Looking To The Stars: Trail-Blazing to Hell

On this All Hallows Eve, as I rest from one of the busiest weeks in memory for my acting troupe (We’ve been doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local haunted house all week), I can’t help but notice how well the comic book publishers have timed some of their releases.

You see, there’s a good number of horror-themed comic-tie ins that came out this week. Land of the Dead. Haunted Mansion. Trailer Park of Terror. And several others as well. But I won’t be talking about any of them tonight for the good and simple reason that as busy as I was with my acting troupe this week, work was even busier and didn’t allow for any of the usual perusing of the new weird titles.

Besides, as interesting as these new books may be… I know that they can’t hold a candle to the best one there is. A title that manages to be horrifying, amusing and everything that makes Halloween my favorite holiday all year round. I speak of Hellblazer; Vertigo’s longest running title and one of the longer running comic-titles anywhere.

So in honor of this, my favorite time of year, I have a gift for all of you who have yet to be exposed to the world of John Constantine. A list of ten stories, multi-part and not, that I recommend to anyone and everyone interested in a fine book or learning about the real JC and not that cinematic abortion with the guy from The Matrix.

1. “Dream A Little Dream of Me” – Sandman #3
Available in The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes TP

The first story I read with John as a main character and as good an introduction to the character as anything else. His appearance here was meant to get Vertigo readers to try the new Sandman series, but I think more readers were introduced to John Constantine through the Sandman trade-paperbacks. It’s a good read, either way.

2. “Newcastle: A Taste Of Things To Come” – Hellblazer #11
Available in Hellblazer: Rare Cuts TP

A good straight horror read and a historically important story as well. We learn of John’s first major battle with the forces of Hell and of what started his chronic nightmares.

3. “Hold Me” – Hellblazer #27
Available in Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days TP

Another one-shot by Gaiman and the only thing with JC he ever wrote as part of the regular book run. This is one of the few one-part stories that ever managed a true balance between the humor and the horror that make up the quintessential Hellblazer story.

4. “Dangerous Habits” – Hellblazer #41-46
Available in Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits TP

The first story Garth Ennis wrote for Hellblazer, many would argue that it was his best and probably the greatest Hellblazer story of all time. It’s indisputably one of the best, as John finds himself trying to trick a way past the one thing he can’t magic away; cancer.

5. “Lord of the Dance” – Hellblazer #49

Forget some shirtless Irishman dancing! This story is probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a John Constantine Christmas special. And thank whatever gods are listening for that, because I don’t want to see anyone trying and failing to top this tale about John actually doing a good deed for once and curing the depression of the Spirit of Revelry.

6. “Critical Mass” – Hellblazer #92-96

The greatest crime Vertigo’s Powers That Be ever committed was green-
lighting the “trading” of whole of Brian Azarello’s run on this book while leaving the far superior Paul Jenkins run unbound. This tale, Jenkins first big multi-part storyline, details John’s no-win situation trying to save the son of an old friend at the price of his own soul.

7. “Last Man Standing” – Hellblazer #120

Most of those readers vaguely familiar with the whole of Hellblazer history know of John’s long-running conflict with The Devil Himself. This lesser known story chronicles John’s battle with an equally legendary mythological character. Manipulator faces manipulator as JC fights for the soul of England itself against Merlin.

8. “Desperately Seeking Something” – Hellblazer #110-114

The 10th Anniversary special that actually proves to be just what the world “special” suggests. Worth a look just for the writer/artist cameos in the background as well as one of the few times we ever see someone get the best of John Constantine with a simple prank.

9. “Telling Tales” – Hellblazer #143
Available in Hellblazer: Setting Sun TP

While most of his dialogue for JC sounded more like Spider Jerusalem, Warren Ellis did manage to get it right with this one-shot where John tells the secret “true” history of London to a reporter eager for dirt on the Royal Family.

10. “The Gift” – Hellblazer #213

Figure I may as well do one comic that your store probably still has in stock. But seriously; this month’s issue is one of the better self-introspection one-shots the title has ever had.

Of course if you’re low on funds to go back-issue or trade-hunting right now, there’s quite a bit of freebies for anyone wanting to learn more about John Constantine. DC Comics has the first issue available for free in PDF format on their website. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the invaluable Straight To Hell website; easily the best Hellblazer site on the web.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.