John Constantine is the best there is at what he does and what he does certainly ain’t pretty. Known as a magician, conjurer, con man, helper of the innocent and a generally dangerous person to be around, Constantine has been kicking around for nearly 30 years since first fully appearing in Swamp Thing #37 by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette. Since then he starred in the long running Vertigo series Hellblazer, made his way into the New 52, featured on the big screen and, most recently, stars in his own television series called Constantine, the second episode of which airs tonight.
With the character making his TV debut on NBC thanks to actor Matt Ryan and comic multimedia guru David S. Goyer, it seemed like the perfect time to read through the first two years or so of Hellblazer comics – collected in the first three volumes of DC’s John Constantine Hellblazer trade paperbacks – and get an idea of what Constantine was like. And you know what? He was a right bastard a lot of the time.
As it turns out, a guy otherwise known as Hellblazer isn’t always the nicest person in the world, thanks in part to writer Jamie Delano who took Alan Moore’s creation and built a surprisingly poetic and dangerous world around one of comics’ greatest antiheroes. Sometimes he needs to make hard decisions to stop the world from a demon attack and others he just doesn’t feel like getting his hands – or iconic trenchcoat – dirty. Here are Constantine’s most dark and dastardly moments from Hellblazer‘s first year of publication. We’d be surprised if some of these made their way into a network series, but be warned anyway, because huge spoilers for the comic, and possibly the show, abound.
10. Shows a Zombie Who’s Boss (Hellblazer #1)
The very first issue of Hellblazer not only introduces the world to a gaggle of ghosts following Contantine around making him feel bad about past sins, but also the mysterious mage known as Papa Midnite. To help save his chum Gary Lester – who, SPOILER, winds up further down this list – Constantine travels to New York City to put a stop to a hunger demon called Mnemoth. While there, he heads over to Midnite’s night-slash-sex club where he encounters the voodoo priest’s zombie servants.
The behemoth immediately tries to kill him and Gary with a caged chicken, but they dodge out of the way. To combat the giant, John slugs him in the face, calls him scum and presses his boot to his face. “There, you just have to put the hard word on them,” he says to Gary. While there might not be a ton of sympathy for hypnotized corpses, this does show the fury and fire that lives inside of Constantine. That’s no way to treat a harmless zombie!
9. Prefers a Clean Coat Over Helping (Hellblazer #6)
A gang called the British Boys made several appearances in the early issues of Hellblazer. A hate group willing to bash skulls over everything from skin color to soccer alliances, they find themselves up against a demon named Nergal. Thinking they were about to attack a gay man in a neighborhood bathroom, the Boys wound up melded together into a single creature re-dubbed Ironfist the Avenger.
Before that, though, Constantine saw the Boys go after what he thought was a man. Ready to put the gutter trash in their places, he entered the bathroom to find a mess of blood, but no bodies. Did he continue to investigate? “No bloody chance, not in me good coat,” he said, before heading to the pub and hooking up with recent acquaintance Zed. As it happens, Nergal sent Ironfist to grab Zed, but luckily for her Constantine was there to point out that they’re made up of rival football fans, which resulted in them beating themselves to death with their own arms. Of course, had he done his job as a paranormal investigator all of this could have been avoided. In the end, though, he kept that glorious coat clean.
8. Lets His Friends Get Hauled off (Hellblazer #20)
It might sound inconceivable as you make your way through this list, but Constantine actually made friends and positively influenced people throughout most of the nine-part “Fear Machine” storyline that ran from Hellblazer #14-22. He joined and enjoyed an earthy band of travelers, but once young psychic Mercury was kidnapped by a cult posing as research company Geotroniks, he got himself a dark trenchcoat and sunglasses, returned to London and put together an odd group of people who had also been affected by the shadowy organization.
Even though he was on his best behavior throughout most of this story, John did allow his fellow investigators – former copper Talbot, Simon the journalist and Serj, a Russian scientist – get hauled off by Geotroniks’ goon squad. And by “let” I mean that he literally stood there as they were led away in handcuffs. He did get some information before the stormtroopers drove off, but most of his new friends got hanged as a way to attract a very old god. Mind you, this is the same man who hastily messed with a woman’s mind just a few issues earlier and figured out a way to kill a demon. Getting three people away from a bunch of mental rent-a-cops should have been a cakewalk.
