As I said earlier in the week, I own more Hellblazer comics than any other title, so it would be silly not to reread some for this feature, wouldn’t it? But what story should I focus on? Click on to find out!
That’s right, it’s Hellblazer #85-88 by Eddie Campbell and Sean Phillips!
These issues fall in between Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins’ runs on the book (with a Jamie Delano issue coming right before post-Ennis) and, as such, don’t do anything radical with Constantine beyond getting him to Australia where Jenkins’s run picks up (I haven’t read his run beyond the first issue, by the way — hopefully, Vertigo will collect it in the next few years). I’m not sure if Jenkins picks up things in Australia because that’s where Campbell left him or if Campbell took Constantine to Australia because that’s where Jenkins wanted him. That Campbell lives in Australia suggests the former, but I can’t say for sure.
Not much context is needed beyond that. Oh, I could talk about John Constantine a bit and what the character means to me and why I have so many Hellblazer trades — the only single issues I have are uncollected ones like this run, Mike Carey’s one-off post-Denise Mina, Jason Aaron’s two issues mid-Andy Diggle, and #250… I want more, but they’re difficult to find. But, since filling up some space is always good, I’ll give a brief rundown.
I got into Hellblazer because of Warren Ellis. I picked up a couple of his issues when he was on the book and then got the first Azzarello trade and… that’s about it. I was hooked, bought Azzarello’s entire run in trade, then Carey’s run, plus Ellis’s, Ennis’s, and Mina’s. Currently left in Diggle’s run and will get Milligan’s run when it begins showing up in trade. I like the trades. It’s been fun watching their design change.
John Constantine is an interesting character, one that’s open to many interpretations. He can be confident or not; an utter bastard or merely kind of off; he can deal with the real world horrors of Ellis’s run or the fantastic horrors of Carey’s run. He can have impressive magical abilities or just be a slick con man. It’s all open and it all works. Obviously, there are some interpretations that I prefer most, but even the stuff I don’t dig on that much still has me interested and entertained.
I also like that Hellblazer is the backbone of Vertigo, but is never considered the flagship title. It’s kind of like the Fantastic Four of Vertigo… christ, forget I said that… that’s awful… fuck me.
Well, that does that, let’s move onto “Warped Notions” (as that’s the title of this arc) and begin with what I thought of it when I bought these issues nearly a year ago:
Since I’m on a bit of a John Constantine kick, I wrote down the issues that aren’t collected (and probably won’t be), and picked up these four–a small story Eddie Campbell wrote with Sean Phillips on art. It’s an odd one as John is suckered in by a ghost to help stop reality from unravelling and winds up travelling the world. It’s a solid enough arc–not fantastic, but very entertaining at the same time. If you like the character or Eddie Campbell or Sean Phillips and see these issues cheap, get them.
You don’t really expect me to disagree that much a year later, do you? Because I stand by the above. But, this is a good chance to expand on the above and delve in a bit more.
The ghost I mention above is Sir Francis Dashwood, best known as the founder of the Hellfire Club in the mid-18th century and he’s joined by a cat man named Murnarr and Bona Dea, Roman goddess of fertility, healing, virginity, and women. Apparently, reality is coming apart and they need John to fix it by circumnavigating the globe. That’s actually about it. Campbell’s storytelling is very leisurely and meandering, which is something you can get away with when using Constantine. You can throw in filler with Benjamin Franklin and an Aboriginal Australian “witch doctor.” Do those bits really matter? Nah, but they’re fun. They’re part of the con game.
The first issue has Constantine first called to help a friend’s uncle who is seemingly possessed and has been having visions of the end of the world — or, at least, signs of the end of the world. Constantine has been having the same visions. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but when Sir Francis and his two friends show up with their story, it certainly seems like things are going to hell (not literally). Constantine thinks it over, but decides to go along with the plan to circle the world with the first stop being Philadelphia. The issue ends with two events worth noting: first, a seemingly drunk passenger decides to fly the plane due to the scheduled pilot’s sudden illness — joke or reality? Second, a woman is discovered in the airport with a dead baby that’s been stuffed with drugs. Urban legends apparently coming true?
