the dream-like visions that have haunted him from the very first episode to the vision of his own explosive demise in the last one.

Given that the rules (as explained by Mr. Bennett) say that a person may only have one power without their DNA becoming unstable, it seems unlikely that Peter has both the powers of mimicry and precognitive dreams. So what could explain this power?

1) Extreme Empathy

One theory is that since Peter’s ability to copy the powers of others is empathic in nature, perhaps his visions are just a natural extension of his natural desire to see things through other people’s eyes. The only problem with this theory is that while it would explain why Peter’s visions have always seemed to have shown him in someone else’s shoes (flying from Nathan’s viewpoint, visualizing his brother/sister-in-law’s accident) it would not explain why he was visualizing the future.

2) Charles Deveaux

Quick flashback: what are the first words Peter says in the series and where is he when he says them?

Answer: “No, I just keep having these amazing dreams every time I close my eyes and uh- never mind.” And he says this as he is sitting next to Simone’s father while at his nursing job. The father who has lapsed into a coma.

The man who, several episodes later, would awaken for a bit before dying. The man who told his daughter Simone, who then told Peter, that he “had been flying all over the world but that it was a world he didn’t recognize. And there were so many people filled with pain – nobody looking out for each other - he worried for them... until you (Peter) told him everything would be okay.”

What Charles’ describes sounds like a fairly standard description of astral projection – the mind traveling outside the body. People who can project themselves in this manner describe the sensation as being very much like flying. And many astral projectors also have described seeing future events in their travels.

So imagine this – what if, after months of spending most ever day, for hours at a time, sitting next to Charles Deveaux, Peter wound up absorbing the old man’s ability to send his mind somewhere else? This would account for most of Peter’s visions of flying – the dreams he had talking with Mr. Deveaux (who also reported dreaming of Peter and seeing horrible things) and why Peter, even now a few days after his death, is having visions of the future.

Of course this theory assumes that Peter’s powers function in much the same way as a power tool – the longer on the charger, the longer the tool runs. Of course there must be some sort of permanency point (i.e. the point where the battery is fully charged) and Peter can no longer store up “more time” with that power. This begs the question of if Peter, like Rogue, is able to permanently capture a super-power.

The one problem with this theory is that Peter had his first vision six months earlier – when he saw Nathan’s car accident - before he took his job with the hospice where Charles Deveaux lived. This seems to confirm that Peter’s visions are an extension of his naturally empathic nature and not a borrowed power.


There seems to be some confusion still about exactly what powers Sylar (aka Garbriel Gray) has and might have taken. Thankfully, this is easily cleared up.

Originally, the man who would become Sylar only had one power – the ability to analyze and comprehend the imperfections and functions in a complex system. Or, to put it more simply, he can look at something and see how it works. This ability made him an expert watchmaker, able to analyze the flaw in a broken watch merely by the sound of one tick being slightly off from all the other ticks in his shop.

This ability to see how things function has enabled him, somehow, to mimic the powers of other super-powered people by “seeing what makes them tick”. He does this by looking at their brains although whether they need to be alive or dead at the time is unclear. What is clear is that the brain needs to be intact, so Eden was able to thwart his attempts to take her powers by shooting herself in the head before Sylar could study her brain.

We know that Sylar has had at least eight confirmed murders not counting the ones we have seen on screen. What powers he may have is unknown, but he has been shown to rely exclusively upon the telekinesis granted to him by his first victim. His method for analyzing brains, involves telepathically cutting their heads open and then examining how the brain works before altering his own brain to match the same pattern.

It is worth noting though that all of the other powers Sylar might have manifested (bullet-proof skin, enhanced speed, cold control) could explain be explained away by telekinesis, assuming he had the level of control needed to stop bullets before they could break his skin (telekinetic force field), increase his own speed or fly by telekinetically lifting his own weight or induce a complete stop of molecular motion, flash-freezing a person solid in moments.


The big abiding theory on Nikki from day one was that she had some form of MPD (Multiple-Personality Disorder) or DID (Disassociative-Identity Disorder) and that only her “other self” was able to access Nikki’s powers. To me, this seems highly unlikely.

I was a psychology student for a while and the honest truth is that we know very little about MPD and DID (indeed, there is an argument in professional circles as to whether there is any difference between the two) and what little we do know would disallow for the idea of a second personality gradually taking over the life of first, ala Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

Given how well versed the series has been in researching other areas (temporal physics and such), I can’t believe the writers would skimp on this area if they wanted to maintain a realistic continuity. Thankfully, there is one other theory that, in light of the last two episodes, would work perfectly: Possession.

