In 1984 noted musician Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner made a brief cameo in issue 25 of the comic book Swamp Thing wearing a black and red striped t-shirt. A year later he would appear again in Swamp Thing number 37, magically transformed (possibly through the powers of tantric sex) into the character of John Constantine. Or, JC to his close friends. After a myriad of wacky and light-hearted adventures throughout the DC Universe, the wise powers that be decided to give Constantine his own ongoing comic book, Hellblazer, in 1988. In today’s world of comics, this title would be lucky to last 6 issues before being given the axe. But Hellblazer ran for an astonishing 300 issues – 300 issues – a large portion under the Vertigo banner. Writers on the title include Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Mike Carey, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, and Andy Diggle. Notable artists were Simon Bisley, Mark Buckingham, Richard Corben, Steve Dillon, and Sean Phillips. That’s probably all one really needs to know. But wait, there’s more.

Ostensibly a horror comic, Hellblazer deals with all manner of dark themes: supernatural, religious, personal, and political, and was often considered quite controversial, both in subject matter and imagery. John Constantine is easily one of the most memorable of characters in the 4 color medium, with his spiky blond hair, ever-present trench coat, and tie askew, an amoral moralist of the highest order. As one of the most powerful magicians in the DC Universe, JC finds himself more in the grittiest and grimiest corners, far from the histrionics of his caped contemporaries.

Original Sins collects the first 9 issues of Hellblazer. Written by Jamie Delano and grotesquely illustrated by John Ridgway, these stories set a template for the character and his world, introducing a supporting cast that will have far-reaching influence and consequences for the entirety of the series. We take the measure of a man and all his flaws and find him at a crossroads that he never escapes from. A great intro to the laughing magician, and a harrowing series of events.


This article originally appeared as the introduction to episode 98: Hellblazer: Original Sins.

The Collected Edition is a comic book podcast where the hosts discuss the famous and infamous runs and story arcs throughout the history of comics. Please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, IHeartRadio, and Spotify.