Hellblazer Issue 300
Written by Peter Milligan
Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Finishes by Stefano Landini
Colors by Brian Buccellato
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Simon Bisley
Published by DC/Vertigo
One of the very first comics I read was a Hellblazer story. It was the Grant Morrison one, set in a town near a military installation which was about to have its annual festival and things got…rough. The art by David Lloyd was the colour of bruises and the entire story had the feeling of nightmare to it, of being out past the edge of the film strip but not quite falling, not quite yet.
I was 12.
I was hooked.
I still am.
I could write about the slow death of a thousand cuts Vertigo is experiencing. I could write, at length, about how that slow death has driven creators who should have come to Vertigo to Image. I could point out that Vertigo as a brand, and an ideal, was built on the backs of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, and Hellblazer. I could, if I wanted to, rage at the dying of the light. God knows enough people have already. It’s easy, compulsory even, when a character like Constantine ends or a long-running book closes, to feel betrayed. Your story is being closed early, the illusion of permanency that comes from all good fiction has been shattered. Closing time, and, like the songs says, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
But that’s not what Peter Milligan has decided to do, and I have to respect that. This final issue deals not only with the loss of Constantine, dead in the previous issue, but what happens when he does what he always does; wins. Again. Returning to corporeal form via a typically grubby method involving cigarettes and his own ashes, John vows to do better by the people he’s left behind, especially his wife, Epiphany. The plan is simple; run. Go somewhere he would never go, somewhere filled with peace and quiet. Somewhere he’ll never be found.
Somewhere he’ll never survive.
The man who became infamous for leading entire circles of friends to their death realizes that this time the only person who needs to die…is him. His solution is elegant, dramatic and, to be honest, massively frustrating. You’ll be reading the last few pages of this issue a few times to try and figure out what’s gone on and the beauty of them is that every interpretation is right. John’s dead. John’s old. John’s life never happened. John’s life is about to happen again. It reminded me of the end of Ashes to Ashes, a similar hint of spaces that aren’t quite normal, places beyond the sea but not quite the other coast. Anyone looking for a definitive ending will be disappointed, as will anyone looking for a clear step across to the DCU title featuring Constantine. However, anyone wanting a sense of closure will find a lot to enjoy here.
Milligan has a curious relationship with Constantine, his take on the character in Justice League Dark bordering on unreadable, but here he treats John with the sort of affection, respect and sly refusal to let the old sod off the hook that he richly deserves. Camuncoli and Landini’s art is the perfect counterfoil to Milligan’s script; a combination of scratchy, thin lines and eccentric panel layouts that really give the sense of this being a book out past the edge of the world, just waiting for gravity to notice it. The last few pages, the last stage of John’s journey, are a real standout, a series of panels showing his final journey to…somewhere else. The long journey’s end. Not the DCU. Not yet. But maybe somewhere close.
As send offs go, it’s completely without nostalgia or sentiment. There’s no romance here, just a fictional man at the end of his fictional life being shown what the world truly is with him in it. It’s a troubling, fascinating, annoying, beautiful capstone to one of the most influential English language comics of all time, a place where countless big names cut their teeth. In short, it’s imperfect and fascinating.
Just like John.
So, here’s to 300 issues and multiple decades of horror. Here’s to a smart man in a trenchcoat who always has a plan. Here’s to his creators and readers and, finally, here’s to John. May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead, sir. See you in the New 52.