Story : Dangerous Habits
Issue Numbers : #41 through #46.
Creative Team : Garth Ennis (w), William Simpson (a)
Not a lot of people had heard of Garth Ennis before he took the reigns of Hellblazer from the departing Jamie Delano, but that didn't stop the Irish man from starting his run off in his now trade marked over the top fashion.
It started with a teaser campaign that ran through the last few months of Jamie Delano's run on the title. This advertisement featured a mock-up x-ray depicting the insides of one John Constantine and bearing the grim news that the English man had terminal lung cancer. But this was just a cheap trick, right ? A bid by the editorial powers that be at Vertigo to entice readers into staying with the title beyond the departure of the man who had turned Constantine from Moore's Working-Class-Man-Of-Mystery into a fully rounded and fascinating character in his own right. I mean, there's no way that John Constantine is going to die from something so 'common' as cancer.
No doubt this would turn out to be an administrative error at the hospital, or a ploy by one of Constantine's more mortal enemies to trick him into thinking that he was going to die. Ten pages into Garth's first issue on the title however and the reader was left with little doubt that John Constantine was indeed terminally ill. Even the character himself seemed unable to come to terms with the mundane manner of his impending death, refusing even to kick his long time vice - the Silk Cut Cigarettes which had apparently sealed his fate.
Garth's initial take on Constantine, as John tried desperately to find some cure to his ailment despite knowing full well that he was doomed to fail from the start, wasn't too dissimilar to that of Delano's in his last half dozen issues or so. Deeply introspective and basically a sullen old bollocks, John drifted through his world, too caught up in his own self pity to accept his circumstances and do anything constructive about them. Ennis used this period of drifting to introduce some of the supporting characters he planned to make use of during his run on the title. The succubus Chantinelle ('Ellie') who, like most who have crossed John's path, 'owes him one'. The Snob, an angel who spends his time on Earth, firmly ensconced in The Cambridge Club. Charlie Patterson, a rising star in the National Front. Brendan Finn, an old friend from Ireland who's not much longer for this world. And, last but not least, The First Of The Fallen himself.
As John traveled the length and breath of England and beyond, it was clear that this Ennis fellow had not just a strong grasp of the Constantine character but that he also had long term plans for the alleged Magus. But, with each and every new and interesting face introduced into the picture, another possible avenue for Constantine's salvation seemed to be cut off. Indeed, things actually started to get worse for Constantine after a tense confrontation with the devil himself leads to Satan quaffing back some holy water due to a deception on John's behalf. Suffice is to say that this puts Constantine in the devil's bad books and left facing the prospect of an eternity in hell as his plaything should he fail to cure his cancer.
Despite his renewed determination and new found motivation, John eventually runs out of friends to call on and comes to the grim realisation that he's going to have to pull his own arse out of the fire. With his desperate plan put into operation behind closed doors, John opts to hasten his departure from the world with the aid of a razor blade. It's at this point that The Fist makes his reappearance, anxious to taunt Constantine as he dies slowly before him. The two exchange barbs before the rather unexpected appearance of the two other lords of hell. Unexpected, that is, by The First. John himself doesn't seem to be too surprised by their arrival, revealing that he's sold his soul to the two other lords. Constantine has managed to trick all three Lords Of Hell into a position where they must claim ownership of his soul once he dies. Because of the nature of politics 'down under' The Three will be forced to quite literally go to war for Constantine's soul.
The Three are left with no choice but to cure John of his cancer and ensure his continued survival lest they are forced to go to war, which would guarantee the fall of all three from power. Making sure that the experience is as painful as possible, the Three tear the cancer from John's body and heal up his slashed wrists, quite literally burning away his old body and rebuilding it from scratch (without the tree tattoo he got from the Swamp Thing). Constantine, being Constantine, can't resist celebrating his greatest victory by taunting the assembled Lords Of Hell by flipping them the bird !
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