This February DC Comics is cancelling Hellblazer, the longest running title under their Vertigo imprint, with issue #300. Hellblazer stars mystical British con-man John Constantine, a character created by Alan Moore during the course of his run on Swamp Thing. After the end of Moore’s run, writer Jamie Delano took over the character in what would become the flagship book for DC’s fledgling mature readers imprint. The book features Constantine aging in real-time over the course of its 20+ year run, something that is completely unheard of in modern comics. The character has been written by several incredible writers over the years, including long runs by Delano, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, Andy Diggle, Denise Mina, and Peter Milligan, as well as a few issue written by superstars like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Peter Milligan, who took over the title with issue #251, will close out the Hellblazer saga. Hellblazer has been known for its complex stories, extremely dark themes, and for the strength of its lead character.
However, this is not the end of John Constantine. Starting in March, DC will launch Constantine #1, a new book set in the main DC universe written by Robert Venditti with art by Renato Guedes.
This is a controversial move to say the least. Constantine was created as a DC universe character, one that interacted with the likes of the Justice League and other heroes before the shift to Vertigo. Once Hellblazer became entrenched in Vertigo, the title existed in a closed universe, although Constantine would occasionally interact with characters from other Vertigo books. It was essentially the same case as Nolan’s Batman movies, wherein Batman doesn’t interact with other DC properties. In 2011, Constantine returned to the DCU proper in the pages Geoff Johns’ Brightest Day and the New 52 relaunch’s Justice League Dark. This lead to their being two portrayals of Constanine, the mainstream, reader friendly version in JL Dark, and the “true” version in the pages of Hellblazer. Many fans (myself included) feel like the New 52 version lacks many of the qualities that makes the Vertigo Constantine so compelling and complex. I for one just started reading through Milligan’s run on Hellblazer on Comixology due to my excitement for the upcoming issue #300. While I was very dissatisfied with Milligan’s portrayal of Constantine in Justice League Dark, I really like his Hellblazer stuff, confirming that both Constantines aren’t created equal. Even Jeff Lemire, a writer I adore, hasn’t been able to develop the “new” Constantine into a character that I have any real desire to follow.
I don’t have much experience with Venditti’s work. I’ve read the first few issues of the relaunched X-O Manowar and really enjoyed them, but that’s a completely different animal. Venditti is an American writer, and it is generally agreed upon by fans that Constantine works the best when he is written by a British writer. I will be very surprised if Venditti is able to accurately capture the unique voice of John Constantine. I am very familiar with the art of Renato Guedes, and while I am not a fan of his work on Superman during the New Krypton era, his recent work on books like Secret Avengers and Green Lantern has been fantastic. If he can bring that kind of talent to Constantine, then at the very least it will be a good-looking book.
Overall I count this announcement as one step forward, two back. Constantine is already heavily featured throughout the “Dark” books of the New 52, so a solo book is hardly necessary. That slot could’ve been filled by any number of other books fans are actually asking for. Likewise, Hellblazer is the longest running book under Vertigo and its cancellation is a major blow to the imprint. Vertigo has lost many major books within the past year, with long running series like Scalped and Sweet Tooth finishing up and American Vampire about to go on hiatus. Fables, which will take the mantle of longest running Vertigo book, and its various spinoffs are still going strong. There are a few very exciting limited series in the pipeline, such as Lemire’s Trillium, Snyder’s The Wake, and Gaiman’s Sandman prequel, but the imprint is left with very few stable ongoing series. The only book that comes to mind is Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country, which while being very interesting isn’t getting much attention. I hope that this is not a sign that the long running and highly respected imprint will soon be dismantled, especially in a time when interest creator owned properties are at their highest. Perhaps DC is prepping a new imprint to house all creator owned books, regardless of age-range. This, in my opinion, would be the only acceptable for the death of Vertigo as we know it.
Constantine #1 is set to launch in March, meaning DC still has one more book to announce for February or else there will only be 51 New 52 books released that much. Crossing my fingers for that New Gods book. Keep checking back for more news and info.