7. Pulls Ritchie’s Plug (Hellblazer #7)
In an effort to figure out what’s going on with a growing threat from a group called the Resurrection Crusaders, John visits his friend Ritchie, who used to be part of his gang back in the day. In addition to studying magic like the rest of his pals, Ritchie branched out into the world of computers and technology, merging the two passions into a kind of technomancy. To find out even more about the Crusaders, Gary projects his consciousness into the digital world while Constantine hangs back to watch his body.
Unfortunately for Ritche, John utterly fails. While tripping the digital light fantastic, Ritchie hits a magical trap which makes his body spontaneously combust, leaving a smoking husk. Instead of explaining what happened to his friend and trying to come up with an alternate solution, Constantine instead pulls the plug on the computer system and walks away.
Later, in Hellblazer #12 issues, Ritchie reveals that he’s still alive by getting Constantine to put a computer system together and then taking over his body. John gets his corpus back by admitting its riddled with cancer, so Ritchie goes for the next best thing: a nearby demon corpse. That doesn’t go over so well with Agony and Ecstasy, Slave Twins of the Inquisition, who reclaim the body and Ritchie’s soul to their fiery domain. The moral of that story? If Constantine screws you over once, he’ll probably do it again…or just let a demon do it for him.
6. Lets Husband Attack Wife (Hellblazer #5)
In true Twilight Zone fashion, Hellblazer #5 sends Constantine to a town called Liberty, Iowa where something very strange is happening. During the Vietnam War, many of the town’s young men went to serve their country and never came back, except for the guilt-ridden Frank. Now, the townspeople think their boys will return thanks to the claims of the Resurrection Crusaders. What they don’t realize is that, instead of returning like normal, an act of dimensional trickery will bring the past into the present as the soldiers – led by Frank thinking he’s back in the jungle – unknowingly attack their home town, while seeing it as a village in ‘Nam.
Acting as mainly a witness to these events, Constantine walks around as Frank’s sanity goes AWOL and he starts gunning down the people he knows and loves. In the middle of all this, Frank comes across his wife Nancy, but thinks she’s a woman from the village and continues to beat and assault her while Constantine just watches, claiming he should do something, but can’t because he’s “shut out of this thing.” Frank eventually kills Nancy, and John gets involved by sending the deranged veteran off to blow up a tanker truck, killing himself in the process. For a guy who fought the devil several times and always came out on top, it seems suspect that John couldn’t come up with something to help all those people murdered in a town called Liberty.
5. Saves Priest Before Letting Him Die (Hellblazer #1)
In another act of inaction, Constantine follows the fly-like hunger demon Mnemoth into a church after his friend Gary Lester accidentally unleashed it on New York City. Thinking he’s a pretty big deal, John faces the giant bug-thing saying, “C’mon then, you maggoty piece of Hell meat. Eat me! I’ll bloody choke you!”
After getting the hunger demon nice and mad, John realizes he’s nowhere near strong enough to take it on, as his dead girlfriend’s ghost told him when he entered. As Mnemoth launches towards its prey, Constantine leaps out of the way, leaving the demon to consume the priest John briefly saved when he entered the building. Nice way of giving the poor guy a glimmer of hope – getting his attacker super mad and then getting him possessed and murdered anyway.
4. Turns Gary Into a Demon Trap (Hellblazer #2)
Alright, so here’s what ultimately happened to Gary Lester. After unleashing Mnemoth onto the world, heroin addict Gary contacted his old friend John. John researched the demon and took Gary to NYC where Papa Midnite helped the Laughing Magician strap his friend into an old electric chair, summon Mnemoth and trap the monster inside Gary. Did I mention that the process involved hordes of flies entering Gary from all over?
Once inside Gary, Mnemoth is trapped thanks to a series of markings and rituals performed by the two mages. An enraged Gary finally rushes Constantine, ready to attack, but is easily soothed. “It’s John, John Constantine,” he says. “You don’t want to hurt me.” Apparently the statement is true, because the defeated Gary stops long enough to be strapped into a straitjacket, given a hit of smack and locked up in Midnite’s dungeon. Constantine did feel pretty bad about all this. He chugged a few bottles of booze and smoked a bunch of cigarettes before leaving Gary. However, Gary won’t leave him anytime soon, as he’s now a part of the ghost gang that follows John around, making him feel guilty for eternity. Maybe John just wanted another old friend hanging around?
