Rich Handley Author and Editor

Throwbook Thursday—John Constantine, Hellblazer: 30th Anniversary Celebration

I’ve been highlighting books I’ve written, edited, or contributed to, and now it’s “Throwbook Thursday” once again. But please do not throw books. It can hurt someone and damage the books.

Did I ever tell you about that time I (sort of) collaborated with rock legend Sting? It’s a hell(blazer) of a tale.

Back in the mid-1990s, writer Joe Bongiorno convinced me to start reading DC Comics’ Swamp Thing, and I was immediately hooked. The Mark Millar run had just ended, and (at least for a while) Swamp Thing was a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It was mythic, it was gothic, it was beautifully written and illustrated, and it had a satisfying conclusion, so Joe knew it was just the sort of thing I’d be into.

As soon as I finished reading his collection, I began tracking down my own set, as I wanted to be able to reread it all without continually bothering him. This time, though, I also collected Swamp Thing‘s spinoff title, John Constantine, Hellblazer. Unlike its parent book, Hellblazer was still in publication—it had recently reached issue #100 of its 300-issue lifespan, so there was a lot of story yet to be told.

It turned out that Hellblazer was, in several respects, the superior comic. By the time I came aboard, the brilliant Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis tenures had already passed, and the series was a year into the Paul Jenkins run. That may be why Jenkins has remained my favorite—much like how James Bond and Doctor Who fans tend to prefer the actor who was in the role when they first started watching, Jenkins was the current scribe when I entered the fold. I loved the Delano, Ennis, and Jenkins years, and while I enjoyed all of their successors, from Warren Ellis to Peter Milligan, I hold a particular fondness for the work of those three authors.

For my money (and comics publishers have taken a lot of it), Hellblazer is among DC’s greatest achievements. It’s no wonder to me that John Constantine has become such an enduring character, not only in print but on television (actor Matt Ryan nails it on Legends of Tomorrow). So when friend and collaborator Alex Galer, with whom I’d worked on a quartet of Planet of the Apes books for BOOM! Studios, told me he’d moved over to DC Comics and would be editing a hardcover volume celebrating Hellblazer‘s first thirty years of publication, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: 30th Anniversary Celebration reprinted some of the best Constantine tales from Swamp Thing and Hellblazer. The book was released in 2018, and my role was multifold. I wrote four essays providing historical context to each era (titled “Born on the Bayou, Bound for the Abyss,” “Daring to Walk Where Giants Have Trod,” “To Hell and Back,” and “A Devil of a Time, A Hell of a Series”), and I also penned “A Hell of a Time(line): The History of the Laughing Magicians,” a chronology of John’s life culled from every comic, novel, and short story up to that point that had featured the self-destructive mage.

This project was such a joy. Working with Alex is always fun—he’s been my editor at BOOM! and DC, I’ve been his editor on several Sequart anthologies, and we’re currently rereading the entire Swamp Thing and Hellblazer lines together just for the hell of it, because that’s how freakin’ geeky we are. We’re two peas in a pod. But the best part? When he asked me to recommend an out-of-the-box candidate whom he could invite to write the foreword, I jokingly replied, “How about Sting?”—and Alex actually did it.

When Constantine debuted during Alan Moore’s landmark Swamp Thing run, artists Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben drew him to resemble the frontman of The Police. This was common knowledge in comics circles, but Alex and I had no idea if Sting knew that. I was, of course, only half-joking with my suggestion—the other half of me was dead serious. Sting was, after all, the ideal candidate for the task. Moore, Bissette, Delano, and everyone else who’d brought Conjob to life had been invited multiple times to discuss John’s genesis. But Sting? No one had ever thought to get his perspective on the subject.

There were risks involved in the invitation. Would Sting do it if asked? More importantly, would his lawyers sue DC the moment Alex reached out to him, if it turned out the company never had permission to use his likeness in the first place? But Alex loved the idea—and, as it happened, so did Sting. A mere two weeks later, Alex and I were left with our jaws on the floor when Sting’s rep sent over the musician’s foreword, which was a blast to read since Sting had gone the extra step of writing it in-universe as Constantine’s deceased mirror twin, the Golden Boy. And he even made this YouTube video, totally on his own, to promote the project. Amazing!

I’m elated that I got to work on a project celebrating one of my favorite characters, and I’m proud of the four essays and the timeline I contributed. But I’m especially excited that I was instrumental in bringing Constantine and Sting together. (See what I did there? “Instrumental”? Get it? ‘Cause he’s a rock star? Hmm? Hmm? Ok, fine. My apologies to Sting. I should probably not stand so close to him now. It’s just that every little word he wrote was magic.) You can read more about the book at DC Comics’ webpage and order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.

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