Oh, stop snickering. I’ve seen you types on the message boards before. “Oh...Nikki’s possessed by her dead sister! That’s too unrealistic!” And yet you have no trouble with the concepts of artists who can see the future, politicians that can fly, Indian boys who can enter people’s dreams or women who spontaneously grow a weird tattoo on their shoulder whenever their multiple personality takes over?

From the storyteller’s viewpoint, it makes sense. There have been stories of twins who had a physical connection that defied explanation, Alexandre Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers being perhaps the best known. And even in the real world there are stories of twins who “just knew” when the other one was in danger.

All other things being equal, is it that much of a stretch to think that perhaps... just perhaps... a dying spirit might be able to attach herself to her twin sister? Or that maybe – if you really want to get into possible superpowers – maybe Jessica’s power was that she was telepathic and in the moment of stress when she died, she managed to psychically imprint herself in her sister? Or maybe she was able to take over people’s bodies without their permission? Or maybe Nikki’s power is that she’s really a medium and that she can talk to/be possessed by the dead? The possibilities are endless, really.

Of course if that were the case, why would Jessica have only just manifested within the last six months if she died in 1987?

I admit, this all seems unlikely. But no more so than Nikki, who obviously has some emotional problems (history with her dad, AA member) just now developing DID or MPD without any obvious warning signs in her past. Repressed childhood memories will only do so much.

Perhaps it isn’t an either/or statement. Nikki has problems; there’s no doubt of that. But could she be screwed up to the point that her superpowers only manifested through her Dissaociative-Identity? I think this is possible, but unlikely. Perhaps the stress in Nikki's life is what enabled Jessica to find a way to return to some limited facsimile of living. Whatever the case, Nikki/Jessica's existence is proof of Shakespeare's old line "There are more things in heaven and earth...Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


We don’t have much direct information on this at all, apart from his offhand remark that “I’m not part of any organization that has Initials” and that whoever they are, they have a need for secrecy. That would rule out the FBI (whom Matt and Audrey are working for anyway), CIA, NSA and all of the other secretive organizations that we Americans love to blame for everything in our speculative fiction.

Given the fact that Mr. Bennett, The Haitan and Eden were working independent of recognized legal authority at a time when they almost certainly could have gained assistance if they were working for the government (i.e. most of the ‘Homecoming’ episode), I think we can safely assume that they don’t work for any recognized institution of the United States Government.

One thing we do know for certain is that the organization (and, by extension, its’ agents) seem to be more concerned with preserving life and studying metahumans than containing any threat posed by people with superpowers.
- When Mr. Bennett captured Matt, they were trying to conduct a medical test. (Collision)
- When they tried and failed to capture Nathan, Mr. Bennett had a gun drawn but at no point did he fire a shot or even threaten to shoot Nathan when he ran. (Hiros)
- In the one conversation we see Mr. Bennett having with his superiors, they seem to be more interested in studying Sylar despite the dangers Mr. Bennett tells them are inherent in keeping him alive. (Fallout)

This seems to suggest that the organization is corporate or medical in nature. And since a corporation would probably see little benefit in studying genetic anomalies or authorizing gun-carrying agents to kidnap people out of their homes (unless we descend into Generic Evil Corporation land), it seems most likely that Mr. Bennett is being employed by a non-profit health organization of some kind.

Which means he could be working for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for all we know. Except they’re an organization with letters. Darn! Almost had it! :)


One of the bigger questions to come up regarding the show - and the powers displayed by Peter, Issac and Hiro in particular – is the degree to which fate and predestination play upon the physics of the world. This leads us to ask some basic questions.

1) Is it possible to change the past/future?

Obviously, this is possible to some degree. The Hiro from the future wouldn’t have bothered to come back to talk to Peter and tell him to “save the cheerleader, save the world” in the present otherwise.

It also doesn’t make sense from a writing standpoint. Why bother allowing a person the ability to see the future or travel in time in the first place? In terms of story, there’s no heroic emotional pay-off to be found in a person who can see the future but is powerless to change it. Likewise with a time-traveler.

