From his enigmatic origins in Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette & John Totleben's 1980s run on "Swamp Thing," working class magician John Constantine has gone on to play leading man in Vertigo's longest-running series. This month sees "Hellblazer" reach the 250-issue mark, a milestone seldom reached even by more prominent superhero comics. In January, veteran Vertigo scribe Peter Milligan will take over writing chores on the series. CBR News spoke with Milligan about his upcoming run - which will be illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini with covers by Lee Bermejo - as well his take on the character of John Constantine.
Milligan, who's written such Vertigo classics as "Shade The Changing Man," "Enigma," "Human Target" and "Skreemer," begins his official run on "Hellblazer" with January's issue #251, but readers will get a taste of his vision for Constantine in this month's issue #250, an anniversary/Christmas special featuring several short stories written by numerous "Hellblazer" alumni including Brian Azzarello, Jamie Delano, Dave Gibbons and China Mieville. In Milligan's contribution, "Constantine is being harassed by the spirit of a politician, who wants to know how - and why - he was killed," the writer told CBR News. "The surprising answer is found in a quintessentially British Christmas tradition."
When Milligan takes over the series full-time in January, John Constantine will once again find his unsavory line of work in conflict with his personal life. This time, though, our (anti-)hero has found a partner that can accept him--or thinks she can. "Constantine's life has been turned upside down by the woman he's seeing. Even when he explains the kind of things he's done and the kind of man he is, she isn't put off," Milligan revealed. "This is a story about how actions of long ago can have devastating effects on the present. So when Constantine is forced to dig up some unpleasant episodes in his own past - and there have been a lot of those - he threatens to fatally infect any chance he has for happiness."
Beyond the romance angle, Milligan's first story arc will "explore the link between a bizarre and terrible skin fungus and a largely forgotten chapter of British Trades Union history," and begin a kind of meta storyline. "Constantine will become more obsessed and driven than we might normally be used to seeing him," Milligan said of the larger arc. "That said, most of the storylines will work as discrete entities, dealing with one particular issue or 'stepping-stone.'"
Throughout the 250-issue "Hellblazer" run, writers have tended to focus on different aspects of Constantine's character, while keeping the man himself largely consistent. Asked for his view on who John Constantine really is, Milligan said there is more to the magician than first appears. "I often hear people say that Constantine is a bastard," he said. "I think that's only a part of who he is. I've met some bastards, and Constantine's not one of those. At heart he is a decent man, with a moral code--only he's not quite sure what that code is, and he keeps falling a long way short of the standards he'd like to set for himself."
Though it has long been established that John Constantine does not drive, he still manages to get around. Under writer Brian Azzarello's tenure, Constantine found himself in rural America (and its prisons), while Denise Mina set some of her stories in Glasgow. Milligan indicated that he does not have a geographic agenda for "Hellblazer," but he will nevertheless cover a lot of territory. "Our story takes place mainly in Britain, Town and Country," the writer said, "though he will go across the pond to America.
"I suppose the geography I'm most interested in exploring is his emotional and psychological geography," Milligan continued. "What Constantine carries around inside him tends to be at least as engaging as anything going on outside."
"Hellblazer" #250 goes on sale this week from Vertigo.