Hellblazer: Original Sins
Jamie Delano, writer,
John Ridgway &
Alfredo Alcala, artists
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1992;
reprinted from Hellblazer
issues 1-9, 1987-88)

John Constantine was created by writer Alan Moore in the pages of The Saga of the Swamp Thing. His popularity led to his own series, initially penned by Jamie Delano, who described the character as "an insouciant, somewhat amoral occult dabbler and 'psychic detective' with a British working-class background." Constantine is a fascinating protagonist, a hero of sorts who always manages to win out in the end through a combination of luck and stubbornness as much as any real magical skill. He also seems very hard to really like, as a person, because of his blatant disregard for his so-called friends' safety.

Original Sins comprises several short stories in Constantine's colorful career, beginning with the arrival of a bug-infested friend at his London flat. That sends Constantine on a journey from Sudan to Manhattan in order to put down a hungry demon. The job requires the help of voodoo shaman Dr. Midnite and Gary Lester, an old and very misguided friend who trusts Constantine far too much and fails to guess his role in the drama until it's too late. Next, he goes up against a cadre of yuppie hellspawn.

Constantine's nobler side shows through shortly after meeting the mysterious woman Zed. Their mutual seduction is cut short when he learns that his niece Gemma has disappeared -- led astray, it turns out, by followers of a brutish member of the Damnation Army. If you think the D.A. sounds bad, wait 'til you meet its opposite number, the Resurrection Crusade -- two sides of one bad coin. John gets to play hero for a chance; lucky for him Zed decided to tag along.

Another side of the Resurrection Crusade is seen when its Pyramid of Prayer succeeds in bringing home the MIA boys of Liberty, Iowa -- but not in the way their mourning families intended. Constantine doesn't even try to be the hero this time; he's content to observe the carnage from a safe vantage point.

Then it's back to London and a return match against the Damnation Army -- but it's not Constantine they're after this time, it's Zed. Constantine's amusing solution to a deadly situation just goes to show that Britain's football hooligans do have their uses after all.

We pay a quick visit to two more of Constantine's friends, the ailing Ray Monde and cybergeek Ritchie -- both of whom will soon have cause to regret having met him. Plagued by the ghosts of too many fallen friends, he tries to flee a moving train and ends up incapacitated in the hospital -- really bad timing, because now the Resurrection Crusaders have caught up with Zed. With demonic assistance, Constantine decides to return balance to the perpetual war between the two sides -- and his means for stealing away the Crusade's trump card is certainly imaginative. He also suffers through a fairly dismal 35th birthday.

Original Sins takes you back to the beginning of the series, where you'll get to see Constantine at his best and, more typically, worst. He's hard to like, but ultimately, he's not there for liking. He's a clever, fascinating, ambiguous character, and that's good reading.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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