John Constantine is my favorite character in the DC Universe and in Comics in genera, and this week we’ll be looking into his origins. And I did say Con-Stan-Tyne. Now I could not find the episode where John himself corrects someone in how to pronounce his name, but he tells the character his last name is Con-Stan-Tyne. Now if you know what episode that was in please leave a message in the comments.
John Constantine was created by writer Alan Moore and artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben and first appeared in The Saga of the Swamp Thing issue 37 back in 1985. The story goes that Bissette and Totleben were huge fans of The Police and really wanted to draw a character that resembled Sting. So Alan Moore obliged them and created the character of John Constantine, the quintessential anti-hero, mage, con-man change smoker that will always do what’s right…as long as it suits his purpose.[row] [col span__sm=”12″] [ux_image id=”1519″] [/col] [/row]
Now some sites and references have the first appearance of Constantine in The Saga of the Swamp Thing issue 25 because they just had to draw someone that looked like Sting they added an extra in one of the background scenes that resembled Sting. Now this character was later declared to be Constantine since he bore an uncanny likeness to John when he is actually introduced in issue 37. So I don’t believe this background character that appeared in one panel was ever supposed to be John Constantine. And if you go by comic book prices, Swamp Thing 37 fetches quite a bit more than issue 25.
So let’s dive into John’s background and see what makes him one of the most unique characters in the DC U. When Constantine was introduced in Saga of the Swamp Thing little was known about this cocky dapper mystic. That’s something that most people don’t remember about the character, when first introduced John was always dressing in what I can only assume was a bespoke blue pinstripe suit, tan trench coat and even white gloves at times. It wasn’t till his own series where his look changed to the more tattered look we think of now.
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When we first meet him in Swamp Thing John shows up as a type of mystic advisor to Swampie. In these early issues of Swamp Thing Alec Holland doesn’t know what his is and the authors were just starting to develop the idea of him being a plant elemental.
Alan Moore stated, “I have an idea that most of the mystics in comics are generally older people, very austere, very proper, very middle class in a lot of ways. They are not at all functional on the street. It struck me that it might be interesting for once to do an almost blue-collar warlock.”
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Constantine had a huge impact on Swampy’s life. He’s the one who helped Swap Thing realize his true power, introduce him to the Parliament of Trees and John even lent Swampie his body so that he could produce a child with his girlfriend Abby Arcane. One of my favorite scenes between the two are when Swampy grows a new body for himself out of John’s cigarette tobacco. John then breaks off a bit of Swamp Thing and smokes him.
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Due to the popularity of the character, John Constantine was given his own series Hellblazer in 1988 and when DC launched their Vertigo Comics Imprint in 1993 it was made a Vertigo title. And it ended up being the longest continuously running Vertigo title until it ended in issue 300 in 2011. Now two of the coolest things about this run was that there was an unwritten rule that John never be used in the regular DCU, so no John and Batman team-ups, and two, he aged throughout his title. And the ravages of magic show on both his face and his spirit. Although his aging, or how he ages may also be due to the fact he has demon blood coursing through his veins thanks to the vengeance of a pissed off demon. But more on that later. John is also one of the few characters in the DCU in the early days that was bisexual. It was hinted at in the early years of the character, but was reaffirmed in the Constantine the Hellblazer relaunch in 2015.
It’s in his own title that we begin to learn about John’s past thanks to the amazing writing of Jamie Delano. John Constantine was born Liverpool, Merseyside on May 10th 1953. John’s mother Mary Anne died in childbirth giving birth to him and his stillborn twin brother. Constantine was born of death, not only did his mother die in childbirth but his twin brother was stillborn because John strangled in enuterow with his umbilical cord. John’s father, Thomas, blamed the child for the death of his wife, but the actual blame was his. Years earlier he forced his wife to undergo a backdoor abortion that weakened her womb. John’s father wasn’t a pleasant man and John clashed many times and John and his sister Cheryl had to fend for themselves due to their father’s alcoholism and imprisonment.
Now John’s first forays into magic go as one would expect, poorly. He is successful in his first act of magic, which is to lock away all his childhood innocence and vulnerability which he sees as a weakness. It could be said that this act makes him the man he us, hardened, jaded and cynical. Later, in the 60’s, before he ran away from home he put a curse on his father that made the man frail and withered. John traveled and made his way through the UK before he settled in London where he met Francis “Chas” Chandler. Chas will go on to become John’s closest friends and out survives all of the people that end up calling John friend. See people seem to have a nasty way of dying in John’s company, and sometimes he’s the one who ends up being directly responsible for their deaths.
