“Hey! You broke your glass! Y’got blood all over your hands …”
“I shouldn’t worry yourself about it, Frank. I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
Issues 38 and 39 see Swamp Thing head out of Louisiana following Constantine’s directions to meet him in Rosewood, Illinois. This town was completely submerged by the actions of Swamp Thing to destroy creatures overwhelming the town. Unfortunately not all the creatures were destroyed and now a race of aquatic vampires are preying on visitors to the site and planning the evolution of their species at the expense of humanity.
The confidence of Constantine is brought to the fore as he stands toe-to-toe with Swamp Thing gambling that his supposed knowledge and Swamp Thing’s curiosity to learn more of his abilities will outweigh SwampThing’s desire to put a fist through his face. By the end of the story line Swamp Thing has learned that he can move across the country through the green, regenerate within minutes and can extend his influence beyond his normal frame to include the surrounding landscape.
All of these are learned despite Constantine rather because of him and so issue 40 sees Swamp Thing and Abby discussing Constantine and how much they distrust him. However Swamp Thing still goes off to the next appointed meeting place in Kennescook, Maine. Here he finds a werewolf running wild in the town and attempts to save her and prevent her injuring the people around her. Constantine does not turn up until the drama has played itself out and finds Swamp Thing in a belligerent mood refusing to follow Constantine’s directions and return home only to find that the trickster was ready for him all along.
These issues contain some great writing from Moore and an imaginative use of some of horror’s well used characters and tying them into small town American life and history. The tension between Constantine and Swamp Thing is well played with Constantine managing to stay one step ahead of Swamp Thing at all times.
“I said I’d tell the people your missus works for about her sleeping arrangement. I’m a nasty piece of work, chief. Ask anybody.”
And with those words John Constantine introduces himself to Swamp Thing. While that was the introduction of Constantine to Swamp Thing, he had actually been introduced to readers 12 pages earlier in issue 37.
Our first sight of John paints him as a rather dapper figure with his familiar trench coat draped over his shoulders and wearing a pair of white gloves with the trademark cigarette in hand. A far cry from the rumpled mage of later years.
He is seen visiting various mystics and magic practitioners of his acquaintance trying to get to the bottom of rumours of a returning destructive force but each person he speaks to has a different vision of what that force might be.
In issue 37, Constantine enlists the help of Swamp Thing by promising to tell him more about his nature. Swamp Thing is undergoing his first painfully slow regeneration and it is John that tells him how his power is greater than he imagines and how he could abandon a body in one location and travel to another location and grow a new body there.
Abby is immediately skeptical of this new influence in the Swamp Thing’s life, probably due to still recovering from her first meeting with him when he appears in the back of her car, and sees to his heart saying, “Let him go, Alec. He’s trying to lead you on …” but John has him intrigued and by the end of the issue Swamp Thing is obviously planning to rendezvous with John in Chicago.
In this comic we have seen many of the defining characteristics of John Constantine that would be played on endlessly by writers – his air of mystery, moving in mysterious circles, his manipulative nature, his bravado. In a single issue, Alan Moore created an intriguing character whose appeal would continue for a further 28 years and counting.
So I have spent a little time doing some research on Constantine’s appearances in DC/Vertigo comics and I came across the Ultimate Hellblazer Index by John Goodrich. John has constructed a timeline of John’s career rather than his appearances (though for a lot of it is the same thing). He has pulled in a lot of appearances in other books that I was unaware of as well.
I am going to use an adapted version of this timeline to guide my reading – one that sticks more closely to publication date rather than Constantine’s personal chronology and will ignore one-off appearances in books I do not own. So I have constructed a list of comics that will start me on the Hellblazer re-read and will cover the first 100 issues of the series with some diversions along the way. The initial list is:
I already have a long established RevolutionSF blog called The Culture where I record my thoughts on the comics books I read. This new one will have a slightly different focus.
I have been collecting comics on and off for the last 30 years or so and there are a number of series that I would like to re-read – mainly from the eighties and nineties. Most of these will be from Vertigo but there are others from DC, Marvel and 2000AD that I would like to read too. So I will record these readings here separate from my main blog.
The final spur to actually do this is the news from DC that the only ongoing title throughout Vertigo’s 20 years of existence, John Constantine, Hellblazer, is to end with issue 300 and move back to DC as part of the New 52. Like most fanboys, my views on this change are not entirely positive but the closing out of the series on Vertigo means that now is probably a good time to go back and revisit the series as I have been meaning to do for some time.
So all things John Constantine will be my first focus. I will look at some of his appearances in Swamp Thing before moving onto his own series and the associated spin-off series that he also appeared in. I will probably not start before December so you have time to dig out your old back issues if you want to join in.