For today’s Spotlight, I’d like to present Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway. Hot off the success of his introduction during Alan Moore’s run on Saga of Swamp Thing, the newly founded Vertigo publishing arm of DC Comics gave fan-favorite character John Constantine his own series called Hellblazer. The book contains the first 3 storylines of the series: Feast of Friends, Waiting For The Man, and Intensive Care. Set in the seedy, rain-soaked streets of London, John Constantine returns home to the unpleasant sight of his estranged friend Gary Lester strung out in his bathtub. What’s worse is that he’s brought more than his drug addiction with him. John soon finds himself neck deep in a case involving a hunger demon that has been let loose by Gary after a failed exorcism. The situation thrusts us into John’s world, introducing us to an environment of demons, mages, witch doctors, and other nefarious characters such as Papa Midnite and Zed. To finally overcome the assault of this unstoppable demon, Mnemoth, John makes a sacrifice that quickly established who he is as a character and the lengths he would go to in order to win. “Waiting For The Man” introduces John’s niece who is abducted by 3 ghost girls who have been murdered by a man performing satanic rituals on his “wives”, and they want her to join them as his newest bride. The final storyline, “Intensive Care” sees John paying the price for his latest heroics and being hospitalized after being gravely injured. To save his life, John makes a deal with the demon Nergal and has demon blood transfused into his body to help him heal. This would become a major plot element in future stories in the series.
Part of what continues to make Original Sins one of the quintessential storylines in the Hellblazer series is that it contains everything you would ever need in order to understand the character of John Constantine: he’s a blue-collar, street-level magician who has one of the most extensive knowledge bases in the realm of magic and demonology, but that he is also not a hero. At least not in the traditional sense. The world John inhabits isn’t pretty or glamorous. John makes it very clear that once you dabble, you’re stuck in this life for good and that it’s only a matter of time before it gets you killed. The best you can ever hope to do is stay one step ahead of everyone else and try to outlast the next thing that tries to kill you. He also makes it clear that all magic has a cost. No matter how small or large the spell, the universe will do what it has to in order to find a balance for the “cheat” magic has allowed you to perform. This has made Constantine a morally ambiguous character and made him more of an anti-hero (if any kind of hero).
The other great thing that Jamie Delano introduced to the series when he started his run was the political atmosphere of the 80’s. He took inspiration from the Wall Street yuppies and general greed of society and implanted that into how the ranks of Hell functioned. He essentially made demons businessmen who were looking to climb the corporate ladder. It gives the readers not only a way to understand the rules of this world, but it also creates a lot of great dialogue and character interaction between John and the hell-spawn he encounters, casting a dark mirror on the world readers were really living in at the time the original issues were being published.
Over the years, “Feast of Friends” has had loose adaptations done in live action. The 2005 Francis Lawrence “Constantine” film used some elements of the story such as the bug demon Mnemoth. Arguably the truest adaptation was done in 2015 with the live action TV series “Constantine” on NBC during the episode “Feast of Friends”. It was a very abridged version of the story and changed some elements, but kept 85% of what the story was. It remains one of my personal favorite episodes from the series. The tv series also adapted “Waiting For The Man” as its series finale which is yet another fantastic episode. It’s really a shame they could not find a way to save that series. You can buy the 13-episode series on Blu ray or digital, or you can also watch it on the new streaming app DC Universe.
I would say that if you’ve watched the animated films Justice League Dark and/or Constantine: City of Demons OR if you’re looking to learn more about the character in preparation for his recurring role on the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow tv series, then Original Sins is a great starting point for you. It introduces many of what would become long-standing supporting characters and also lays the seeds for many plot elements that would come up again over the course of the comics, such as the demon blood that was transfused into John’s body. I would say if you are a fan of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, then this is definitely a series you will enjoy. You can pick up Hellblazer Vol. 1: Original Sins in hard copy on Amazon for $19.99 or you can get it digitally through the Vertigo Comics app for $12.99. It’s a good read for the Halloween season.
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