Jean-Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people.” No one knows that more than John Constantine. In the current story arc of “John Constantine: Hellblazer” called “The Red Right Hand,” the populace of Glasgow is coming to learn that painful maxim as well. “The Red Right Hand” is the final arc of Scottish crime novelist, Denise Mina’s run on “Hellblazer,” but it’s not her last project for Vertigo. She’s currently working on an original graphic novel called “A Sickness in the Family.” CBR News spoke with Mina about both projects.
When Mina was contacted by Vertigo and offered “Hellblazer” she was ecstatic. “They wrote to my web site and asked if I’d be interested in writing ‘Hellblazer,'” Mina told CBR News. “I nearly bit their hand off.”
Mina is primarily known for writing crime novels set in her native Scotland, but she’s also a comic fan, which is one of the reasons why she jumped at the chance to write “Hellblazer.” “I have a ‘comic rabbi’ called Chris Cole (name checked in my ‘Hellblazer’ run) who is so avid he reads the professional news,” Mina said. “He has perfect taste and tells me what’s particularly good at any given moment. I’m very loyal, though, once hooked. I always prefer to wait and get the trade paper back rather than the comic monthly, though. I can’t remember what the hell’s going on otherwise.”
The other reason Mina was excited to write “Hellblazer” was because it meant a chance to tackle John Constantine, a character she was already a fan of. It’s Constantine’s more “charming” qualities that Mina finds so appealing. “It’s his bastard-icity, the moral ambiguity in the character,” Mina explained. “That’s so rare in modern stories. For me the best ever story was ‘Dangerous Habits.’ It’s about the infinite and the particular at the same time. Also, it highlights John’s Character flaws and strengths.”
Mina feel’s Constantine’s shades of grey outlook on life is one of his dominant personality traits and defines his flaws and strengths. “He’s the personification of the moral confusion that we all feel when faced with any problem. But also hugely powerful. And he smokes. I think he’s loyal to his mates and his character flaws are arrogance and melancholy, which is a kind of arrogance.”
“Hellblazer” #216 marked the beginning of Mina’s run and a story arc titled, “Empathy is the Enemy,” which opened with Constantine heavily in the grip of melancholy. “He was devastated, refusing to use magic, had lost his best friend and his sister, probably through some fault of his own,” Mina explained.
In “Empathy is the Enemy,” the depressed Constantine met a man named Chris Cole. What began with a simple conversation between the two, because Constantine liked Cole’s shirt, lead to Constantine following Cole back to his native town of Glasgow and the release of a magical plague. Mina provided a summary for readers who are jumping aboard her run with “The Red Right Hand” which takes place about two weeks after “Empathy.” “An empathy epidemic has hit Glasgow, caused by the Master of the Third Place,” she said. “It is deadly because people can’t bear to feel their neighbor’s pain and so they kill themselves.”
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The demonic Master of the Third Place is able to spread the plague through near death experiences, an idea that Mina wanted to explore along with the idea of empathy in “Empathy is the Enemy.” “Near death experiences have always interested me, as has the concept of empathy,” she stated. “Near death’s are almost certainly a trap, nothing’s unadulterated joy like that and no one comes back if they go in past a certain point. There used to be a strip joint in Soho where the punter came in one door, but left through the other: that’s so they can’t tell those waiting in the queue – it’s shit, don’t waste your money. Same principle.
“The empathy thing: well, I think being empathetic can be crippling for some people,” Mina continued. “Other people lack empathy and that’s just as problematic. We are social animals and tend to judge people on the basis of how empathetic they are: do they cry when others do? Do they feel hurt for others etc.? This is especially true for women. We’re supposed to cry over other people’s problems all the time. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass to be honest.”
In “Empathy,” a magus named Steven Evans was manipulated by the Master of the Third Place into unleashing the empathy epidemic on Glasgow and monstrous Praexis Demons began flocking towards the city. When “Red Right Hand” begins, Glasgow is being ravaged by both supernatural threats, which are growing and now threaten more than just the Scottish metropolis. “Evans has to motivate John to help him end the empathy epidemic,” Mina said. “Chas, Angie and Gemma turn up under bizarre circumstances. Praexis are gathering all over Britain and no one knows why. They’re having a love of a time actually, being very fat and having the run of the city.”
Since the bulk of Mina’s “Hellblazer” arc is set in the city of Glasgow – her hometown – she was able to include many real locations and authentic history for her stories. “Park Circus is a real place and is built with a missing segment,” Mina said. “Charles Wilson was its architect. St Oran was buried alive in Iona at the establishment of the abbey to help the building work and was dug up after three days and found to be alive and did indeed say ‘Heaven, Hell, it is not how you think it is.’ They reburied him and still in the western Isles if someone says something outrageous they say ‘ throw mud in the mouth of St Oran’ for ‘shut up.’
“Oronsay is real and there is an abbey there. Nothing much spooky happened there, but we went there on a holiday and it is very beautiful so I wanted to use it in the story.”
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“The Red Right Hand” is Mina’s last scheduled “Hellblazer” story, but she will miss writing John Constantine. “I would love to come back, but that’s the end of my run,” she stated. “I have to go off and do other projects for a wee while. Boo hoo.”
One of the other projects Mina is working on is “A Sickness in a Family,” a 128 page original graphic novel from Vertigo. “Sickness” was born out of Mina’s meditations on the idea of inheritance. “I was thinking about King Lear and inheritance,” Mina said. “Most people who do have an inheritance are depending on the sale of a house at a time when the parents are often unable to look after the house. It makes for tense times.”
In “Sickness,” it’s a close knit Glasgow based family that is having a tense time over a house. “They are a large family with a mum and dad – Ted and Biddy, three kids – Amy, Sam and William, and a Gran, Martha. Also neighbors Kerr Gibb and Darota,” Mina explained. “They are a close family and can’t get away from each other because they all have flaws that mean they are afraid to leave the house.”
It’s the actions of the neighbors and the family patriarch that sends things spiraling out of control in the story. “Darota and Kerr have a spot of trouble in the blood-containment department,” Mina said. “Because of this Ted does something that no one else in the family wants him to do and carnage follows.”
Like her “Hellblazer” stories “A Sickness in the Family” is a crime story with supernatural elements, but it’s also a tragedy in that’s its cast of characters are basically good people who are driven to do some very bad things. “Nasty and wretched just about sums them up at the end, but they were trying to do the right thing I think,” Mina stated. “Hopefully you should feel differently about them at different times in the story.”
Artist Antonio Fuso will bring to life “A Sickness in the Family.” “His work is wonderful,” Mina stated. “I’m thrilled by his character drawings and of course of the house which has to be very specific.”