British writer Peter Milligan, long-associated with DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, kick-started his North American comic book career with a relaunch of “Shade, the Changing Man” in the early 1990s. A key member of the DC-driven British Invasion, Milligan’s US career exploded alongside alongside contemporaries Neil Gaiman (“Sandman”), Grant Morrison (“Doom Patrol”) and more.
Nearly 20 years later, Milligan took over Vertigo’s flagship title “Hellblazer,” the imprint’s longest-running series featuring the ever-smoking supernatural sage, John Constantine, beginning with #250. Character and writer proved a perfect fit for one another, and Milligan enjoyed a long and healthy run with Constantine, who intersperced battles with demons with life as a newlywed over the course of the title’s final 50 issues.
In mid-November, Vertigo announced “Hellblazer” is coming to an end with the February release of the series’ issue #300. CBR News spoke with Milligan about Constantine, a character he also wrote in “Justice League Dark,” and found not only a kindred spirit for the trench-coated cad but a man that relished writing the abominable anti-hero and will miss him as much as his legion of fans. Milligan also shared his thoughts on Constantine’s wife Epiphany and what to expect in the series’ final arc, the aptly-titled “Death and Cigarettes.”
CBR News: Before I ask you about “Hellblazer” #300, I wanted to first say I am thoroughly enjoying your current arc, “The Curse of the Constantines.” Over the years, you’ve tapped historical sources for inspiration, most recently with “Greek Street.” What was about W.B. Yeats that led you to bleed him into the mythos of John Constantine?
Peter Milligan: I’ve always had an interest in W.B. Yeats. His well-documented involvement in what might be called “magical” organizations such as the Golden Dawn seemed to make him perfect material for a “Hellblazer” story.
While Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” now nearly 100-years old, has served as muse for Lou Reed, Stephen King and dozens if not hundreds of other films, television shows, songs and comics, do you think John Constantine will be remembered in 2085 — one hundred years after his debut in “The Saga of the Swamp Thing” #37?
Hmm. I think we’ll have to wait and see. We didn’t use “The Second Coming” predominantly in the “Curse” storyline because while it’s an intriguing poem with some startling images, it has rather been shagged to death. I chose instead “The Stolen Child,” a less well-known and equally haunting work.
You have had the privilege of working with the hellacious hellblazer for a number of years, and in a variety of different series. What do you love most about him, and when his Vertigo run ends with “Hellblazer” #300, what will you miss most?
What I like about him is that he’s not particularly driven. He’s not trying to make the world a better place. He’s not going in for self-improvement. He’s just getting on with what passes for his life, and because of the nature of who he is, he gets involved in these strange stories. I’ll miss the looseness of that. And all the swearing and fucking, of course.
But look, even before I was told they were moving him over to the DCU, I was aware that I’d been on the book for a couple of years and that probably I was coming to the end of my run.
Was the end of the series a surprise to you, or is this something that has been in the works for some time?
Like I said, that my run was coming to an end was no surprise. I’d been thinking about it for a little while and thinking of my “out.” I had a strong suspicion that the series would end, but when it came, it came suddenly. Like death.
Are you surprised at all by the outcry from creators and readers alike that are angered/upset/dismayed about the end of “Hellblazer?”
No. Not surprised at all.
Having written John Constantine for both Vertigo and DC — for a while, at the same time — do you believe two versions of him could have co-existed, or was it best to end his Vertigo series with editorial wanting him full-time in the New 52?
Personally, I think the comic-reading public — particularly the kind of reader who reads “Hellblazer” — is sophisticated enough to have been able to grasp the idea that there are two versions of John Constantine, yes.
Do you think that the fact the character has aged in real-time, at least in the Vertigo series, has played a part in his appeal to long-time fans? In effect, we’ve been able to grow old together.
I really do think that’s one of his appeals, yes.
Obviously, you can’t give too much away about “Death and Cigarettes,” but can you give us a tease about what we’ll see in the final five days of Constantine’s life?
There’ll be a funeral. More than one death. And a lot of smoking.
You famously introduced Epiphany to Constantine’s mythos during your run, and she has become an integral part of whom and what Constantine is since their marriage in “Hellblazer” #275. What was behind the decision to marry Constantine and what was it about Epiphany that made John want to become an “honest man?”
Epiphany grabbed me by the lapels, just as she grabbed Constantine — though in his case, it was the balls that were grabbed. I’d never intended her to be his wife. Initially, she was a pretty minor character, but she grew on me just as she grew on John. I wasn’t sure how being married would affect Constantine. Who of us are ever sure about that kind of thing? And that’s what intrigued me.
It seemed so un-Constantine-like. Real people do a lot of things that seem out of character, so it seemed like a “real” thing for Constantine to do something as out of character as get married. So he did.
Finally, will you ever be able to look at a trench coat again without thinking of John Constantine?
I doubt it.
“Hellblazer” #298, the first-part of the series’ final arc, which features art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini and a cover by Simon Bisley, goes on sale December 19.