Rake At The Gates Of Hell: DC Cancels Hellblazer

I studied journalism when I was in college in the late 1980s / early 1990s, and one of the things I learned was the inverted pyramid lead, which means to open your story with the most important hard information. So, since it was one of the most important things I learned back then, I’ll go with it here.

DC Comics has cancelled John Constantine: Hellblazer. The comic, published under DC’s Vertigo Comics imprint, will conclude in February with its 300th issue, written by Peter Milligan with art by Giuseppe Camuncoli. The long-running comic, written for a mature, adult audience, will be replaced with a new comic series, Constantine, written by Robert Venditti with pencils by Renato Guedes. The new series, which will be published under the standard DC Comics bullet, will take place in DC’s superhero-filled New 52 Universe, and will be reportedly feature the younger, more action-oriented version of the John Constantine character as currently seen in Justice League Dark.

About the cancellation, DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio said:

We’re supremely proud of Vertigo’s HELLBLAZER, one of the most critically-acclaimed series we’ve published. Issue #300 concludes this chapter of Constantine’s epic, smoke-filled story in style and with the energy, talent and creativity fans have come to expect from Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini. And no one should worry that John is going to hang-up his trenchcoat – he lives on in March, in the pages of the all-new DC Comics New 52 ongoing series, CONSTANTINE, by writer Robert Venditti and artist Renato Guedes.

The series, which expanded the story of the John Constantine character created by comics legend Alan Moore during his classic run on Swamp Thing, debuted as a DC Comic in 1988 and was written by Jamie Delano and drawn by John Ridgeway. Moving to DC’s more mature Vertigo imprint in 1993, the book featured work by comic legends Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Paul Jenkins and Brian Azzarello, as well as many others, throughout its nearly quarter-century history.

Constantine is expected to debut in February, 2013.

Okay, that’s the classic news version. My journalism professors, one of whom once looked me in the face and said, “You smell like a three-day dead dog in the dump tank of a whiskey distillery. Sit in the back, please,” would, for once, be proud. However, like the one, older professor who once slipped me a copy of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on The Campaign Trail after defending me in a meeting to determine if I should be ejected from the journalism department after writing a story about the college’s president that included the term, “goatfucker” taught me: classic journalism isn’t always properly equipped to capture the whole truth.

Beyond the Inverted Pyramid, one of the things I learned in college was that the economy is not your friend. The end of my sophomore year coincided with the bottom dropping out of the United States economy, which forced me out of my relatively well-paying summer office gig into slinging ice cream at Friendly’s. Combine that with the rise of the Image Comics age, where art often trumped story, and I was in a position where I was almost ready to give up comics altogether… which is a hell of a thing to consider for a guy who, in large part, chose his alma mater based on the fact that it was the only school he toured that was walking distance from not one, but two comic stores.

So that summer I was in my hometown comic store, flipping through books, with about enough money for three comics in my pocket (and honestly considering crossing the hall and spending that money in the arcade – yes, we still had arcades back then), when I came across the DC house ad to the right in one book or another. “Shit,” I thought, “That looks pretty interesting. What the hell; it’s worth a shot.” So I picked up Hellblazer #41 and #42,, written by some dude I wasn’t familiar with named Garth Ennis and…

Holy. Shit.

I’d really never read anything like those comic books before. I was vaguely familiar with Constantine from the sporadic issues of Swamp Thing I’d bought, and I knew him from Sandman #3, but he was never like this: cynical, foulmouthed, shitfaced and darkly, darkly funny. I was hooked, straight through the bag and back. And while it’s no great shakes to say, today, that Garth Ennis did groundbreaking work on Hellblazer, the fact is that, at the time? We just didn’t know. So to be at ground zero of that comic was exciting. There aren’t many comic readers today, I imagine, who picked up Preacher five years later and were initially disappointed, because we knew that the origin of Genesis was lifted from something Ennis did in Hellblazer five years earlier.

I spent that summer not only waiting impatiently for each new issue of Hellblazer, but picking up back issues to fill in the story (and let’s remember: I was doing this on my meager salary serving ice cream sundaes to my asshole friends who would wander in to watch me in an apron, covered in marshmallow sauce – hi, Trebuchet!), and found killer stories front to back, from the early dark political satire to the origin of the Family Man – the missing serial killer at the convention in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #14… and lest we forget, and simply think that we’re cancelling the book that inspired a rotten Keanu Reeves movie: there are direct story elements of Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer littered through the early issues of Sandman.

I spent the next several years living my life with John Constantine: he fell in love when I did, and he and I both went to pieces when it all turned to shit (I never went homeless, but I think we both spent a couple of evenings chasing Old Crow bourbon with Old Duke wine). I shared those comics with my buddies, and you can be Goddamned sure that, whenever I was walking into a situation when I felt like I would need to be a bastard, I skipped the 7-11 and went to the tobacconist to get myself a pack of Silk Cuts. I have read a lot of comics in my life, but I don’t think any of them have affected me as much as Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer books from 1991 to 1994… coinciding with my completion of college and entering the rotten, terrible Real World.

Through the years, I have been broke and flush, have loved comics and almost discarded them, and have been a thin, cynical, long-haired teenager and a, well, fat, cynical, long-haired middle-aged guy. And Hellblazer has, too, run the gamut, from the beloved genius of Ennis’s run to the Hard Time arc in 2000, which was the first time I ever said that Brian Azzarello shouldn’t be allowed to write anything longer than his own name.

But through it all, I have always. Read. Hellblazer. Even when I wasn’t reading anything else. In a very real way, this Web site exists because Hellblazer kept me walking into comic stores long after Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and their ilk should have gotten me to stop.

And since I have been watching the more inner workings of the comics industry for the past year or so, I understand the realities of the marketplace, and I know that these days, Hellblazer is only selling around 9,000 copies a month, which aren’t numbers that can maintain the book. And I know that the character of John Constantine will live on in this new book Constantine, as well as in Justice League Dark, albeit in a probably neutered version. But my John Constantine, the one that kept me interested in comics during a time when nothing else could, will only live on in my longboxes, some trades on the shelf, and on my mantle, where regardless of the vagaries of the marketplace or the tastes of a changing readership, the vicious bastard will always be having a pint, smoking a cigarette, and associating with the worst things, and people, in the world.

In conclusion: one other thing I learned studying journalism in college is that all the words in the world won’t have the impact that the right picture does. So in that spirit, I’ll leave the last word to The Man Himself.