In the next issue, a major clue kicks things off when Sir Francis admits to being the cause of odd events worldwide that he hopes will convince people the world is ending in an effort to distract them from reality coming apart. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you stop and think about it, because why would you want people thinking the world was ending to distract them from reality coming apart? Constantine doesn’t really question it that we see, but it points to Sir Francis being behind it all.
The second part of the story has a few interesting points, like an appearance by Benjamin Franklin. Why? No reason really given. It seems that he’s just friendly with Sir Francis (being alive at the same time, did they ever meet?) and since it is Philadelphia, naturally, Franklin would show to lend a hand. How? No idea. The only thing that is seemingly accomplished happens after Constantine is taken by the Church of Virtual Reality, which is opposing Sir Francis’s efforts to save reality. Constantine is taken in a cab driven by… Dream?
I never know what to make of this. Obviously, this isn’t the Dream from Sandman, just a guy who tries to look like him and has others call him dream… but, except leaving the taxi, we never see him again in this issue, so no explanation is given. Is this just Eddie Campbell having a bit of fun? Yeah, probably, but it’s still one of those “What the hell?” moments.
The Church of Virtual Reality is an odd group, speaking to Constantine about a reality virus and disturbances in the matrix, and the solution to all of their problems is rain forests… all of which convinces him that they’re just a bunch of idiots, and he takes off — but, as he does, Murnarr arrives and slaughters the whole lot of them. The issue ends with Sir Francis and Franklin having some drinks, while Franklin quotes himself…
The third and fourth issues go well together as things get weirder regarding disturbances to reality, which causes the plane Constantine and Murnarr are on to have a crash/forced landing in a small town in Australia. It’s here that Constantine figures things out and travels to a small island off the coast to deal with Sir Francis.
The third issue of this story is entertaining, mostly as a result of a Native Australian “witch doctor” cursing Murnarr and then, later, having a snake in walkabout eat him. You see, Murnarr isn’t real per se, he’s a concept or something. I just find it strangely entertaining for a weird black guy to wander along, wearing nothing but jean shorts and some bits of body paint — and then point his stick at the catman and scream so that the plane blows up and the catman is cursed. Hellblazer can be one weird as fuck comic sometimes.
There’s also a nice scene where Constantine figures it all out by giving a couple of locals his theory on who is really behind all of the killings in Murder She Wrote: Angela Lansbury since, wherever she goes, a dead body shows up. This is the point where he realises that the weird shit going down only shows up around Sir Francis and maybe he’s the cause, and he’s suckered Constantine into doing something completely different for his own personal gain.
What happens next isn’t all that important as Constantine travels to that aforementioned island and traps Sir Francis in a tree. What I love is that we never find out what Sir Francis’s plan is. Why does he want Constantine to circumnavigate the globe? Doesn’t matter. Constantine doesn’t care and neither should we.
All in all, this is an easy to forget Hellblazer arc without anything that compelling happening. It’s a good chance to see some early Sean Phillips art, which is still leagues above a good two-thirds of the artists currently working in comics despite being nowhere near his current work in terms of quality. His style hasn’t changed enough for me to say that it’s like a whole other artist or anything that drastic, but the change over the past decade-and-change is remarkable. Still lots of lovely panels. Not every one is a winner, but he nails it at times.
As I said earlier, John Constantine is a very malleable character, able to support a lot of different worldviews and positions — not quite an empty vessel for any writer who comes along, but not that far off either. He’s got a few set features, but lots of variables. So, what I tend to look for in this story is Eddie Campbell’s John Constantine. Who is he?
He just kind of stumbles around this story until the third issue, a bit of an idiot. He’s obviously dealt with his share of shit and isn’t completely surprised that he’s got to stop reality from coming apart. Despite his surface disbelief, he seems to expect this sort of thing to happen. He’s almost used to the idea that the world will be coming to an end and it will be his job to sort things out. He doesn’t really think that much and allows himself to be conned. While he isn’t that confident superficially, this is Constantine at his most confident, at least in terms of ego, because the reason Sir Francis’s scheme almost works is because Constantine doesn’t question it, he goes along playing the saviour of the world again. Not a role that Constantine steps into much — feeling at home as the world’s saviour, and Campbell plays with it well. Not my favourite version of John Constantine, but an interesting one.
Next week… god, I dunno.
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