Hell, Blazed

NOTE: I wrote this about a week ago and posted it on my tumblr page, which no one should check out because it’s mostly all same stuff I post here and on the Gutter Trash pages and Ok, PANIC!.

Anyhoo.

I wrote this about the loss of the comic HELLBLAZER and what that book means to me. However, since then, I have gone through a much worse and meaningful loss – the loss of a pet.

Max was a fat, quirky stray cat who came to live with my parents about six or seven years ago. He just showed up and never left. Since that time, one of the things I always looked forward to was seeing Max whenever I visited my folks (about once a week). He was the best part of housesitting for them when they went on vacation. I’ve never met a nicer, more laid-back, awesome cat.

I went to my parents house on Monday night, and he was just being Max. I went on Tuesday to discover that he suddenly passed away that afternoon. Pretty much out of nowhere. It’s been pretty rough for me and my family since then. It’s Thursday now, and I’m pretty much past the point of crying anymore, but it doesn’t make the loss or the hurt go away or any better. I’ve lost pets before, but it still doesn’t prepare you. I’ve lost family too and anyone who wants to tell me that pets are just animals can just stop right there. They mean just as much to the people who love them as the humans in their families. Sometimes more.

The point of this note is to remind people, in my own digress-y way, that the following “rant” is about entertainment. Whether you like comics, movies, tv shows, whatever, just remember that none of those things are ever necessary. They exist to entertain us and fill our time and to share an experience with others, but they are not important in the grand scheme of things. You may get some Star Wars movies you don’t like, but to get aggressive or overtly passionate about things like that is pointless. I may be mildly annoyed that FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E is being cancelled, but in the end, they’re just comics.

Max was real, and he was loved and he loved. He will be greatly missed.

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In the time I’ve been buying comics (the late 80s), the one series I have collected and read the longest was DC/Vertigo’s HELLBLAZER.

John Constantine was, no pun intended, the one constant in my life since about 1996. I was about 17. I was a huge fan of Garth Ennis’ “Preacher” and wanted to check out more work by him. I found “Hellblazer”. I started buying back issues at a rapid pace and added the book to my pull list at whatever shop I was buying at, at the time (probably FINAL FRONTIER, the shop right next door to my parents’ house). Paul Jenkins was working on the book at the time, along with Sean Phillips whose work so amazed me, he quickly became one of my all-time favorite artists. To this day, I will pretty much check out any book he draws. Ennis’ run is legendary, but I think Jenkins is criminally underrated on that book. I met Jenkins at a con about 10 years ago and had him sign a few “Hellblazer” books. With each book, he would tell an in-depth story about that issue. It was amazing. To this day, he remains the nicest creator I have ever met at a show.

I bought every back issue of “Hellblazer” within a year. Some were desperately hard to track (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison issues, most of Ennis’ issues). But I did it, because I was in love with that book and that character. Soon after, I went on a “Swamp Thing” hunt to get more of the character. John lived and breathed, and to this day, I’ve never felt any other character in any fiction is as fully realized as Constantine.

I am a person who fully believes in the motto “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” I don’t understand any person who buys a comic book because they’ve simply always bought that comic book. I bought “X-Men” and “Daredevil” comics for a very long, and when they stopped being good, I stopped buying them. When they’re good again, I’ll buy them again. Even a book like “Savage Dragon” – a personal work made by a single creator, a single creator who has influenced my own art and vision of what comics are, a single creator whom I respect more than any other – when I stopped liking that book, I stopped buying it. I tore my heart out to do it, but I did it.

I’ve never stopped buying “Hellblazer”. I came close once, but it was short-lived. Every creator change on that book, while being a different point of view of Constantine and his world, was consistently good. What other work-for-hire, corporate comic can claim that? What other comic, any comic, can be pointed at and declared “Consistently Good”? They can’t all be gold, but at it worst, “Hellblazer” was still pretty good. And when the creators were firing on all cylinders? It was the best.

And now it’s being cancelled.

But that’s okay.

I’m okay with it.

At least, I’m going to convince myself it is.

I always assumed it was just a matter of time. Really, when Vertigo started losing the corporate-owned characters, it was just a waiting game. I’m surprised it took this long. But at least we’ve had Peter Milligan for a few years doing some top-notch work.

John Constantine is being folded into the DC Universe completely now. He’s been there for a while, but this is now the “Ultimates” version taking over for the “real” version. I still buy Justice League Dark, it’s a fine book. I have little to no interest in the new “Constantine” book though. I’ve never read anything by Robert Venditti, so I can’t judge that. Renato Guedes is a fantastic artist, but his work is very clean and very pretty – two things which should never even be near the name “John Constantine”.

I’m not upset. It’s just comics. They come, they go. At least he isn’t getting shot in the face and replaced by a latino teenager. But it will feel incredibly weird, empty, and little bit soul-less when my first “Hellblazer”-less comic shipment arrives.

I will miss the book, I will miss the character. I may not like the PG-rated version of him as much, but someone else might, and when they discover 300+ issues of an entire world exists beyond that, then maybe someone else’s life will be changed for the better, too.