To borrow a phrase from Piers Anthony, Issac and Hiro’s powers would be “spot on the wall” magic if they didn’t have some ability to initiate change – they can magically put spots on the wall, but what real use would it be?

2) Does Issac draw what WILL happen or what MIGHT happen?

So far, everything we’ve seen Issac draw has happened, as pictured. It’s what we don’t see in the moments in between “frames” that make the pictures confusing. For instance, we saw a picture of a dead blonde cheerleader. There still was a dead blonde cheerleader – it just wasn’t Claire.

3) Future Hiro referred to “risking a rift”. What is a rift?

Rift is used alternatively as a term for a) a portal in time and space allowing people to travel across great distances and across time instantly and b) a hole in the fabric of space-time caused by a complication or paradox.

It seems that Future Hiro is using the latter meaning of this word as a temporal rift would indeed be something a time traveler would try to avoid creating.

4) Is there a higher power or plan involved in just when and where time can be changed?

It does seem like there is something that stops Hiro from doing things that would create a paradox – a conflict in the continuity of the time stream. Whether this is the laws of the universe, a subconscious-reflex that brings Hiro back to where he should be automatically or some higher power directly influencing Hiro is unclear.

Consider how Hiro goes back in time to try and save Charlie. Logically, if he does stop her from going to work that day and being killed by Sylar, then he’ll never have a reason to go back in time, which means he never have gone back to have saved her...

Perhaps this is why Hiro is unable to go back to that period again after being kicked back to present-day Japan right before kissing Charlie – the paradox he almost created made a “rift” that prevents him from going back to that point in time. This seems to be backed up by Hiro’s Blog, in which he states that it took him “many months to get back to where I came from and the only way was by a bus.”

There’s no logical reason why Hiro couldn’t have used his powers to directly return back to Ando in the present unless there was some kind of temporal interference. It would also explain why Future Hiro goes to Peter and sets him in motion to save Claire, since his powers will not allow him to get to Midland at the right time because of the rift he created earlier.

This is all just my personal theory, of course. But I like it better than the rather endless parade of theories I have heard involving grandfather paradoxes and God Almighty refusing to let Hiro get laid.

5) Is there any sign of predestination at work in the series?

None at all, really.

One might argue that Hiro’s attempts to save Charlie were stopped because of her death being predestined. The problem with that theory is that if her death was predestined, than Hiro’s journey into the past to save her was also predestined. Either everything is set in stone or nothing is.

This means that Hiro’s trip to the past was always meant to have happened, then everyone in the diner should have known who Hiro was the first time he walked in with Andro. Nobody, not even Charlie, knew who Hiro was despite his working there for several months in the past!


One thing I have not seen anyone discuss so far regarding Heroes is the constant recurring theme of Logic/Emotion. Of course most conflict is, in some part, based upon this exchange. But in Heroes, the conflict is more physical than metaphysical. To give some examples…

Nikki/Jessica – logically, the best thing for Nikki probably would be for her to leave her criminal husband and run away somewhere with Micha. But she doesn’t, because despite everything, she does love DL and wants to raise their child with him. This conflicts with the more logical Jessica living inside her and leads to Jessica taking over to give Nikki what Jessica thinks is best for her.

Peter/Nathan – is there anything that personifies conflict better than older sibling/younger sibling? I think not. But apart from the obvious personal conflicts between the two characters, there is a higher conflict between the impulses of “I think” and “I feel”. Nathan is a thinker. Peter is a feeler. Nathan looks at how things are. Peter imagines how they might be.

Ando/Hiro – another thinker/feeler pairing.

Peter/Sylar – Both characters have a capacity to mimic the abilities of others but they go about this in completely different ways. Sylar’s power allows him to mimic the powers of others through analysis of how things work – pure, cold logic. Peter’s powers allow him to copy the abilities of others empathically – pure, warm emotional goodness. This seems to be the big conflict the show is building toward for the end of the season but it is also the biggest metaphysical conflict regarding the Thought Versus Feeling paradigm.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Looking To The Stars - A Light Dimmed Too Quickly

Comics lost one of its’ eldest and greatest artists this past week. On Saturday, December 9th, Martin “Mart” Nodell – the beloved creator of Green Lantern - died peacefully of natural causes at the age of 91.

Born in Philadelphia, Nodell was no stranger to travel. He moved to Chicago to study at the Art Institute of Chicago and then to New York to study at the Pratt Institute. It was also in New York that he began free-lancing with a number of comic companies in 1938.

