I’ve been reviewing John Constantine: Hellblazer for almost an entire year, and at this point, it feels like I should be running out of things to say about it. I’ve covered how it’s my favorite modern Hellblazer series. I’ve mentioned that its lack of subtlety is one of the many things I love about it, and how directness is sorely needed right now. I’ve praised the art, the storytelling, the lettering. Every piece of this series has been good, even if it’s had its missteps.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #10
Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Matías Bergara (Artist), Aditya Bidikar (Letterer), Simon Spurrier (Writer)
September 29, 2020
Issue #10 is the beginning of the end. It’s a solid issue—it’s not my favorite, but such is the nature of anything that kicks off an ending—that features all the creators firing on all cylinders. The issue (aptly titled “The Wake-Up Call”) opens with Constantine woken by a phone call, which he dismisses upon realizing there’s somebody else in his room. It’s quickly revealed that this is the man in the flat cap, and it’s time to quit playing games; the man in the flat cap is Constantine himself, some future version he sold his soul to all the way back in issue #1 of Sandman Presents: Hellblazer. And as much as current Constantine insists he doesn’t want to go on “some wanky fucking dream quest,” that’s precisely what must happen.
Alongside his older self, he journeys into his own psyche, confronting the myriad terrible things that inhabit it. Mostly, those things are some facet of himself—his self-loathing, his guilt. Alongside this inward journey, gorgeously rendered in Matías Bergara’s dreamy art style and Jordie Bellaire’s inspired colors, we see many of the supporting characters stalked and killed. This isn’t new, necessarily—Constantine rarely meets someone that doesn’t get offed, usually because of his own actions—but instead of focusing on these people as necessary sacrifices, as means to an end, this issue calls them what they are: friends.
We care about all these people (to some degree—the Vestibulan is hardly likeable). Constantine cares about all of these people. But for once there isn’t a clear choice that has to be made—these people are being hurt because of him, both because they’re associated with his current self and because his future self knows that pulling those guilty strings is the way to get him to behave, puppet-like.
Hellblazer has always heavily featured Constantine’s guilt as a plot point and occasionally as a character itself, but here it’s the main focus. Constantine doesn’t have to make a hard choice about who lives and who dies—he has to face his own complicity in these deaths and the impact it’s had on him. It was hinted at way back in the first issue, when Chas revealed he was dying of lung cancer caused by Constantine’s relentless smoking. Actions have ripple effects. Constantine isn’t just pragmatic, he’s thoughtless. The self-loathing he feels and has felt throughout the series’ history is not actually meaningful change—but it could be, if he let it.
This is where the series’ end, coming up in just two issues, becomes particularly tragic. Without spoiling the issue’s events (the stalking and killing of Constantine’s friends is not as much a spoiler as you’d expect), we’re introduced to Constantine’s main antagonist and it’s not as easy to overcome as a well-placed spell or even the sacrifice of a friend. It’s Constantine’s self-loathing made manifest. Worse, accepting that guilt exists is only one small step toward becoming a better version of yourself—there is still work to be done, work that likely takes more than two issues to wrap up.
John Constantine: Hellblazer has only gotten better as it’s gone on, and this issue is no exception. Bergara’s art is perfectly suited for issue #10’s journey through various dreamscapes, backed by Bellaire’s beautiful, moody colors. Aditya Bidikar’s lettering continues to not just tell the story, but be the story, folding seamlessly into the artwork and guiding the reader through dialog like a road sign. Simon Spurrier’s whip-smart story and dialog—and distinct lack of subtlety—keep each story beat feeling fresh and thrilling, even when the issue is at its most introspective.
Issue #10 isn’t the most thrilling. It’s not the best in this series thus far. But, in all honesty, it’s still one of the best Hellblazer issues I’ve ever read. Maybe it’s reading it now and being alive for the political climate that informs it, but reading this series has felt like a voice of clarity over the past year. Not in an uplifting way, but sometimes it’s enough to have confirmation that you’re not the only one feeling like shit’s fucked and that it’s worth being enraged about.
I wish this series was being given more time. What this team has accomplished so far is nothing short of the greatest modern Hellblazer story, and cutting it down before its end is denying it the chance to get even better, to explore some of its current weak spots, to let a character like Constantine grow—not in the “happily ever after because he’s over his hangups” way, but in the way that the story is asking him to grow. I’m sure I’ll like the coming ending, just as surely as I’ll be frustrated that it’s not continuing. But if nothing else, this team has succeeded at telling a fresh Hellblazer story that easily stands among some of the best in the series’ history—a political, engrossing horror story that encapsulates the ugliness of all we’re living through. It’s a huge achievement, and it’s a shame it’s coming to an end before its time.