The DC Comics and Vertigo universes are set to be a little bit darker this December as comic book writer Peter Milligan brings fans an all new “Hellblazer Annual” while continuing to wreak mayhem upon the DCU with “Justice League Dark.”
One of the ongoing monthly series to come out of DC Comics’ company-wide relaunch, “Justice League Dark” follows DC’s eldritch heroes as they are brought together by Madame Xanadu to defeat the Enchantress, an evil magic user with ties to the amnesiac June Moone. Ushering John Constantine back to the DC Universe, the series is illustrated by artist Mikel Janin, whose previous work includes drawing “Justice League Dark” character Deadman in DC’s pre-New 52 mini “Flashpoint: Deadman And The Flying Graysons.”
On the Vertigo side of things, Milligan is teaming up again with longtime artistic collaborator Simon Bisley to create a story titled “Suicide Bridge” for December’s “Hellblazer Annual.” Though labeled with a #1, this actually marks the second Annual for the long-running title, the first appearing in 1989 by the creative team of Jamie Delano and Bryan Talbot.
The British writer, who also pens the ongoing “Red Lanterns” comic, spoke with CBR about both of his series, the relationship dynamics between his characters and how the “Hellblazer Annual” brings fans his most personal story yet.
CBR News: In the first issues of “Justice League Dark,” we’ve seen the “team” slowly assemble while observing their (very substantial) personal and relationship problems. Outside of their magical powers, is their inability to connect with others part of the reason you wanted to bring them together?
Peter Milligan: It’s a big reason why Xanadu has pulled these troubled souls together. They’re destructive to themselves and to others. As a team — they might be able to get along.
In “Red Lanterns,” you’re toying with themes of retribution and rage — is there a central theme or idea you’re working with in “Justice League Dark?” Or are you more interested in exploring the characters, first and foremost?
The exploration of the central theme and the characters comes down to the same thing — what it means to be damaged by the “powers” that you have, so damaged that you are a danger to yourself and to others and whether it’s possible for anti-heroes such as these to form a team that can play some kind of positive role.
On one end of the spectrum, we see Shade in the middle of a somewhat disturbing, very abnormal relationship with his simulacrum of his ex-girlfriend Kathy from your Vertigo run with the character. On the other end is Deadman and his genuinely alive girlfriend, Dawn Granger, better known as the latter half of the team of Hawk and Dove. Why bring Dove into the book? What do you like about the very recent relationship between those two characters?
I’m interested in what impact having these weird powers have on our characters’ lives — and also on the lives of those who our heroes touch. I have an idea that the members of “Justice League Dark” have strings of damaged and broken relationships behind them. With Boston [Brand, AKA Deadman] and Dove, we had a relationship that most readers would already know about. I wanted to show just how tough it must be, just how destructive their realities are.
Even though the Enchantress is the main threat of your initial issues, Madame Xanadu is coming off as fairly sinister in her own right. While Madame X has always been a mysterious character, even in her own series, is “Justice League Dark” your chance to define her as a more menacing figure?
Up to a point, though Xanadu is a character who resists ultimate definition. The thing is, she is not immune from the difficulties that the other members of the team face. Whether she admits it or not, she is as damaged and dysfunctional as the rest of them, and this has an effect on her moral compass.
We’ve also got Constantine looking for Zatanna in the early chapters. Thanks to solicitations, we know they’ll be working together more closely in future issues. Will their old relationship be coloring their interactions in “Justice League Dark?”
Yes, though it’s only one aspect of their current relationship. Constantine is the kind of man who has a string of relationships behind him. If he tries to re-ignite his thing with Zatanna, he’ll probably have an ulterior motive. But Zatanna isn’t stupid. She understands how Constantine operates, more than most.
Between “Justice League Dark” and “Hellblazer,” what has it been like writing two John Constantines? Has it been a challenge, or do you feel as though you have the best of both worlds, writing John both as a young, DCU hero and an older magic practitioner in “Hellblazer?”
You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve been asked this question! Of course it’s a challenge, but it’s not an insanely difficult one. I mean, I don’t have to perform some complex mental gymnastics to separate the two. How I see it, they’re the same John. The DCU John is younger, and operates on a different time or storyline from his “Hellblazer”/Vertigo cousin, but they are essentially the same person with the same kind of outlook and the same difficult relationship with morality.
I think the “Justice League Dark” Constantine has a bit more outright Occult ability than the Vertigo one, but the truth is, my Vertigo Constantine has a bit more occult about him than some of the other writer’s versions, anyway. The bottom line is, I’m confident that our readers are sophisticated enough to understand that this is the same character, expressed and characterized in different stories.
While we’re on the subject of Constantine, let’s switch to the new “Hellblazer Annual” coming out in December. The last “Hellblazer” annual was in 1989 — what prompted doing another big annual issue all these years later? And what should readers expect from the Annual?
We’re talking about “Suicide Bridge,” and I am very excited about this, though I’m not sure what the initial “prompting” was. Shelly Bond and I discussed an Annual, and this has been a subject I’ve wanted to write about for some time. It’s a very dark and a very personal story.
It’s also a classic John Constantine story, and I believe it’s one of the best Constantine stories that I’ve written. The artwork — by Simon Bisley — is sensational. It will be related to the current storyline insofar as Epiphany, John’s wife, will feature in it, but apart from that, it will exist as a stand-alone story. Though that doesn’t mean that John won’t re-visit the baleful site of Suicide Bridge in the monthly title.
What can you tell us about the “Suicide Bridge” story?
First, a little bit about my inspiration for the story. Close to where I grew up is an old Victorian bridge that spans a busy road. This bridge has long been known as “Suicide Bridge.” A number of years ago, I walked beneath that bridge and saw the aftermath of a suicide. I was struck by how dark the blood was that had splattered across the road. How dark, and how much of it. The mystery of why the stranger jumped, and the darkness of the blood, stayed with me. I worked through some of those thoughts and memories in this story.
It’s a story that involves Constantine being asked to track down a childhood friend who ran away from home when he was a teenager. A story that leads, via graveyards and talking dead, to a suicide bridge. John wears his trench coat throughout the story, so I see that it’s happening either directly after or before the “trench coat” storyline.
What does Bisley’s art bring to Constantine and his world?
A messed up, dark and bruised verisimilitude. He turns John’s physiognomy into the battered countenance of our age.
With the “Suicide Bridge” story, and looking back over your “Hellblazer” run as a whole, how do you feel Constantine has evolved under your pen — has he gotten darker? More mature?
I think he has reacted to his environment. He’s certainly showing more bruises and wear and tear, and he’s willing to make big changes, like getting married. Perhaps he’s a bit darker, but he’s been dark in the past. I don’t know how “mature” the poor bastard will ever be!
Along those lines, why do you like Constantine? What draws you to him as both a writer and a fan?
He’s so fallible, and he tries hard, though he’s constantly being hamstrung or upset by his instincts, which are so often wrong or morally suspect.
To get self-reflective for a moment, why do you think your version of Constantine has proven so popular with “Hellblazer” fans?
I don’t know. I’ve tried to make him human. Of course, he’s a mage and a conman, but being human, he sometimes does things to try to bring a bit of joy into his life. He’s the most human of all comic book creations, I think, because he’s changeable and unpredictable, and I’ve tried to reflect that.
Finally, after “Hellblazer Annual” #1 is released, do you have plans to keep it going — to continue to do a 48 page Constantine story annually?
Such decisions are out of my hands, but that sounds like a splendid idea. There are some Hellblazer ideas, some stories that fit this format perfectly.
“Hellblazer Annual” #1 hits stores 12/7. “Justice League Dark” #4 releases 12/28.