After two years of unsteady (and frequently unpaid) work, Nodell went to DC Comics, found a position with affiliated publisher All American and, perhaps annoyed at his assignment one day, asked the fateful question; What do I need to do to get regular work? Editor Sheldon Mayer told Nodell to come up with a new character – something new and exciting that had never been done before.

Perhaps it was on his way home from work that same day that it happened. Inspiration struck! And as Martin Nodell was waiting for the subway, he happened to see a subway worker holding up a green-tinted lamp as a signal that the tracks were clear

Regardless of the exact day, Nodell returned to Mayer a few days after Mayer had made his request for a new character with the first few pages, written and drawn, of the hero he called The Green Lantern. While Nodell was no writer, Mayer proved impressed enough with the concept and the art to bring experienced writer Bill Finger (co-creator of Batman) on to handle the scripting duties while Nodell provided the artwork.

The Green Lantern would make his first appearance in July 1940 in All-American Comics #16. Sales figures from the period are erratic so it is difficult for us to say how big a splash Nodell’s creation made financially. What we do know is that Green Lantern was apparently popular enough to warrant inclusion in the new Justice Society (All Star Comics #3), which was founded in the winter of that same year and starred all of AAC’s biggest characters.

Nodell’s creation was a bona fide success. He spent the next year penciling and inking all the Green Lantern stories in All-American Comics and All-Star Comics for the next year. Then, in July of 1941, Green Lantern got his own title, for which Nodell also provided the artwork.

The end of 1941 would bring even more joy into the young Martin Nodell’s life. Not only did he find the artistic fulfillment and steady employment he sought but he found love as well. In October of 1941, he met a girl named Carrie at Coney Island. Truly theirs must have been a magical whirlwind romance, for by the end of December that year, the two were wed and living in Long Island.

Martin would continue to work for All American Comics until the summer of 1947. It is unknown why he left his position but some speculate it was a dispute over salary. Whatever the reason, Nodell took up a position with Timely Comics that same year and found work drawing the adventures of The Human Torch and Captain America. He would continue to work at Timely for three years, leaving the comic book business in 1950 following a rash of title cancellations. He feared the market was about to become tight again and with a young family to provide for, he needed steady work.

Nodell went into advertising, finding work as an art director for the Leo Burnett Agency. Perhaps his best known work in this time was being part of the team that created the Pillsbury Doughboy in 1965. He retired from advertising in 1976 but proved unable to rest on his laurels for too long.

In the early 1980’s, Nodell contacted DC Comics and began doing some special projects for them, providing art for Who’s Who” and the Superfriends comic. His last work at DC was published in December of 1991 in Green Lantern #19. Appropriately, it was a portrait of Alan Scott – the character he had created some 50 years earlier.

Nodell, and his wife Carrie, became a fixture on the comic convention circuit throughout the 1990’s. They were both known for their generosity to Martin’s fans and Carrie herself became a beloved grand dame of the convention circuit. She was never far from her husband’s side as he met with the four generations of Green Lantern fans that came to him for autographs and original artwork.

Having been fortunate enough to meet the pair of them at the first Wizard World Texas, I can safely say that every story I have heard about Martin Nodell’s kindness is true. His hands may have shaken a little holding his pen but he still had a young man’s eyes when I met him. And he was clearly having the time of his life sitting there in a temple devoted to the art form he’d helped to revolutionize.

I only wish I could better remember what I had said to him and he to me. I don’t remember the exact words though I suspect I made a fool of myself talking about how Green Lantern was the character who got me into superheroes in the first place. But I do remember the emotions. I remember Martin thanking me for my praise and if he thought I was foolish he was nice enough not to show any sign of it. And I do remember a great feeling of love between himself and his wife – an aura, if you will. The sign of two people who truly loved one another. And I remember feeling wistful that I had no better way to express my gratitude than to say “thank you” and to buy an autographed mouse-pad with Alan Scott hand-painted on by Martin himself. And I’m sad that I have no better tribute to the man than this article.

I think my friend R.K. Milholland put it best though, proving once and for all that a comic is worth the just over 1,000 words I’ve written so far. I reprint the following with his generous permission.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Nodell. You too, Carrie.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Hellblazer Episode Guide, Part Five

For those playing catch-up, here’s

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 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 brief words about the very brief run of...

