Hellblazer: Tainted Love
Garth Ennis, writer,
Steve Dillon, artist
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1998;
reprinted from Hellblazer
issues 68-71)

When his lover Kit walked out of John Constantine's life, he lost the will to go on. Drowning in a sea of pain, he chooses to obliterate memory through alcohol. Now, this once-proud man lives on the streets, his clothes and his life in tatters, existing only for the coins he can beg to buy the next bottle.

But Constantine has enemies, and it should be no surprise that he's discovered in this vulnerable state. He's found by no less than the king of the vampires, an undead creature of appetite and evil who has existed since long before life began on this planet. Having diced with Constantine before -- and lost -- he's eager to take his revenge.

He should know, like so many have learned before, that Constantine is seldom helpless. Even when he gives up and resigns himself to death, it's a mistake to count him out of the game.

But whatever pride he regains in that one, brief victory is quickly lost in the bottle. In a story originally printed in DC's Vertigo Jam #1, Constantine swaps a story for a half-bottle of Jack Daniels. The story is about seduction, broken hearts and terrible vengeance -- the price of which must be paid by all parties involved. It's a stand-alone story which nicely reminds us of Constantine in better days, as well as the inherit dangers with which he regularly deals.

Next, it's away to Belfast. We already know how poorly Constantine is doing; it's time to check in with Kit. She's doing a little better, it seems, catching up with old friends and family and resigning herself to a different kind of life than she's had in recent years. There's very little action here, but it's the kind of human tale that Steve Dillon has often proven himself adept at writing without slowing down the pace of a series.

Leaving Kit to the new life she's chosen, we return to London and a Constantine who's reached the end of his rope. Death seems welcome -- but when he falls asleep near the wreck of a World War II fighter, he dreams the final moments of a pilot who yearned strongly to live. That provides the motivation Constantine needs to regain control of his life, which he does in typical Constantine fashion. Then, to close this collection, he encounters a man who had a profoundly negative impact on his youth -- and he learns the tale which brought about that former priest's downfall.

This is one of my favorite runs of the Hellblazer series and I'm very glad DC/Vertigo chose to compile it in a single volume. It shows the character at his lowest point in life, providing new insights into the man, not the mystic, that is John Constantine. However, it's not a good starting point for people unfamiliar with Constantine and his supporting cast. Start elsewhere -- but be sure you get to this point soon.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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