Raise a little Hellblazer: John Constantine comics to look out for

by Blaise Tassone

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Back in 2015 Warner Bros. television released ‘Constantine’, a live action program that was true to the spirit of the character it was named after. Matt Ryan, the Welsh actor who portrayed John Constantine, nailed him. He even spoke with a British accent! Rarer still, among super-hero live action adaptations, my wife (who is not a fan of superhero shows) liked the series just as much as I did, so we watched it together. Naturally, when something is well made and works, Murphy’s law kicks in, and the show was promptly cancelled after one season.

To my delight, however, I read the other day that Matt Ryan will be resurrecting his role as the Constantine character and joining the CW’s ongoing super-team show: ‘Legends of Tomorrow’. I had stopped watching that program after season two, but this news makes me want to tune in again.

What’s the big deal about Constantine? Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, John Constantine was an ex-conman and practicing occultist who first appeared in a cameo in Saga of the Swamp Thing #25 (June 1984).

With his beat-up trench-coat, cynical attitude and generally reckless behavior, Constantine is best described as an anti-hero. He does, however, try to do the right thing and help people, so that no matter how much he screws up and hurts those around him (many of those closest to him in the comics end up dead or hurt), you still want to root for him.

The first big break-out of John Constantine in popular culture, beyond the comic book page, was a 2005 big budget Hollywood live-action film. This film was, on its own terms as a super-natural thriller, watchable but it wasn’t really a Constantine movie. Starring Keanu Reeves, who neither looked nor sounded the part (since they had him speak with his normal American accent), its plot may have been adapted from material originally appearing in the Hellblazer comics, but the sunny LA setting of the film did more to evoke the tone of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ than anything out of Hellblazer . If you’ve only seen this film, you could never even begin to guess why Empire magazine once ranked the character of John Constantine as number three of its fifty all-time greatest comic book characters.

As mentioned above, the 2015 live action series was much, much better, but unfortunately cancelled before it could really take off and develop to anything even approaching its full potential. Nonetheless, given his ongoing appearances in live action and even animated features, John is currently a member of Justice League Dark for example, there seems little doubt that Constantine is here to stay. So, let’s look at his notable comic book appearances, some of which can fetch quite a few dollars on the market.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 (June 1984) – First full appearance of John Constantine

Constantine isn’t the only character that will get more exposure in upcoming live action projects. His elemental plant-man colleague Swamp Thing will also get his own series on DC Universe. It was in the pages of Saga of the Swamp Thing that Constantine first appeared in the 1980s. The story goes that Swamp Thing artist Steve Bissette and inker John Totleben, wanted to draw a character who looked like Sting (then lead singer of The Police) and so Alan Moore had to come up with a story and background for this blonde rocker look alike. Working class occult detective John Constantine was subsequently born. Although many reference books cite Saga of Swamp Thing #25 as his first cameo appearance, issue #37 is certainly his first full appearance and as such a valuable comic. 9.8 graded copies have reached the $450.00 price range but best returns over the last three years have been on 6.5 grades (at 48.4%).

Hellblazer #1 (January 1988) – First Constantine Solo Series

The first issue of this Constantine solo title was published from 1988-2013. Jamie Delano took over writing duties from Alan Moore and his time with the character led to the introduction of the many supporting characters (Chas, Zed, Papa Midnite, etc.) that we still associate with Constantine today. Since the Hellblazer comic dealt with mature themes, and didn’t pull any punches, DC couldn’t actually get the Comics Code approval for it, so they launched it under their non-Comics Code prestige format label ‘Vertigo’. This series would eventually run for 300 issues (making it the longest running Vertigo comic ever), 9.8 graded copies currently sell for just under $200.00. Best returns have been on 7.5 grades (119.4%).

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