Friday, 28 December 2012

Hellblazer and Vertigo for Beginners

2012 seems to be the year that DC really gave up on the Vertigo imprint. Over the last few years DC Editorial have been steadily removing all the toys they so graciously lent the original Vertigo movers and shakers in the 80s and 90s like Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing, and more recently Vertigo poster boy, John Constantine of Hellblazer fame. This last reappropriation really seems to be indicative of DC’s decision to finally finish off Vertigo once and for all. They’re going into the hospital when they think the doctors aren’t looking and are unplugging the life support. But not to worry horror fans! DC have announced that they will be replacing Hellblazer straight away with “Constantine” a series starring a younger, US based version of John set firmly in the New 52 universe, acting as their very own less 70s version of Doctor Strange. It’s sort of like finding out that although The Wire’s been cancelled, you can still follow the adventures of a young McNulty and the gang as they try to track down Clark Kent in the new series of Smallville! That or like your Dad taking his new girlfriend as plus one to your Mum’s funeral.

For those of you who don’t know, Vertigo was the brainchild of DC Editor Karen Berger, who herself has very recently severed ties to DC, another sign of the impending Vertigeddon. Set up to tell grown up stories in the comics medium, a mixture of strange and engaging new titles and oddball reimaginings of existing DC properties, which ranged from visceral horror to sensitive introspective works. With books like The Sandman, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, 100 Bullets, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Doom Patrol, Fables, Shade The Changing Man, Scalped, Sweet Tooth, Y: The Last Man and countless more, Vertigo thrived critically and in the lucrative trade paperback market although rarely making great waves in the monthly issues sales charts, which seem to be DC’s current focus. Another feature which seems to have added to DC’s treating Vertigo like an unwanted lovechild is the fact that the majority of Vertigo’s output was creator owned, so DC’s percentage of the profits were limited. Vertigo was not afraid to take chances with new and old talent and certainly when it came to content where it more than earned its mature readers title. There were missteps aplenty but to this day the vertigo logo on a books cover is a mark of something worth taking a chance on. Luckily for readers, Image comics seem to have taken the mantle on in the past year or so, putting out diverse and exciting new books almost every week, Dark Horse were no slouch in 2012 either.

Hellblazer was one of the most successful Vertigo books, having been running since before the imprint was officially founded and the only one running to this day, well for two more months at least. In an odd turn of events, namely the Nu Coke 52, and Marvel’s somewhat trigger-happy renumbering policy, Hellblazer is currently the longest running, non rebooted comic from either of the big two publishers. This is especially impressive for an uncompromising supernatural horror book with a fairly immoral chain smoking English conman as a protagonist. Hellblazer has remained Vertigo's flagship of weird, following the ongoing adventures of British 'blue collar' mystic, John Constantine. An antihero at best, an utter bastard at worst, John Constantine is one of the most fleshed out, three dimentional characters I’ve seen in any medium, The writers have crafted such a unique full character that readers feel like they know John, whether they’d like to or not.

Cancellation comes at an unfortunate time too as Hellblazer has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, under the fearless penmanship of Peter Milligan, a Vertigo veteran, If anything the current run has reminded this longtime reader why he fell in love with John’s dirty little world in the first place. Superior, supernatural horror for the modern reader, like an episode of Eastenders written by Clive Barker.

In fact it's been so long since I first picked up an issue of Hellblazer that I forget how one can get put off by the fact that so many issues have been published, and a new reader wouldn’t know where to start. This is bollocks though; as long as you go from the beginning of a storyline, Hellblazer is easy to start cold and rarely continuity laden. Apart from the occasional story all you need to know to read Hellblazer is: John does Magic, John likes women, John's a bit of a prick. Generally speaking all the information you need is there in the pages of the story you’re reading, and with a few exceptions, most notably his taxi driver mate Chas, the supporting cast rarely lives long enough to matter. What matters is that as ever, something moody's going on, John's deep in the heart of it and innocent people are getting hurt. And as ever John's not a hero, he's just the bloke who, when the world goes up shit creek, might, just might, have the only paddle, and fans wouldn't have it any other way.

If like many, you are curious about Hellblazer but just don't know where to start, there are many trade collections available at any good bookshop; you can start at the very beginning with ‘Original Sins’, a collection of the first year or so, but I would suggest reading something like ‘Dangerous Habits’ which came at the beginning of Garth Ennis’ run where he tries to cheat his way out of lung cancer, or ‘Haunted’ where he investigates the death of an ex girlfriend, at the hands of an sadistic amateur occultist. ‘Rare Cuts’ or ‘Setting Sun’ are good primers too as they both contain a selection of shorter stories. ‘City of Demons is’ another good starting point; a recent mini series that dealt with some violent and unexpected repercussions of the demon blood he acquired in an early story, spectacularly illustrated by Punk Rock Jesus’ Sean Murphy. Any of these books show you what to expect, which is gruesome urban supernatural horror with a not entirely irredeemable rogue in the lead, a book with a high social awareness and a dark, dark sense of humour.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Ho Drokkin Ho Creeps!