John Constantine first appeared in 1985, gracing the pages of Saga Of The Swamp Thing #37 with his barbed one-liners and suspiciously Sting-like appearance. Originally a supporting chracter who played a pivotal role in the classic "American Gothic" Swamp Thing epic, John struck a chord with readers and in 1988 the first issue of his own comic, Hellblazer, hit the stands.
The roots of John Constantine's creation are humble indeed, but I'll let Alan Moore tell you all about that.
Read Hellblazer #1 in .PDF format on the DC/Vertigo website.
What follows is a brief look at John Constantine's formative years and the events that led him to becoming the man he is today.
Born in Liverpool on the 10th of May, 1953 to Thomas and Mary Anne Constantine, John's life began the way it was doomed to continue – soaked in bloody death and despair.
John's mother died during labour, leaving him to be raised by a father who resented him for simply having been born. Constantine's upbringing in working class Liverpool was a difficult one - bitter and broken over the loss of his wife, Thomas lost himself in drink and vented his anger upon his hapless young son. John's father hit perhaps his lowest ebb in the early sixties when he was sentenced to six months in prison for stealing women's underwear. John, and his older sister Cheryl, were sent to Northampton to live with their Aunt Dolly and Uncle Harry. It was here that a still not yet ten years old John Constantine might have been responsible for a second death...
While out playing in a field, John stumbled across the half-buried remains of what he thought to be a dead boy. After Finding an odd-coloured stone lodged behind the exposed ribcage of the corpse, Constantine is convinced that his macabre discovery is a fossilised human heart. As time passes John notices a change in his behavior and mood, as he becomes more angry and violent to those around him. Following a harsh exchange with Cheryl, John decides that the 'heart' is cursed and lobs it into a nearby quarry. Constantine's aim proves poor however and it smashes loudly against the tin roof of a shack lived in by a deranged tramp. When the man fails to come outside to investigate the noise, John is sure that the heart has pierced the roof and killed the tramp inside. ( Hellblazer #30 )
By the age of fourteen, Constantine had developed an interest in the occult, immersing himself in any books he could find on the subject as a means of escaping the harsh reality of his childhood. Father and son reached a pivotal point in their relationship when John was expelled from school for starting a “Out Demons! Out!” chant at morning assembly. Furious with John's actions, Thomas started a blazing bonfire in their back garden and tossed all of his son's books onto it. So it was that John Constantine was first inspired to use magic to avenge an act of perceived wrong doing against his person.
Sifting through the embers of the burnt out bonfire, John was able to salvage a couple of charred, smoke damaged tomes – one of which offered up the perfect means of revenge against his father – a curse that would cause him to waste away and die. Constantine had to kill the next-door neighbour's cat in order to make the curse work, he also had to maim it to make it look like his one-armed father – so he took a razor blade to one of its legs. The deed done, John buried the remains and waited to see what would happen. Much to his surprise, his father fell gravely ill and started to slowly waste away. With Thomas near death, John panicked and went in search of a way to stop the spell but there was none to be found. Finally, acting out of sheer desperation, Constantine exhumed the rotting corpse of the slain cat and stuck it in a jar of formaldehyde. John got lucky, with the corpse now preserved, his father's health stopped deteriorating and while Thomas never made a full recovery, he did survive the experience. ( Hellblazer #35 )
Less than a year later, John Constantine set foot in London for the first time and while his stay was a short one, care of his apprehension and return to Liverpool by the police, it was quite memorable – including as it did his incidental involvement in a disastrous attempt by a creature of the Dreaming to free her lord Morpheus from captivity. ( Love Street #1 ).
John had found his spiritual home though and within twelve months he was back in London and living with his best mate, Chas Chandler. Finally in his element, Constantine devoted himself to the study of magic and ingratiating himself into the social circles of those with similar interests and knowledge. It wasn't all musty tomes and dodgy chanting mind, John always had time for a pint and it was his fondness for a decent night out that led him to the opening night of the Roxy Club and the infamous performance there by the Sex Pistols. Inspired by what he'd seen, and while quite probably still drunk off his arse, John decided to form his own punk band – Mucous Membrane - with his mate Gary Lester. Rather unsurpisingly, they were shite. While Constantine was busy playing Punk Rock Magus, his sister Cheryl was giving birth to her first child, Gemma.
Having left the heady days of being in the world's worst band behind him, Constantine returned to the scene of Mucous Memrane's first ever gig – the Casanova Club in Newcastle with an odd assortment of friends to investigate reports of strange occurrences in the area. Cocksure and arrogant, John was almost happy to find that a Fear Elemental had set up shop in the club's basement – his over confidence led to disaster for all concerned though when his plan to summon a demon to fight the Elemental ended with a young girl being dragged off to hell and the club burning to the ground. ( Hellblazer #11 )
Constantine, driven near insane by the sights he witnessed at Newcastle, was incarcerated in the “Ravenscar Secure Facility For The Mentally Deranged” where he suffered terribly at the hands of the staff who all believed him to be a child murderer. John was in and out of Ravenscar over the course of the next two years before finally being released for good – thanks mainly to the machinations of the powerful East End gangster Harry Cooper who wanted Constantine to bring his dead son back to life.
Here we are, some twenty five years later, and truth to tell John Constantine really hasn't changed that much at all. He's old enough to know better now but, of course, he doesn't – he's been to hell and back, stared down the Devil and God alike and blackmailed them both into the bargain, seen his friends and lovers slaughtered simply for having the misfortune to have known him and yet he still has a cutting retort to dispense at the most inappropriate of moments and a mind for brutal retribution on any who would do him or his wrong.
He can't help himself, a worn out junkie pushing fifty years old - addicted to the adrenaline high only a hit of something unnaturally nasty can deliver. John Constantine still haunts the streets of London, leaving a trail of ruined souls and the smell of stale cigarette smoke in his wake.
Michael Bonner's excellent Constantine timeline, as originally found in the Hellblazer Secret Files and reprinted in the "Rare Cuts" TPB, was invaluable in putting this page together.
If you're interested in reading more about John Constantine, we recommend picking up a copy of the "Dangerous Habits" Graphic Novel from your local bookstore.
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