John Constantine: 10 Things That Did Not Age Well in Hellblazer
All stories exist in a specific time and place. But part of the appeal of comics is that their stories are meant to be evergreen, and their serialized nature means that many characters never noticeably age, but just keep on doing the same things for decades without changing.
John Constantine is not such a character. He was born in 1953 and is very much a product of his times. Early Hellblazer stories deal with the attitudes, politics, and current events of the period–all of which John was happy to comment on. While both John Constantine as a character and his beliefs have endured the test of time, some elements of these early stories definitely feel dated. Whether dealing with offensive content or cultural references, these aspects of Hellblazer should have gone up in smoke like one of John’s Silk Cut cigarettes.advertising
10 The Messaging Behind Their Depiction Of Thatcherism & Thatcher’s Re-Election Was Not Subtle
John Constantine has encountered just about every type of monster that exists. The King of the Vampires, the First of the Fallen, and the demon Nergal are just some of his more notable enemies. But during his early career, he would probably say that the evilest, most diabolical enemy he ever opposed was someone whom he’d never met, but whose words and deeds haunted him every day of his life for most of a decade: the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Or rather, the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the third issue of Hellblazer, John was tortured and hung upside-down by devils while Thatcher gave a speech on TV and the devils spoke of their affection for her. The message was not subtle.advertising
9 The Casual Use Of A Racial Slur Is Uncomfortable Regardless Of Context
Attitudes and taboos change with time, but it has never been okay for a white man to casually call a Black person a slur. Despite being anti-racist, Constantine is guilty of this very racist behavior. The line appeared uncensored in the last issue of Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer run, even as most the Hellblazer stories he scripted used the word “frig” instead of the actual curse word.
For further context, John and his friend George Foster had a falling out after white supremacists brutally murdered George’s brother Dez. Both George and his brother were Black, but the skinheads specifically targeted Dez because of his association with Constantine. More than a year after their falling out, George and Constantine met and talked one final time. It was clear both still respected and cared for one another, but after everything that had transpired, there was no healing the rift between them. Their last words to one another each contained a racial epithet, spoken ironically with a flippant bittersweet parting. This scene is handled as well as can be expected within the context it occurs, but it is still uncomfortable–especially given the censorship of less offensive words.advertising
8 References To Experiencing The 60s Firsthand Are Jarring Now
The one-shot comic Hellblazer Special by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is a story set in the late 60s and deals with a particularly traumatic incident from Constantine’s teenage years. This is a chilling and unforgettable story with dramatic twists, rich characters, and a perfect blend of supernatural and real-world horror.
The issue here is that this story is an extended flashback, narrated by Constantine after he just turned forty. Now that the start of the 60s is more than 60 years in the past, the setting and narrative style feels jarring.
7 Constantine’s Dependence On Chas’s Taxi Service Is Outdated In The Modern World
One cool aspect of Constantine’s character is that he doesn’t drive. Instead, he has his friend Chas drive him about, as Chas owns and operates a taxi as his business.
Taxis still exist, of course, but they’ve more or less been replaced by ride services like Uber and Lyft. Furthermore, modern cars (like modern phones) have GPS tracking in them, so that means every time Constantine is driven to some seedy location where supernatural events transpire, there’s a record of his movements. The whole concept of him just being driven about in his mate’s cab doesn’t exactly work anymore.advertising
6 Depiction Of Airplanes And International Flights Is No Longer Realistic
In the post-9/11 world, airport security has been intensified in every major international hub. People who pose potential risks are profiled, and many are put on lists (and while these No Fly Lists don’t exclude everyone from flying, they do increase scrutiny the level of searches that travelers go through).
In the early Hellblazer comics, tickets were still physical pieces of paper and nothing was digitized, so it would be easy for someone like John Constantine to fly from one country to another without too much hassle. Those days are long gone and he is certainly on quite a number of No Fly Lists.
5 School Shootings In The US Are No Longer As Shocking As They Were Before
One of the most controversial Hellblazer stories is “Shoot,” by Warren Ellis (who has since become the subject of his own controversies). “Shoot” dealt with the topic of school shootings in the US. It was shocking, and the editors at DC loved the script, but before it could go to print, the Columbine Massacre in Colorado took place. “Shoot” was shocking because of its relevance–too shocking for a nation reeling from the murder of 13 children. Editor Paul Levitz ordered the comic be rewritten, and Ellis resigned rather than let his work be sanitized. That was back in 1999.
Unfortunately, a story like “Shoot” is no longer shocking. Mass shootings in the US are so commonplace they rarely even make headlines.advertising
4 The White Savior Trope Is No Longer Acceptable
There is a common literary trope where a white person (almost always a white man) comes and rescues a marginalized group of people from their problems. The problem with the “white savior” trope is that it denies BIPOC agency and makes stores of their struggles about a white person swooping in to save the day. In reality, issues are much more complex. White allies can help empower and uplift marginalized voices, but white people tend to get more credit and do less work with these issues (and understand them less). Balancing established literary traditions and these real-world problems can be difficult, but there are ways to adapt and update such tropes.
The Hellblazer series ran for thirty years, so it would be pretty awful if Constantine did not help marginalized groups that were in trouble during that time. However, there are some stories where it’s hard not to see him as taking up the “white savior” trope, especially during his encounters with Aboriginals in Australia.
3 The State Of Contemporary Ireland Has Changed
Ireland is often described as one of the “British Isles,” but this is not entirely true. Ireland as an island nation that has been colonized by the English, which is still a major point of contention but it was especially bad between the 1960s and 1990s–a time period referred to as “the Troubles.”
The Irish Republican Army opposed this colonial occupation and used terror tactics against the occupying force. A number of stories featuring Constantine’s girlfriend Kit make references to this conflict. The “official” end of the Troubles is 1998, and while tensions persist to this day, it is nothing like the contemporary state of things in the comics.advertising
2 The Vietnam War Is No Longer A Fresh Trauma
The Vietnam War changed the way that people in the United States saw themselves–and the way the world viewed US military aggression. One of the classic early Hellblazer stories is issue #5 by Jamie Delano and James Ridgway, which concerns a town grieving over the loss of all the young men who never came back from the war.
In this surrealist tale, the prayers of the town manage to bring back the young men who had been lost, and these soldiers then exact war crimes on their own families and loved ones, unable to distinguish the war from their hometown. It’s a tragic story. It’s also dated.
1 Cigarettes Are Less Popular Now
Cigarettes used to be everywhere. Smoking was just something people did. Tobacco companies spent billions on ad campaigns to deny the harmful effects of cigarettes, but the carcinogenic nature of tobacco–and the chemicals mixed in–became public knowledge.
John Constantine smokes Silk Cuts, and orders them by the pack of sixty. It is one of the quirks of his personality. There’s even an entire story where he is dying of lung cancer. While plenty of people still smoke, this story resonates very differently to modern audiences.
Next DC: 10 Most Shocking Plot Twists In Teen Titan ComicsAbout The Author Theo Kogod (501 Articles Published)
Theo Kogod is a freelance writer, educator, researcher, and activist. He helped found the magazine 3 Feet Left as its Resident Writer while working as an English teacher in Japan. Since then, he’s written for various online publications, including CBR, Screen Rant, The Gamer, and The Comics Vault. His published fiction includes the prose superhero story “Typical Heroes” released by Diabolical Plots and the sci-fi story “Antediluvian” in the anthology A Flash of Silver-Green. He currently lives in North Carolina with his spouse, two adorable cats, and an ever-growing book-hoard. You can find him on Twitter at @TKogod. You can also watch his videos on YouTube under the name Theo Kogod, where he posts sporadically.More From Theo Kogod