The Darko Macan Run

Hellblazer #144-145

Best known for his work in Croatian comics, this two-issue story marks Macan’s only story for Vertigo comics and one of his few works written for the American comic book industry not published by Dark Horse. Like Eddie Campbell’s brief series, this comic puts John into the unfamilar magical traditions of another culture. It is an ammusing little story and it’s a shame that Macan did not write something more for Vertigo, on Hellbalzer or any other title.

Hellblazer #144 – Ashes and Honey, Part One

Plot - An investigation into the source of a dog returning from the dead leads John to a Bosnian teen attempting to follow in his Grandfather’s magician footsteps.

Prominent People - First appearances of Kemal (A Bosnian magician), Azra (Kemal’s daughter), Samir (Kemal’s grandson), Huso (a friend of Samir’s), Paul (a boy with an injured eye that Samir temporarily heals), Richie (A rich boy) and Lizzie (Richie’s sister, who Samir raises from the dead)

Hellblazer #145 – Ashes and Honey, Part Two

Plot - John attends the funeral of Kemal and uses his own magic to tidy up some of the loose ends Samir left behind.

Prominent People - First appearances of Zana (Samir’s pregnant sister) and Jimmy Brooks (a local boy, and father of Zana’s child)

And with the brief run of Darko Macan done, that leads us to...

The Brian Azzarello Run

Hellblazer #146-174

There are many Hellblazer fans who think that only writers from the UK should attempt to write John Constantine. They think that JC, being such a quintessentially British character can only truly be understood by someone who grew up in that environment. Looking at the Hellblazer run of Brian Azzarello, it is hard to dismiss this notion as being entirely illegitimate.

I hesitate to say that Azzarello’s run is a series of bad stories. It really isn’t. The broad plot is intriguing and the story is well-written. Yet at the same time, it isn’t really that good. And good or bad there is no denying that what Azzarello has written here, despite the inclusion of a man named John Constantine, is not like any Hellblazer seen before or since.

However, it is my personal opinion that reading Azzarello’s John Constantine is like watching a group of American high school boys attempting to reenact their favorite Monty Python skit in a talent show; you can see the broad brilliance underneath it all, but the execution leaves much to be desired.

Hellblazer #146 – Hard Time, Part One

Plot - John Constantine is put away in an American Prison and becomes a source of interest to one of the inmates.

Prominent People - First appearances of Traylor, “Candy” (Traylor’s prison bitch) and four of Traylor’s crew (who go unnamed). We also get introduced broadly to the various factions in the prison – The Crips, The Bloods, The Aryans, The Wise Guys (aka Mafia), The Bikers, The Guards, The Muslims, The Hispanics and The Lifers.

Hellblazer #147 – Hard Time, Part Two

Plot - The various gang leaders turn to the Mr. Stark, head of The Lifers – all telling their tales of how John Constantine has been getting the better of them.

Prominent People - First appearances of Carney and Shorty (two Skinheads), Ignacio (a Hispanic gang leader), Boxer (one of the Black gang leaders), Rakim (one of the Muslim gang leaders), Mr. Stark (leader of The Lifers) and Buzz (Mr. Stark’s right hand).

Deaths - Somehow, magically or through slight of hand, John switches his glass-laced breakfast with that of the brother of the inmate who was trying to kill him.

Hellblazer #148 – Hard Time, Part Three

Plot - To the displeasure of many, John starts working his way closer and closer to the seat of power in the prison.

Prominent People - First appearance of Kelly (a guard) and Weathers (a snitch)

Deaths - Stark shivs Kelly and frames John for the murder, cementing his tough guy rep in the prison and making him “a lifer”.

Hellblazer #149 – Hard Time, Part Four

Plot - Locked in Solitary, John is confronted once again by the ghosts of his dead friends as a prison riot breaks out.

Prominent People - First appearance, as a ghost, of Walter “Lucky” Fermin, though we don’t get his name yet. Brendan, Header and Rick can be seen in the ghostly horde, but the art is so cartoony it’s hard to identify anyone else.

Deaths - Buzz is thrown off a ledge by Stark.

John Screws Up - Reference is made to John somehow being responsible for Lucky’s death.

Hellblazer #150 – Hard Time, Part Five

Plot - With the riot calming down, a hostage negotiator is sent in to talk to the man running the prison – John Constantine.

Prominent People - First appearance of Frank Turro, Special Agent FBI. First mention of S.W. Manor – the rich man Lucky conned.

