With the 20th Anniversary of John Constantine’s monthly book’s first publication fast approaching, it seems a fitting time to reflect upon what has come before while considering how things are now. This is ironic considering that despite the many changes this book has gone over two decades the state of things is remarkably close to how they were twenty years ago.
Andy Diggle made Hellblazer his own book from the very first issue and set about seeing John reborn. This was necessary since the last substantial run on the book, penned by Lucifer writer Mike Carey, ended with John alienating nearly every ally and friend he had left, most of the London magical scene and John destroying his entire storage-unit of magic books and artifacts. With none of his resources and connections, but all of his enemies and his tendency to attract trouble when he isn’t actively looking for it, John underwent a magical rebirth of sorts and emerged looking slightly-older and somewhat-wiser but still the same loveable rogue he was way back during the Jamie Delano run.
The similarities between Diggle’s run thus far and Delano’s run extends past their portrayal of John as a character. Delano’s stories drew heavily upon the history and legend of magic in England as well as the theme that while there are horrible things in the Earth, the true horror lies in the hearts of Mankind. Diggle has established the same themes in his Joyride storyline, as a dark magician uses the Druidic magic of England to develop his own power while simultaneously corrupting dozens of relative innocents by promising them the power to get revenge on their enemies.
I make this comparison as praise for Diggle’s ability to exploit the continuity and themes that have come before him in order to tell new stories that ring true to the original intent of Hellblazer – not to suggest that he is ripping-off a long-established writer. Far from it.
Indeed, Diggle’s work here is the work of a true master. Like all the great Hellblazer writers before him, his work has a unique voice all it’s own and yet it still seems as if his vision of John Constantine – drawn as it was from the works of others – is true and definitive. I miss Mike Carey’s work on the title but if he were to return, I would miss Andy Diggle just as much.
This skillful writing is partnered with an equally skillful artist. Leonardo Manco is a perfect choice for Hellblazer, which requires an artist who can depict in equal parts the horrific fiends and terrors of the Abyss as well as the more mundane horrors, such as a horrific hit-and-run accident and the facial expressions of an astrally-possessed punk, who finds out that he raped his own sister while he “slept”.
Vertigo Comics longest running title is in good hands. I highly recommend that if you’re not already reading Hellblazer, you start next month with #238 and the new arc.