My horror-themed month continues with one of the best John Constantine, Hellblazer stories: Dangerous Habits. For this, we have to go back in time to 1991 when Garth Ennis became the regular writer of DC Comics’ horror title Hellblazer. This was in the days before the Vertigo imprint existed. (Alas, it is no more!) Hellblazer was “suggested for mature readers,” and was one of a group of “mature” titles being published at that time. These included Swamp Thing, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Shade the Changing Man.
John Constantine has faced all manner of ghosts, demons, and even serial killers before. But this time it’s serious! Years of smoking 30 cigarettes a day has left John with terminal lung cancer. That’s right, he’s going to die, and there aren’t any magic spells he knows to make it go away. In fact, he’s even contemplating giving up and ending it all. Who would’ve thought it? “Conjob” Constantine not even trying to talk or trick his way out of something? Unbelievable! But hang on a minute. Perhaps there are a couple of possibilities still open to him. Now you think about it, if anyone can actually pull this off, it has to be John Constantine, right?
After reading this story again–for the fourth time in total, I think–I can honestly say that this is one of the best Constantine stories ever written. I say that as a bigger fan of Jamie Delano’s run on the title, which covered the first forty issues of Hellblazer. Garth Ennis took over the writing duties from issue #41 and continued until issue #83. I’m not going to go into details of the plot here. Instead, let me write about why I rate it so highly.
Garth Ennis writes a very human John Constantine. By giving John terminal lung cancer, he provides a slap of horrific reality to the laughing magician’s world, reminding readers that some horrors are very real. Ennis then takes John on a fascinating character arc as he first reacts to, and then attempts to fight the deadly cards he’s been dealt. I’m glad to say that Constantine manages to keep his sarcastic sense of humour, as well as his cunning, because he will need all his engines firing if he is to beat this particular enemy.
As readers who are familiar with Garth Ennis’s The Boys will know, the Northern Irish writer is not the biggest fan of superheroes. He’s spoken before in interviews of his disregard for the typical caped and masked super-humans that make up so many comic book series. In Dangerous Habits, there are no superheroes. There’s just a man with a damaged past and a few tricks up his sleeve, doing all he can to stay alive. At one point in the story, John asks his new friend Matt if he wouldn’t try everything to beat the disease. Matt, bedridden in hospital with his own cancer, replies “‘Course I’d bloody try everything, son! Who wouldn’t?”
This one is highly recommended for fans of the character or a well-crafted horror story!
For those interested in the story, there is a really good video on YouTube by the talented ComicPOP team. *Spoiler warning* The video tells the story in detail. Here is the link to it.
Thanks for reading!