I was dismayed a couple months ago to learn that the long-running Hellblazer (I believe next to Archie, this is just about the longest-running uninterruptedly-numbered series out there, PERIOD, with Spawn and Savage Dragon from Image being the closer competitors to the claim). But that’s merely a principle thing to worry about…not than 300 is anything to sneeze at.
I’d fallen away from this title over the past half decade or so, maybe more…in a way, longer than I was following it, perhaps. But I’ve been catching up on the collected volumes–having long since decided I preferred to read about John’s adventures in larger chunks, rather than try to parse out the complexity via memory and a month-long gap between issues. My Hellblazer collection rivals my Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern collections, and even surpasses my TMNT collection.
But that’s still the surfacey stuff. Issue numbers, quantity of books on a shelf.
I worked at a summer camp in the summer of 2001, and while there, came across someone else who was into comics. While I was firmly “into” mainstream super-hero stuff…he was much more into the Vertigo-type books…Sandman, Preacher, Hellblazer, etc. Partway into that summer, he loaned me Damnation’s Flame, and I think I read the volume cover-to-cover in one sitting. Knew next to nothing about the character, but still followed along quite well, enjoyed the story…and I was thrilled when he loaned me whole stack of later issues–primarily from Paul Jenkins‘ run on the book. I devoured those issues, basically “maxing out” what my friend had with him (the rest of his collection being at home in Australia).
There was a small comic shop near the camp, so I was able to get a couple of the then-most-recent issues at the time (in the #160/161/162 range). I believe there was also a Secret Files and Origins type issue out that made a huge difference for me filling in some gaps and adding to my immediate knowledge of the character. Not long after, knowing he might visit a comic shop while on a weekend trip, I’d given him some money, and my friend came back with the Original Sins tpb (the old version, now inferior to the most recent Hellblazer vol. 1).
So for the summer alone, I got to sample the earliest issues of the series, two “middle runs” in the series, and the most recent (Azzarello) issues. Back at school, while I’d largely let other comics “slide,” I began keeping up with Hellblazer for most of the following year; I particularly remember pulling a number of “quotes” from the issues, when I was “collecting quotes” from comics (stuff from narration or characters themselves that worked well outside of context as statements on life and such).
I then took a year or so “off,” frustrated by the monthly grind of story chunks vs. entire stories. Shortly after graduating college, I re-visited a comic shop and found that the ENTIRE PAST YEAR was still available at cover price, so caught up in one fell swoop, devouring those issues and then staying on-board again for awhile. I also backtracked and caught up on the entirety of the then-available TPBs…and 2003 into 2004 kept up with newer TPB releases like Rake at the Gates of Hell, an Ellis volume, and a couple others.
When I began as a reviewer for comixtreme.com (now cxPulp.com), Hellblazer was one of the series that wasn’t being regularly covered, so I claimed it, and wrote a number of reviews as the #100s came to an end, and the early 200s. (In retrospect, it appears the only review that’s actually made it into this blog under the Hellblazer heading is a review I wrote over 4 years ago when the series hit #250).
I have a number of memories associated with certain periods of “binge reading” of Hellblazer –primarily that first summer at the camp, Autumn after college graduation, and a couple years later, spring before grad school graduation. I anticipate similar memories when I dive into a recently-acquired stack of TPBs, and catching up further beyond those.
I was thrilled a couple years ago, now, when Constantine showed up in the Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing mini though that turned out to be just a precursor to the New 52. I think I dropped Justice League Dark after only an issue or two for its then-distinct-lack-of-FOCUS on the DCU Constantine…which in retrospect will mean further volumes to acquired to also play catchup on Constantine. But really, I remember enjoying the notion that the Hellblazer Constantine was still around and a distinct character…while the DCU John Constantine was closer to the character’s original roots, and largely a different take on the character. I was actually interested in multiple interpretations.
While it may be a rush to judgment, it truly seems to me that cancelling the Vertigo title in favor of a new DCU title is a disservice, as it seems highly unlikely that the new Constantine will be more than (in a broad stroke) a “dumbed-down Hellblazer.” A tamed version without the “twisted” elements that were a distinct part of the character.
That the Hellblazer character was a chain-smoking, womanizing English con-man was somehow rather appealing to me as a reader–so much the opposite of myself. And if opposites attract…that would certainly explain some of it.
I picked up this week’s Hellblazer #300–the final issue of a 25-year run going back to 1988 or so–because it was the final issue. However, the issue seems to be part 3 of a 3-part story…and I’m painfully aware of the fact that there’ve been probably 70 issues of story progression and development since I last regularly read the series.
However, there’s still something familiar to it–I was definitely aware of a history to things…and where I expect some might be put off or disinclined to buy a single issue ending a series, for me it leaves me eager to catch up on the last few years of the series (and perhaps it’s also having that task yet in front of me that keeps me from being as discouraged as I’d otherwise be with the series ending). This was like skipping a couple seasons of a tv show I’d followed, but tuning in for the series finale and then realizing I actually did miss keeping up with the series and want to go back and watch the remaining seasons.
I have to admit that I got to the end of #300 and thought “what? That’s IT?!?” And maybe it was stuff I missed from parts 1 and 2 of the story, or something simply totally going over my head, but the final page left me clueless–as of this writing, I don’t know what actually happened nor what it “means,” as a finale to the series.
I’d like to say that I’ll boycott Constantine #1 on principle–and maybe if it were just about anything else, I would–but I think it’ll depend on my mood the week the issue comes out; I’m not adding it to my pull list, but I may request the single issue be pulled for me, the week it’s due out.
I neglected somehow to mention another “period” of memories I hold with Hellblazer: shortly after I started writing reviews for cxPulp, I joined the staff of the university newspaper The Daily Kent Stater, and had the only in-print review I’ve ever written for a graphic novel where I reviewed the new hardcover OGN All His Engines. I also got to attend an advance screening of the Keanu Reeves film Constantine on a press pass…my only such experience to this day.
And perhaps that’s the more sentimental thing for me.
I joined the ride around #162, so have been around for 138 additional issues…close to half the run.
Here’s to hoping what comes next does some justice to the true legacy of Hellblazer and the John Constantine character.