First: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE GEEK HUSBAND WHAT RULES!!!!!!!
Ok, so have you ever gone back to read something you had super fond memories of, but then it was literally NOTHING like what you remember? I don’t mean in a bad way, just… different.
I had not read any Hellblazer since the early, very early 90s, so I picked up the collections on Amazon.
I suspect that what had made the most impact on me visually was the covers. Turns out the insides are your usual 4-color hero comic art. Not bad, but nothing particularly special.
Also, this comic’s kind of rough. John Constantine leaves a trail of death and human wreckage behind him, even as he saves his own ass and the rest of the world.
Now, the reason I am not going to accuse the Constantine comic of fridge-ing female characters is because, let’s be honest, Constantine’s storyline eventually fridges everyone he knows regardless of gender.
Maybe it’s because he’s canonically bisexual, but honestly, whether or not he sleeps with someone seems to have very little impact on whether or not they die.
Now, things I do like.
I enjoy that both sides of the good and evil conflict are equally awful. One one hand, you have demons who are day-trading in souls, and on the other righteous christians who gay-bash an elderly man because he helped out a friend of Constantine’s and happens to be gay, and are just as virulently bigoted as any neo-nazi skinhead in the street.
So, the comic takes place, nominally, during Margaret Thatcher’s England of the 1980s. It was an ugly time, and the comic depicts every single wart. Greed, corruption, homophobia, misogyny, it’s all laid bare and it’s all supposed to be fucking awful. And both sides of the metaphysical coin are to blame. But there are epithets, racist and homophobic. The word bitch gets tossed around like candy. And there is at least one rape depicted, though not graphically so, in service to a scathing condemnation of US gun and pro-War culture.
The early Constantine is not satire exactly, but a mirror showing a true reflection of the culture of the time. The 80s and early 90s were a very subversive time in British geek culture. Warhammer, Judge Dredd, Constantine… None of these things are or were originally complimentary of fascists. Warhammer pretty much changed their tune over the years, and Dredd because a joke until the most recent movie. And the US television Constantine neutered the commentary and turned it into just another monster of the week.
Also trying to place that show in the US instead of England was the worst decision they could possibly have made. Ever. Too many of those shows were very obviously written to be set in England and made zero sense set in the US. And it isn’t like there weren’t storylines set in the US they could have cherrypicked.
Ultimately, I think I get Constantine better now than I did in my late teens. The writing is good, the commentary is trenchant for the time period and, sadly, relevant again. But there is a lot of violence, a lot of death, at least one on camera rape, and racist and homophobic epithets.
And while Constantine is not exactly a heroic character, he also is not exactly NOT a heroic character. He does what he has to, regardless of the cost. And I have to say that reading this comic when I did in my late teens definitely colored my writing later on. I have in fact had a character explain to someone that good men don’g fight the monsters, because you have to become one at least a little bit to truly be effective against them.
As a result of this, he has a pack of ghosts, of the people killed by knowing him and working with him, some incidentally, some consciously and actively sacrificed to the greater good. They help him, not always gently, and they very much do blame him for their deaths.
So, while I’ve enjoyed revisiting these comics again, your mileage may vary.
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