Deaths - 32 and 33 on the dead tally. John blames himself for Lucky’s suicide. Traylor appears to be in the final stages of being raped to death, John having worked a spell to make him appear to be a beautiful woman.

John Screws Up - We finally learn how John was imprisoned – he turned himself in after his con-artist friend Lucky asked him for help in dealing with the rich man who put a bounty on his head, John refused and then John stood idly by as Lucky shot himself.

Pub Trivia - John makes a deal with Turro – freedom in exchange for handing over the prison to the FBI and agreeing to find a way to go after S.W. Manor for the FBI

Hellblazer #151 – Good Intentions, Part One

Plot - On the road to Doglick, West Virginia, John has a chance encounter with some murderous thugs preying on stranded motorists.

Deaths - 34 and 35 on the dead tally. John somehow does something that allows him to survive a car-crash that kills two thugs and spares the woman they have tied up in the trunk.

Hellblazer #152 – Good Intentions, Part Two

Plot - John comes to Doglick, to tell Lucky’s family of recent events. They in turn invite John to help with the family business.

Prominent People - First appearance of Rose Fermin (an old friend of John’s), Dickie Fermin (Rose’s husband and Lucky’s brother – aka The Smart One), Richie Fermin (Lucky’s other brother - aka The Special One)

John Screws Up - John does something that leaves him downing shots and muttering “My God, what have I done?”. We don’t find out what, though, for another two issues.

Hellblazer #153 – Good Intentions, Part Three

Plot - Still unsettled by what happened the night before, John confronts Richie and Dickie and finally goes to look up Rose.

Pub Trivia - Contains a flashback to John’s punk days and his meeting Rose in London.

Hellblazer #154 – Good Intentions, Part Four

Plot - Something in the woods of Doglick is eating children. And John watches the tape of “what happened.”

John Screws Up - We finally find out what happened two issues previous – John, while drunk, received oral sex from Richie’s dog, while Dickie and Richie filmed it.

Pub Trivia - Contains a flashback to John’s punk days and his meeting Rose in London.

Hellblazer #155 – Good Intentions, Part Five

Plot - As the townsfolk hunt a monster boar, John readies himself to fight a different battle - and rescue two women from a different monster.

Deaths - 36 on the dead tally. Dickie is charged by the giant boar – a creature John seems to control, somehow.

Pub Trivia - Contains a flashback to John’s punk days and his meeting Rose in London.

Hellblazer #156 – Good Intentions, Part Six

Plot - The boar is dead and Dickie with him, but John – as usual – has managed to screw things up completely.

Prominent People - First mention of Marjorie, Lucky’s widow, whom John came looking for six issues back.

Deaths -Dickie is confirmed dead. Richie’s dog also dies a messy death.

John Screws Up - John thought he was saving a girl being held hostage by Richie and Dickie and Rose in the bargain. It turns out that the entire town is in on the sex-tape business, with Dickie and Richie taking the video footage they shoot with all the townsfolk, selling it on the Internet and supporting the town with the proceeds.

Pub Trivia - Contains a flashback to John’s punk days and his romance with Rose in London

Hellblazer #157 – “And Buried”

Plot - John and Agent Turro meet up, with Turro sending John on to the town of Highwater. Meanwhile, a group of thugs worry about a man who may not be quite dead.

Hellblazer #158 – Freezes Over, Part One

Plot - Snowed into at a bar in a small town, John finds a mystery when a man turns up dead, stabbed by an icicle.

Prominent People - First appearances of Keith (a bartender), Hope (his mail-order bride), an unnamed trucker, an unnamed corpse, Alma (an old woman), Rudy (an old man), Pete (a local), Jay (a father), Marnie (a mother) and Doris and Ellie (Jay and Marnie’s two daughters)

Deaths - 37 on the death Tally. We don’t find out until #161, but John talked a killer into committing suicide somehow.

Hellblazer #159 – Freezes Over, Part Two

Plot - The locals tell John the legend of the Ice Man monster, as a group of desperate men join the folks trapped in the bar.

Prominent People - First appearance of Dwight, Lamar and Waylon (three thugs)

Hellblazer #160 – Freezes Over, Part Three

Plot - The situation becomes tense as the three would-be robbers take hostages.

Hellblazer #161 – Freezes Over, Part Four

Plot - With lives on the line it falls to John and Pete to save everyone – with a little help from “The Ice Man”.

