Throughout his long, chain-smoking career, John Constantine has faced his fair share of unspeakable horrors. Vengeful witches. Power-hungry demons. Underground sex clubs. Even a live-action moving starring Keanu Reeves. However, as the New Year rings in, John Constantine faces something new — something that sends many people screaming into the streets at its mere mention. Marriage.
With the upcoming double-sized “Hellblazer” #275, writer Peter Milligan finally sends the foul-mouthed Vertigo hero strolling down the aisle. His bride? The beautiful alchemist Epiphany Greaves, a character created by Milligan back in early 2009 during his initial issues as ongoing writer of the Vertigo mainstay’s long-running series. Of course, since his creation by Alan Moore during the legendary author’s seminal run on “Swamp Thing,” Constantine has built himself up quite the supernatural rogues gallery — whether members of Heaven, Hell or anything in between. Many of whom look forward to spoiling the couple’s big day in a very big way.
As the wedding bells prepare to ring and the organ player preps the pipes for “Here Comes the Bride,” Milligan spoke with CBR News about the highly anticipated, long-awaited issue, what makes comic couples worth reading and catching brides in flagrante.
CBR News: Peter, you’ve been building up to this issue for a while now. What’s it like to finally get to this point, to finally reach the long-teased wedding issue?
Peter Milligan: Ah, Jesus, I suppose as with any wedding day, I approach it with a mixture of excitement and dread. But dread is probably too strong. It’s more a desire that it all comes together as well as we want it to, that everyone turns up on time and the best man doesn’t shag the bride.
On the note of the bride — I dare not refer to her as a blushing one — when you first introduced Epiphany and came up with the character, did you have this end goal in mind? Was it always the plan to try and get her and John hitched?
I didn’t plan for them to get married, not in particular. In fact, initially I just created Epiphany to be a supporting character, one who could provide John Constantine with a love potion and add a little youthful splash. At this time, John was with another woman. But Epiphany just kind of bounced off the page. In fact, she seemed more right for John than Phoebe, the woman John had convinced himself he was in love with. Over time, Epiphany elbowed herself further into the book. I think it was during the “India” storyline that the idea that these two might get married or at least become a more permanent item started to form. Shelly Bond — the editor — discussed this with me. Shelly was very keen. I wasn’t so sure. I wondered why they shouldn’t just live together. Yes, in our own ways, Shelly and I at first conformed to the tired old sexual stereotypes. But I started to think about John, and how in his own way there’s something quite old-fashioned about him. In his line of work, he is certainly aware of the power of ritual. And there’s nothing as ritualized as a good old bloody marriage ceremony. As for Epiphany, she’d made her feelings about John clear from the outset. Therefore, we’d have thought it would be her trying to get Constantine to marry. So I liked the fact that ultimately, he was the one who proposed, he was the one who wanted it.
What do you think makes John and Epiphany a good couple? How do you think they compare to some of the other famous couples in comics, like Superman and Lois, Reed and Sue or Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, just to name a few?
John and Epiphany have an interesting and healthy balance of differences and similarities. I mean, they’re different genders but the same species. Not that being the same gender should stop you getting married, you understand. There’s the age difference, but I think that keeps the whole thing intriguing. Of course, John has a pretty cynical and pissed off attitude toward most of the universe and Piffy certainly holds more positive views. Maybe she needs to be a bit more cynical — and maybe, just maybe John allows some of his nihilistic fuck everybody-ness to abate a little when he’s around her. God knows how they compare with Superman, Lois and those others, but at least John and Epiphany have sex. Lots of sex. I was never entirely convinced that any of the above mentioned characters did.
You know, couples are often a difficult thing to write, in pretty much any medium. You don’t want things to be too boring, but you also don’t want everything to get so complicated and dramatic that the reader can’t see how the characters fit together. How do you find the balance?
I think you’re right. And I think what applies to couples in comic books applies equally to couples in real life. You want things to remain interesting. You need a constant sense of “newness.” In the case of John and Epiphany, I really think we get the best of both worlds. They really are a great team. A kind of magical double act. But of course, being married isn’t going to stop a man like Constantine [from] going off on his own if he wants or needs to. Piffy is no pushover, though. She can stand up to John. And she has her own agendas.
Marriage itself is a tough sell in comics. Some people feel strongly that marriage can hinder a character — take the recent Spider-Man marriage thing for example. What are your thoughts on marriage in comics?
I think marriage can hinder a character if marriage means a kind of dull satisfied soup. We’re so programmed to think of marriage as some kind of end in itself — its where most movies and love stories tend to end — that we’re blinded to the dramatic possibilities. I don’t want to defend the institution of marriage in fiction, here. All I’m saying is that as far as Constantine and Epiphany are concerned — this urban mage and this strange complex daughter of a London gangster — marriage can be a very combustible, dramatic and intriguing journey.
We’ve already hit a few notes on the broader aspects of the issue, but, of course, I want to ask about the events of the issue itself. What can you say about what you have planned for readers in this double-sized special?
I don’t want to go into too many details, but the wedding does not go smoothly. In fact, the wedding goes insanely bloody roughly. I have family history of this. I wasn’t there, but one member of my family became infamous for one “getting off” with a bride at one wedding. The bridegroom found them flagrante delicto. Cue terrible recriminations and hasty hospital visits. Drawing on some of my family lore, I have created a most unspeakable wedding. But not without sweetness and romance, for not all of the unexpected guests are unpleasant. There is tragedy too — a horrible, vile crime that threatens to destroy the life of a long-standing “Hellblazer” character, someone whom Constantine has always tried to look out for.
Going off of that, people close to John have a habit of, to put it simply, dying, usually in awful ways. Obviously, both John and Epiphany must be aware of this. What makes them think things will turn out differently this time around?
John is most certainly aware of it, and he makes Epiphany aware of it. He has ideas of how to protect her against some of the evil things that happen to his acquaintances. Ultimately though, these two want to be together — and are willing to risk the consequences.
I’m assuming you can’t say too much because it would give away what happens in issue #275, but what plans do you have following the wedding issue? What other adventures for John can you give us some hints about?
Well, you’re right, I can’t say too much. But directly after the wedding, they kind of go flat hunting and get all meshed up with the financial crisis hitting the country, and somehow an ancient druid gets mixed up in all of that. All the while, though, the person who was so hurt during the wedding is plotting revenge. Meanwhile, John decides to get a new thumb. He does this in a very unusual and pretty horrific way. And as you might expect things do not go smoothly.
You know, you’ve been working on this title for about two years now. Is this one you pretty much want to keep on as long as possible?
God, is it really that long? Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? I am still very much into this book and the characters, and John’s connection with Epiphany — and his upcoming connection with his new thumb — seem to have given the whole thing a fresh breath of life. So at least for a little while, all things being equal, I plan to do a few more of these twisted stories.
As a last question, suppose your time has come on the title. What’s the craziest way you can think of to leave “Hellblazer?”
I suppose I’ve already done what some might consider the craziest thing: I’ve married off John Constantine.
Save the date for January 19 when “Hellblazer” issue #275 hits comic shops everywhere