3. Returns During Swamp Thing Sex Swap (Hellblazer #10)
After a series of particularly difficult adventures – including a crippling jump from a train, a deal with the demon Nergal and a terrible 35th birthday – Swamp Thing appears to John at the end of Hellblazer #9, hijacks his body and uses it to have sex with his lady Abby as a way to create a new being referred to as the Sprout in Swamp Thing #76 and 77. Swampy himself could earn a place on this list considering the simple fact that Abby abhors Constantine.
By Hellblazer #10, Constantine’s on an astral super-trip thanks to Swamp Thing’s residence in his body. While disconnected he makes plenty of connections regarding recent events and also realizes that his deal with the demon Negral might not work out so well for everyone involved. Fearing for his life, he pops back into his body while Swamp Thing is getting down with Abby. Yes, it was a necessity for survival, but after Abby understandably freaks out, he responds with a glib, “Well, thanks for the memory, darlin’.” Even Swamp Thing, a being made of mud and animal excrement thought it was uncool, telling John, “We have no further business.” Pretty bold words for a body snatcher there, Swamp Thing!
2. Goes to Bed With Zed (Hellblazer #9)
Remember the woman mentioned above named Zed? She first appeared spray-painting a wall in Hellblazer #1 and soon became an integral part of the ongoing story. In addition to the aforementioned hook-up, she also helped John save his niece from a child murderer in Hellblazer #3. What he didn’t know at the time, though, was that she comes from a particularly crazy family, one that’s fully invested in the cultish Resurrection Crusade. After several failed attempts, her father’s people finally kidnap her and bring her back to their compound where their plan of offering her to an angel as consort to create new life is revealed.
To save his skin and keep the demon Nergal from hurting a whole lot of innocent people, Constantine agrees to help him stop the new messiah from being born in Hellblazer #9. Before he could do that, though, he needed to get out of the hospital bed, so Nergal gives him a blood transfusion that speeds up the healing process, but also taints John. Soon after getting put back together, Constantine finds Zed in Glastonbury and they have one supposedly last fling.
Only later do we learn that this was all part of Constantine’s plan. See, when the angel tried to mate with Zed in Hellblazer #10, he was less than pleased to find a demon-infused presence had already been there and punished her for it. Zed wound up doing okay for herself, morphing into a pagan priestess of sorts, but leave it to Constantine to play with peoples’ lives in such a complete and menacing way.
1. Summons the Wrong Demon (Hellblazer #11)
Throughout most of Hellblazer‘s first year of stories, many of John’s troubles could be traced back to a demon named Nergal. But why did he have such a grudge towards Constantine? Well, as shown in Hellblazer #11, John brought Nergal to this plane. In a flashback, he and his friends – a group the includes list-makers Gary and Ritchie along with Frank, Judith, Anne-Marie and Ben – head to a place called the Casanova Club in Newcastle to investigate some supernatural phenomena taking place in the area.
Their suspicions that the club is the epicenter of all the troubles are confirmed when they discover a veritable charnel house inside. Soon, a young girl named Astra reveals herself to not only have been grossly abused by her sex magician father and his “friends,” but also the conjurer of a demon she calls the Norfulthing. In an attempt to destroy the rogue Norfulthing, Constantine tries to bring his own up from the depths of hell, but unleashes the wrong one.
Nergal possess Astra and melts Anne-Marie’s face before straight-up telling Constantine that he’s not only going to kill his friends one-by-one, but also that he’s taking Astra to Hell with him right then. John follows for a few steps, pulls a fast one and tries to escape with the girl, but only gets out with his own skin…and one of her arms. The poor spell-casting and cavalier attitude leads John to a two year stay in Ravenscar Secure Facility for the Dangerously Deranged (where the TV series begins). He got off light considering everyone else wound up dead.
Appropriately, John teamed up with Ritchie to finally defeat Nergal by bringing him into the digital dimension and tricking him to trespass against Heaven. Still, all of John’s troubles for several years stemmed from one sloppy attempt to help someone. You’d think he’d learn from that, but as the rest of the list shows, that wasn’t quite the case.
Previously by TJ Diestch