Deaths - Lamar bleeds to death. Dwight is shot by Hope. Waylon is stabbed with an icicle by Pete.

Hellblazer #162 –Lapdogs and Englishmen, Part One

Plot - Mostly told in flashback, John recalls a story of the punk days when he was hired to steal the Clock of Rasputin – supposedly able to tell the future.

Prominent People - Appearances by Gary Lester and Chas Chandler. First appearance of Angie White (another aspiring punk magician) and SW Manor (aka Stanley)

Hellblazer #163 – Lapdogs and Englishmen, Part Two

Plot - John and friends pull a con on Stanley, as Angie White, armed with a book that tells the life story of whoever you want, is horrified by what she reads on John Constantine.

Deaths - Angie White is killed by a mysterious figure.

John Screws Up - John mocks the idea of a magic artifact that tells the future here. Had he been kinder to Angie in the last issue, he might have learned that such a thing DID exist.

Pub Trivia - This issue marks one of the few times Chas seems to be actively involved (i.e. doing something besides driving) in one of John’s scams. The figure that kills Angie seems to be The First of The Fallen, though we never get a look at his face. He talks about the role he plays in John’s life and preferring that nobody knows the real role he plays. This begs the question – if it IS the First of the Fallen and he knew of what was coming in his life with Constantine, why didn’t he try to stop it?

Hellblazer #164 – Highwater, Part One

Plot - John tracks Marjorie Fermin to the racist militia-run town of Highwater.

Prominent People - First appearance of Marjorie Fermin, Jimmy and Kyle (two skinheads), Mister Gage (the skinhead leader) and Gwynneth (Mister Gage’s daughter)

Hellblazer #165 – Highwater, Part Two

Plot - Marjorie takes John to meet the man who changed her life, as the neo-Nazis arm themselves for a fight.

Prominent People - First and last appearance of Wolfman, an arms dealer.

Deaths - Wolfman is beaten to death after suggesting that Neo-Nazis would be cured of their racism by sleeping with a Black woman.

Hellblazer #166 – Highwater, Part Three

Plot - Angered by his followers incompetence, Gage strikes out at Jimmy. Meanwhile, John volunteers to clean up the mess and then suggest to Jimmy and company that Gage is waiting for a bigger test of their abilities.

Prominent People - First appearance of Shawn, a friend of Mister Gage. SW Manor and one of his employees also appear briefly.

Hellblazer #167 – Highwater, Part Four

Plot - John raises a golem to fight the neo-Nazis, as S.W. Manor pays a visit to Mister Gage.

Deaths - Jimmy is shot by the police while playing with his son and daughter.

John Screws Up - John frees Marjorie of Gage’s influence and Lucky’s ghost tells him the reason for his suicide even as he thanks John for his good deed. The reader does not read the reason, but it is enough to make John angry enough to try and punch Lucky and to tell Marjorie that she wasn’t worth saving or the effort of hating.

Hellblazer #168 – A Fresh Coat of Paint

Plot - John wins at Bingo, hires a hooker and meets up with Agent Turro one more time.

Pub Trivia - Turro changes look (again) but this is explained as being a result of his undercover work. Also, John finds out that on paper, he is legally dead following the prison riot.

Hellblazer #169 – Chasing Demons

Plot - John sits in a bar and drinks with strange strangers. Meanwhile, S.W. Manor has his cruel fun with a priest.

Prominent People - First appearance of Fredo (a guard), Father Sean (a priest with a photographic memory) and confirmation that S.W. Manor and “Stanley” from “Lapdogs and Englishmen” are the same man.

Hellblazer #170 – Ashes & Dust In The City of Angels, Part One

Plot - Turro steps into investigate a mysterious death at a Los Angeles S&M club – the mysterious, fiery death of one John Constantine.

Prominent People - First appearances of Detective Havlik (a cop) and Agent Gucardi (a coroner).

Pub Trivia - The fake clock of Rasputin is scene, conforming S.W. Manor’s identity more than the use of the name “Stanley” the issue before did.

Hellblazer #171 – Ashes & Dust In The City of Angels, Part Two

Plot - Turro continues to interview witnesses to John’s death – apparently caused by spontaneous combustion. Meanwhile, S.W. Manor is being haunted in his mansion by... John Constantine.

