Supernatural Horror With A Social Conscience: Diggle's "Hellblazer"

In June of 1985, Alan Moore introduced readers to the chain-smoking magician known as John Constantine during the writer's run on "Swamp Thing." Constantine found a home in the pages of the Vertigo ongoing "Hellblazer," and over the years the title has showcased some of the biggest writers ever to hail from the U.K. Starting last week with issue #230, British writer Andy Diggle took the reigns of the series. CBR News spoke with Diggle find out what's in store for John Constantine during his run on the book.

"It's a fairly low-key opener," Diggle said of his initial two-issue "Hellblazer" arc. "Constantine finds himself handcuffed to a wooden post at the low tide mark of the River Thames, and has to try and talk his way out of this predicament before the tide comes in and drowns him. But needless to say, all is not as it seems. "Constantine's taken a real battering over the last couple of years," Diggle continued. "He decides it's time to get his shit together, reappraise his life and re-invent himself to some degree. He's been led around by outside forces for too long; now he wants to get back on top of his game. So we'll see him start to climb back to the top of the heap - only to discover there are much bigger and badder players out there than himself."

As a result of Constantine's regular burning of bridges, and a circle of friends that keeps getting smaller, Diggle said the star of the series will be going it alone for a while. "I think Constantine has always worked best as somewhat of a loner, who recruits allies as and when he needs to use them," said Diggle. "He doesn't want an entourage of hangers-on. It's a horror comic, not a soap opera. But you may see the occasional familiar face, as well as certain characters like Pearly Grey who have been mentioned before but never actually appeared in the comic until now. Plus later in the year I'll be introducing some major new supernatural villains, one of whom is a real badass. But don't expect to see the First of the Fallen popping up to shake his fist at Constantine every month. That shit got old fast."

Diggle's fondness for John Constantine dates back to 1986, when he first picked up an issue of "Swamp Thing" that featured the character. "It was the 'Crisis On Infinite Earths' crossover issue," Diggle said. "As a complete newcomer to American comics, I obviously had no idea what the hell was supposed to be going on; I just knew the mouthy, chain-smoking British bloke in the trench coat was a fantastic character and I wanted more. So I went off in search of Forbidden Planet - which was still just a little backstreet shop in London's Denmark Street at the time - and dug up all the back issues I could find. And that's where my love affair with American comics began."

After completing his run on "The Losers," Diggle had more or less resolved to curtail his company-owned work to focus more on creator-owned books, but when "Hellblazer" editor Casey Seijas called Diggle up last year and asked if the writer was interested in taking up the "Hellblazer" mantle, it was an offer Diggle couldn't refuse. "You don't say no to John Constantine," Diggle said.

Diggle, like many of his British contemporaries, got his start in comics as an editor and then freelance writer for England's pre-eminent science-fiction comic anthology, "2000 AD." Diggle said that when it came to the British comics industry, for a long time "2000 AD" was the only game in town. "'2000 AD was the British comics industry, or at least it seemed that way for a long time," Diggle said. "It was an incredible creative force that inspired a whole generation of readers, a lot of whom went on to become writers and artists and filmmakers themselves. I think that influence has faded somewhat these days, as new avenues have opened up for the newbies. Web-comics, digital printing and email have made it easier for new creators to get noticed by editors overseas. We're now starting to see more and more young British creators bypassing '2000AD' altogether and getting their first big break with American publishers."

A consummate writer, Diggle never had aspirations to be an editor, but when an assistant editor position opened up at "2000 AD," he jumped at the opportunity. "I stuck around for a couple of years, learning the ropes and eventually got promoted to Editor," Diggle said. "I wrote a 10-page strip called 'Lenny Zero,' beautifully illustrated by an up-and-coming young whippersnapper named Jock and I quickly realized that writing was a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling than editing."

His interest in writing rekindled, Diggle resigned his position as editor at "2000 AD" and quickly found work as a freelance writer at D.C.'s Vertigo with "Lady Constantine."

Diggle was nothing if not daunted upon landing the "Hellblazer" gig. "Lining up to be measured against the likes of Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello - of course it's intimidating," Diggle admitted. "And after 230 issues, how do you keep it fresh without throwing away everything that made it work in the first place? But now I'm relaxing into it. I have a strong sense of how I believe Constantine should be written, so I'm just trusting my gut. The mantra I'm following is, 'Supernatural horror with a social conscience.' If it's not that, it's not 'Hellblazer.'"

Diggle plans to employ a healthy mix of short, self-contained horror stories and longer-form story arcs. "I think readers soon get weary if every story is a huge, sprawling, written-for-the-trade, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same-again epic. I think 'Hellblazer' lends itself very well to self-contained, one or two-issue stories. But there'll be slightly longer arc stories mixed in there too."

Diggle is consistently blown away by the work of his "Hellblazer" collaborator, artist Leonardo Manco. "We're literally on opposite sides of the world - he's in Argentina and I'm in England - so everything's done via email," Diggle explained. "I think Leo gets the scripts translated before he illustrates them, but that's no problem. In fact his artwork has come out even better than I could have hoped. Leo will often shift the panels around to leave room for big splash images, which is fine with me. I'm happy to give him the wiggle-room to do whatever feels right, and the results speak for themselves.

"Leo's characters really live and breathe; he puts the emotion into their eyes, which is an incredibly rare and important gift for a comic artist, and something I'm quite passionate about," Diggle continued. "It's all in the eyes. But at the same time, he can jump from these intimate character-driven moments to full-page splashes of the most hellish, eye-boggling monstrosities you can imagine, and it's seamless. I couldn't be happier to be working with him."

Diggle is certainly keeping busy. "I have quite a few irons in the fire at the moment," Diggle said. "Obviously 'Batman Confidential' is already written and on the shelves. I'm just finishing off the final scripts for 'Green Arrow: Year One' for Jock, the first issue of which is due out in July, I believe. I'm also writing a contemporary action-thriller called 'The Gamekeeper' for Virgin Comics, as well as a next-gen video game for a well-known Japanese game company. I'm also developing a feature screenplay of my own, a crime-thriller OGN, and possibly a creator-owned sci-fi mini which I'll probably take to Image."

"Hellblazer" #230, the first installment of Diggle's run, is available now, and #231 hits stands on April 18th.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Vertigo forum.

The Darkest Knight: Joker Has Become the New Batman (With His Own Robin)

More in Comics