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While out one night John Constantine falls in love with punk music after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Roxy. On a side note, I would have also LOVED to be at that show. So John cuts his long locks, spikes his hair and along with Chas as his Roadie, a drummer named beano and his mate Gary Lester, form the punk band Mucous Membrane. And let’s just say, they are awful. But John is having a blast and all’s right with the world. It was on one of the bands concert tours where John first tries to apply his skills as a mage in a heroic act that goes terribly wrong.
While at the Casa nova hotel in Newcastle the band comes across a magical orgy where all the participants have been massacred by a demon. Now they didn’t summon the demon, the child they were abusing in their ritual summoned it to take revenge on the filth that were hurting her. John, always the cocky one convict the crew that they can fix things by summoning their own demon to destroy the one that is out of control. Unfortunately they don’t possess the skill to do this properly and the demon they summon is not under their control. The demon destroys the demon Astra summoned, but then turns on the group, torturing John’s friends and then escapes back to hell pulling Astra down with him. John is clutching the girl’s hand as she is dragged to hell and as the portal closes john is left holding the damned girls severed arm. Gruesome stuff. And that’s what I remember about these books. They were freaky, filled with stuff that was just way out there. I was used to Spiderman and Batman, but Vertigo title started to open my eyes to what comics could really be.[row] [col span__sm=”12″] [ux_image id=”1555″] [/col] [/row]
The events at Newcastle spin John’s life out of control and lands him Ravenscar Psychiatric Hospital. He spends the next few years in and out of Ravenscar in hopes to regain some balance.
And this whole era before we learned about Newcastle was very mysterious. He would allude to Newcastle and even showed up in an early issue of Sandman and after helping the Dream King find his missing sand, John asked him for a favor, to end the nightmares from Newcastle. A boon the Dream King gave him. So when we read what really happened there it did not disappoint.
Throughout the following years John comes into contact with all kinds of demon, Angels and even the King of the Vampires. Throughout all these exploits John loses friends and family, but he doesn’t lose them for good because many haunt him and hang around him as ghosts, reminding him how his actions have caused their deaths.
Now we haven’t talked much about it yet, but John is a bit of a smoker. In fact it’s told he smokes up to 30 silk cuts a day. Now I made the mistake of smoking for a year and I can tell you, if you’ve never smoked, that is a lot of cigarettes. Well all those cigarettes caught up to John when he was in his 40’s and he contracted lung cancer. Not wanting to be dammed to hell, John came up with a plan to save his hide. Now the First of the Fallen, a major power in hell already had it out for John and had promised to make him suffer. So John sold his soul to the other to Lords of Hell knowing that if he died they would all expect to collect. When the Lords of Hell realized that this they know that claiming his soul would cause all Hell to break loose so to speak and cause a war in Hell. So instead of the Lord’s coming together to figure out how to defuse the situation they actually just cured him. But boy did they make it hurt.
John Constantine has a series of tragic adventures, saving some of his remaining loved ones from Hell and committing others to it. He takes many trips to Hell and aids in the rise and fall of some of the biggest Lords of Hell and even blackmails God himself to get out of a bind. Once in Hell he came face to face with The Demon John Constantine
One constant through the series is his Niece Gemma Constantine. She is one of the only family members to make frequent appearances throughout the comics run, and her, like John, ages and matures throughout the books run. Her Uncle tries to shield her from magic, but she is a Constantine and it’s just in her blood, so she dabbles in the dark arts, usually with tragic consequences.
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The New 52
With the relaunch of DC titles and the cancellation of the Vertigo Imprint John was brought into the mainstream of comics to the dismay of many of his biggest fans. I was one of them I have to say. I loved the character and wanted to see him again, but I wasn’t sure how he would play next to Supes and the rest of the spandex crowd. What sold me on the title was the fact that Jeff Lemire was writing the title. If you’re not familiar with Jeff Lemire check out his work, he’s my favorite writer and just does amazing work building worlds and characters. I’d start with his Essex County trade or the Underwater Welder.[row] [col span__sm=”12″]
Well John Constantine was changed up a bit in the New 52, he was markedly younger, seemed not to have a sister and his first magical spell actually caused the death of his parents when he accidentally burned down the family home. This title is canceled and a new title Constantine the Hellblazer is launched. And this is much darker version of John compared to the New 52 relaunch. But this title was canceled to prepare for DC’s New Rebirth relaunch. I haven’t had a chance to read these yet and I can’t wait to see how they redevelop the character.
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If you are interested in looking at all the awesome covers from Hellblazer check out this cool site that dispays nearly all of them Hellblazer Cover Gallery
My Sketch Of John Constantine from Riley Rossmo. You can see more of his work HERE[ux_image id=”1567″]