From the moment John Constantine set foot in the pages of DC Comics, fans have been enamored by his low-brow, high-concept adventures as the world’s premier chain-smoking mage. Like so many others of his ilk, however, John Constantine has undergone some major changes in the decades since his debut, most of which have resulted in a more palatable albeit infinitely less edgy version of the character. Now, The Sandman Universe is bringing the Hellblazer back to his roots, and it is exactly what he has been in desperate need of for years.
John Constantine: Hellblazer – Dead in America #1 (by Simon Spurrier, Aaron Campbell, Jordie Bellaire, and Aditya Bidikar) to St. Augustine, Florida, where the titular mage meets with an animated statue within the dank caves of a Fountain of Youth attraction under the cover of darkness. As strange as that meeting might be, things don’t get truly unsettling until after the arrival of a wandering Girl Scout who is anything but what she appears. Soon enough, Constantine, his son Noah, and his friend and confidant Nat are embroiled in a set of supernatural circumstances with Dream himself at their heart. By the time Morpheus has explained the issue at hand to Constantine, as well as why the mage owes him its resolution, it is made clear that this story is set to be a more classically warped Hellblazer tale than it is a supernatural epic as the DC Universe is accustomed to, and that just so happens to be its biggest strength.
John Constantine’s History as the Hellblazer, Explained
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The original, Pre-Crisis iteration of John Constantine first appeared in the pages of 1985’s Swamp Thing #37 (by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, John Totieben, and Tatjana Wood) as an occult investigator chasing leads regarding the then impending arrival of some ominous, dark entity. This search led Constantine deep into the Florida Everglades, where he met the Swamp Thing that used to be Alec Holland. Although the character’s numerous early appearances in Swamp Thing and other titles of the era established Constantine on a base level, he didn’t get the chance to have his own story fleshed out until after he was given a proper spotlight of his own in the form of Hellblazer.
Kicking off with 1988’s Hellblazer #1 (by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway, and Lovern Kindzierski), John Constantine took to the center stage of his self-titled series that ultimately spanned 300 issues, various limited series and one-shots, and multiple literary universes. Though Hellblazer was introduced as a DC title, the series made the shift to the then publisher’s then-budding Vertigo imprint upon its formation in 1993. This made it that much easier for writers and artists to focus more heavily on the overtly graphic aspects of Constantine’s story, which at that point were defining aspects of his character.
Over twenty-five years, readers were able to follow along as Constantine waged war against demons, angels, gods, and, most often of all, the absolute worst aspects of himself as a person. No matter how endearing or heartfelt some of the Vertigo tales that featured Constantine were, they were almost always rooted in a grim and grizzly sensibility that constantly reminded readers of the tragedy inherent to the character. While this was firmly established well before Hellblazer wrapped up with its 300th issue in 2013, the sudden wave of interest in the character that arose over a decade prior ensured that fans also had more palatable versions of Constantine they could turn to all the same.
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Despite the objectively adult-oriented nature of the vast majority of the stories in which John Constantine appeared for the first decade of the character’s existence, the Hellblazer was able to find a place within the wider pop culture zeitgeist not long after the dawn of superhero cinema as it is known today. In 2005, audiences flocked to theaters to see Keanu Reeves star in Constantine, a film that received a far warmer reception from moviegoers than it did from critics. While the film featured plenty of the usual trappings that fans of the character had come to expect from the original, it also leaned heavily on concepts and characters such as Shia LaBeouf’s portrayal of Chas Chandler, which were retooled to appeal to a wider audience than their comic book counterparts.
Whereas Reeves’ Constantine didn’t quite land as smoothly as it had hoped, it wasn’t long before the original Hellblazer was making his way into the pages of more and more mainstream DC Comics titles, not to mention more mainstream media. 2011’s Justice League Dark #1 (by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janín) introduced the modern DC Universe’s John Constantine as a still gruff albeit tamer version of his usual self. That debut was effectively repeated on the silver screen only three years later with 2014’s Constantine television series starring Matt Ryan.
Even though the series only lasted a single thirteen-episode season, Ryan’s portrayal of John Constantine was lauded by both critics and audiences alike to the point that he became one of the most prominent characters in almost every other Arrowverse show at one point or another over the years that followed. On top of everything else, Constantine has been adapted for numerous animated features and video games, each of which has landed closer to his more family-friendly iterations than the Hellblazer proper.
How the Sandman Universe is Bringing John Constantine Back to His Roots
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Now, The Sandman Universe has brought the Hellblazer back to form in the best way possible. Specifically, that is by dropping John Constantine into the middle of a mystery he hasn’t even begun to wrap his head around and which will all but assuredly end with several people, monsters, or celestial beings losing their lives. As much as that might sound like an indictment of the story to come before it has even truly started to unravel, it is instead an indication that Dead in America is exactly the kind of title that longtime fans of John Constantine have been waiting for, and not just for themselves. By bringing the Hellblazer back to his roots, dark and gritty as they may be, Dead in America has presented an entirely new generation of fans with the opportunity to fall in love with the character and, by extension, all the horrifying, mystifying, frequently mind-bending action he so often ends up in.
More importantly, Dead in America has allowed its titular mage to catch up with all the developments that The Sandman Universe has made while he has been busy elsewhere. Between the events of crossovers including 2021’s The Sandman Universe/Locke & Key: Hell & Gone (by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Jay Fotos) and more localized titles like The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country – The Glass House (by James Tynion IV, Lisandro Estherren, Patricio Delpeche, and Simon Bowland) there is a whole lot that this particular version of John Constantine has missed out on.
Considering the only version of the character who has Noah as a son is also the one who currently inhabits the primary DC Universe, Dead in America is already beginning to have some unique implications for what Constantine’s future will look like going forward. Better yet, it likely means that the very same DC Universe can look forward to getting weirder and scarier in the years to come, and that is something that fans of every version of Constantine can appreciate.
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“}]] John Constantine is reclaiming his place as DC Comics’ Hellblazer, and it’s all thanks to the darkest corners of the Sandman Universe Read More