For our final comic book column, we've lured Grey Carter away from Critical Miss and Erin Dies Alone for a new series called Gutter Mouth! Don't forget to read The Escapist's other fantastic comics columns if you haven't seen them already!
It's been three years and change since DC canceled Hellblazer and brought con-man/magician/Sting lookalike, John Constantine, into the New 52 mainline universe. Three hundred issues of sprawling lore and expert character building from some of the greatest writers in the medium chucked in the bin so Constantine could inhabit the same universe as a man dressed like a bat and the king of the fish men.
If I sound bitter, it's because I am. At its best, Hellblazer was always a snarling satire of modern Britain. At his best, John Constantine was more than a bloke in a fancy coat who could do a bit of magic, he was an avatar of the politically-minded Briton.
So when he started hopping through dimensions and shooting magic out of his hands in the rebooted Constantine, super-heated jets of steaming piss started escaping from behind my eyeballs. It was quite a sight to behold. Except I couldn't really behold it. Because of the aforementioned urine vapor.
Despite being terrible, Constantine limped on for twenty-three issues. New 52 tie-ins and the Constantine TV-show (also bad, but not disastrously so) kept sales at a reasonable level, but it was a critical flop. Then, like everything else in the New 52 lineup, it was rebooted. Again.
Constantine: The Hellblazer, as the title might imply, tries to emulate the tone of the original Vertigo series, and to be fair, it does a half-decent job. To the point where I actually feel kind of cruel for hating it. Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV are clearly doing their best with stricter content guidelines (as a Veritgo title, Hellblazer was afforded seemingly infinite levels of edginess). It helps that Riley Rossmo's art is an absolute treat, even if seeing Constantine with a side cut makes me want to retch.
Still, at it's core, Constantine: The Hellblazer suffers from the same problem as Constantine. And despite what long-term fans might scream at you through your letterbox, it isn't that they threw out all the lore, or that John is young now, or that he does too much magic, or that he can't swear without a bunch of asterisks piling up in his speech bubbles like there's some kind of punctuation orgy going on. No, it's because both comics are deliberately "non-political."
And that's the thing. All the best Hellblazer stories, with the notable exception of Azzarello's excellent "...Freezes Over" (a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster run), are set in England and they're all blisteringly political.
John Constantine was created by Alan Moore during his run on Swamp Thing, a series with an obvious environmentalist angle, but it was Jamie Delano, the first writer of Hellblazer who cemented the character as a rakish, anti-authoritarian figure. Delano also made Constantine a former punk rocker, which was a stroke of genius. By the time Hellblazer #1 hit shelves in 1988, Punk as a movement was long since dead. Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had been in power for nearly a decade and her policies were everything punk had rallied against: Nationalism, Social Authoritarianism, Victorian Family Values and free market libertarianism. Her policies are credited with revitalizing the British economy, but at the cost of massive unemployment, the decimation of dozens of heavy industry communities in the north of England and a widening gap between social classes.