Hellblazer #172 – Ashes & Dust In The City of Angels, Part Three

Plot - Turro’s interviews continue, as S.W. Manor tells Father Sean about how he has used his fortune to hunt the paranormal – all the things his money could not touch – and how he hired Lucky Fermin to get back at John Constantine.

Pub Trivia - The plot is finally explained. S.W. Manor, who had developed a hated for John Constantine during “Lapdogs and Englishmen” paid Lucky Fermin, who knew John, to contact him and then kill himself, framing John for the murder, with all the money going to care for Lucky’s wife, Marjorie. S.W. was content to see John trapped forever, not expecting the riots to occur or John to die. This enables John, thought dead by the world thanks to Agent Turro’s interference, to surprise S.W. at the S&M bar and begin the slow process of seducing him.

Hellblazer #173 – Ashes & Dust In The City of Angels, Part Four

Plot - Turro and Havlik finally get the name of S.W. Turro in connection go John’s murder. Meanwhile, S.W. Manor continues his story for Father Sean and tells him of how his hate for John became love and how John promised to use his magic to give S.W. want the wanted most – a chance to talk to the parents he lost as a boy.

Hellblazer #174 – Ashes & Dust In The City of Angels, Part Five

Plot - As the LAPD and Agent Turro storm Manor’s manor, S.W. Manor finishes his story and how he and an equally vengeful Richie Fermin joined forces to kill John Constantine.

Deaths - We find out the burned body was actually Richie Fermin. S.W. Manor kills himself, thinking he really did kill John. Agent Turro is killed in the assault on the mansion.

Recommended Reading

The good news is that Azzarello’s entire run is available in trade-paperback format, so there’s no trouble getting it if you want to read it.

The bad news is that there is almost no reason WHY you’d want to read it, apart from a Constantinesque desire to stare at the train wreck.

In all honesty, it’s not that writing itself is BAD, really. It’s just that it isn’t Hellblazer.

Go back and reread all these entries. Notice how short they are? That’s because there’s nothing worth noting that relates to the overall story of John Constantine. There’s no supporting or returning cast worth caring about. No send-ups of British politicians worth noting. Not even any particularly noteworthy deaths. Gruesome deaths, to be sure, but nothing that truly inspires a reaction past “Well, that’s horrible... but what does it have to do with anything?”

The story of a man wandering the backwoods of the United States observing strange, sick things happening and taking a hand when he can could be a good one – but John Constantine is not the character to tell such a story with. Had this been told with a new character, it would have been a good story. In metaphorical terms, the plot is banging its’ head against the brick wall of the foundation of John’s character and it is doing little more than knocking itself senseless.

The John seen here is a total bastard who is driven to do the right thing only by a sense of guilt. There is no laughing magician – only a sneering sociopath. And it doesn’t work. At all. John can be a bastard yes, but underneath it all is the man screaming at the unfairness of the universe and trying, in his own way, to fight against it.

The Final Analysis

Years before Warren Ellis became a sad parody of himself, Brian Azzarello wrote this series of Hellblazer stories that were a sad parody of Warren Ellis’ Hellblazer stories. While some good stories have been done with the basic plot of “John investigates something weird and bad stuff happens”, the best Hellblazer stories have centered upon John in a mess of his own making or trying to help a friend and making things worse. It’s no shock then that the worst stories, for the most part, have involved John just being there as something bad happened and reacting to it.

Despite being an anti-hero, John works best as an active character, not a reactive character. Strictly speaking, there’s not much interest to be found in a bloke who is a total bastard who just happens to observe weird things happening. That’s all the Azzarello run is, really – a bunch of stories where John the unshakable just wanders around, stuff happens and eventually we get an explanation.

Mistakes in the art, such as switching between the hair-color of Richie’s brothers in Good Intentions and Agent Turro’s ever changing appearance (bald with a goatee in Hard Time to short-haired, balding and beardless at the start of Freezes Over to slightly-shaven headed and beardless in Highwater (which is explained away as being not an art mistake, but a serious attempt at disguise) only further complicated the confusion many readers had regarding this series.

Indeed, it took me three re-readings to figure out exactly WHAT THE BLOODY HELL HAPPENED during the last five issues.

This is decompressed, ass-backwards storytelling hitting an all-time low and even in the trades, like the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you just want to grab Azzarello and yell “Get on with it!”

Thankfully, for all Hellblazer fans, things were about to get a lot better very quickly.

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