DC by Gas Light
Although a compassionate humanist who struggles to overcome the influence of both Heaven and Hell over humanity and despite his occasional forays into heroism, Constantine is a foul-mouthed, British cynic who pursues a life of sorcery and danger. His motivation has been attributed to an adrenaline addiction that only the strange and mysterious can sate. He also seems to be something of a “Weirdness Magnet”.
John Constantine discusses his previous girlfriends and boyfriends.
Constantine is shown to be someone with a wide and international circle of contacts and allies, and is supremely adept at making friends. He has had many girlfriends as well, and mentions past boyfriends.78 At the same time, his close friends inevitably suffer or are outright killed simply by being in his life; this has left a severe mark on him. In #69, when the King of Vampires killed the man next to him and casually asked if he’d been a friend, John replied “Must be. He’s dead.”
While Constantine has worn many clothes over the years he was originally portrayed as often wearing a blue pin-stripe suit, tan trench coat and occasionally gloves. As the series progressed his trademark attire became a grungier (or perhaps the same just older) trench coat, white shirt and black tie, but has recently returned more to his earlier fashion. Constantine chain-smokes Silk Cut cigarettes, consuming thirty or so a day.9
Real time aging
Constantine is unusual among comic book characters in that he has aged in real time since his creation. During the first year of his solo series, Constantine celebrated his 35th birthday. Five years later in 1993, he turned 40.
There have been no mentioned birthday celebrations since then, but nothing in the comics has stated a retcon of Constantine’s age or the real time development of his comic. In fact, DC Vertigo published a timeline in their Rare Cuts TPB, which establishes birthdates of many characters. This is further supported by the use of dating in the comics themselves.[original research?] For instance, All His Engines takes place at a specific date in 2004, and shows both Geraldine and Tricia Chandler as having aged roughly ten years since their first appearances in issue #84. It has since been calculated that John turned 56 on May 10, 2009. In the book, it is mentioned multiple times[when?] that the aging process of Constantine himself might be different due to the demon blood that he obtained from Nergal.
Fictional character biography
In Constantine’s early appearances in Swamp Thing, his past was a mystery; his life as a child and young adult was not developed until Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer stories. There, we found out that he was born in Liverpool, England, on May 10, 1953. His mother, Mary Anne, died giving birth to John and his stillborn twin brother because an earlier abortion—forced on her by John’s father, Thomas—had weakened her womb. Because he was unable to accept responsibility for his wife’s death, Thomas blamed John and the pair grew up with a deep dislike for one another. Whilst in the womb, John strangled his twin brother with his own umbilical cord; in a parallel universe glimpsed in Hellblazer #40, the twin survives to become the well-loved and well-adjusted magician that John never was.
In their childhood, John and his older sister Cheryl lived briefly with their aunt and uncle in Northampton to escape from their father’s alcoholism and subsequent imprisonment for stealing a female neighbour’s underwear. They moved back to Liverpool when their father was released. One of John’s first acts of magic, as a child, was to hide all of his childhood innocence and vulnerability in a box to rid himself of it.10 Later, in the 1960s, a teenage John ran away from home, but not before a botched curse caused his father to become withered and frail. John eventually made his permanent home in London in 1969, rooming with Francis “Chas” Chandler, a young man who has since gone on to become John’s closest — and longest surviving — friend.
During the 1970s, John became involved in occult circles in London, and visited San Francisco, where he met, and subsequently began a relationship with, the female magician Zatanna. He also became enamored of punk rock; after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Roxy Club in London in 1977, John cut his long hair and formed his own band, Mucous Membrane, whose members included Chandler (as a roadie), a drummer named Beano and fellow Liverpudlian Gary Lester.
John’s first venture into occult “heroism”, as depicted in a flashback in Hellblazer #11, was a disaster. On tour with Mucous Membrane at the Casa Nova Club in Newcastle, he found the aftermath of a magical orgy gone horribly wrong: an abused child, Astra, had conjured a hideous monster that took revenge on the adults who were tormenting her, and the monster refused to leave.
With typical recklessness, John convinced some members of the band, along with several occultist friends, to try destroying the creature by summoning a demon of their own. Unfortunately, this demon was not under their control and after it had destroyed the child’s monster, it tormented Constantine’s friends and took the child to Hell. John suffered a nervous breakdown after this incident, and was committed to a mental institution, which he drifted in and out of over the years.11 He was severely abused by the staff during the time he spent there, as they believed that he was the one who had molested and murdered Astra. John was never officially cured in any way — his time at the asylum ended when London crime lord Harry Cooper used his influence to spring John, wanting him to return his dead son to life. (Incapable of doing this, John roped several friends into forcing a demon to inhabit the corpse, and tried to forget the whole thing)
The guilt of Astra hung over him for many years until, in his mid-forties, he used some magic and con-artistry to free not only her, but also the souls of all the other children trapped in Hell. As for the rest of the “Newcastle Crew,” the incident left the group both physically and psychologically scarred. However in Sandman number #3 Constantine is relieved by Morpheus of the nightmares that plagued him since the incident.
Years later, John was able to persuade the same group to help with his investigation of the Brujería cult, as seen in Swamp Thing #37–49. However, the cult murdered most of them, including John’s then-lover, Emma. These people, and others who have died due to John’s carelessness, have continued to appear to him as silent, reproachful ghosts. Chas is the most prominent one of very few human friends to have survived a long-term association with John.
After this, John became involved in a clash between the demon Nergal and his Damnation Army human agents and the Resurrection Crusade evangelist group; both groups were trying to fulfill the prophecy of the birth of an influential child, the latter trying to birth the Second Coming and the former trying to birth the Anti-Christ. Both sides fixed onto John’s new girlfriend and ally Zed, and she was lost to the God’s Army. However, Constantine was infused with demon blood by Nergal so that, by having sex with Zed, he could ensure she couldn’t be used for the Second Coming. John then helped ensure the Swamp Thing could spawn a child, so that the prophecy was fulfilled and Hell couldn’t use it. Having found out that Nergal was the same demon he encountered in Newcastle, John fought him and got revenge (deliberately sacrificing former friend Ritchie Simpson in the process).
In 1991 while in his late thirties, John contracted terminal lung cancer. During this time, he sought the help of a dying friend, Brendan, who had sold his soul to the First of the Fallen, the most powerful lord of Hell. When the First came to collect the soul, John tricked him into drinking holy water, which rendered him helpless and prevented him from collecting the friend’s soul at the appointed time.9
For this, the First promised to make John suffer unprecedented torment in Hell when he dies. Slowly dying from cancer, John hatched a plan to save himself from eternal torment. He secretly sold his soul to the other two Lords of Hell. When they discover Constantine’s actions they realized that they could not allow him to die, or else they would be forced to go to all-out war over his soul — a war whose only winner would be “the Lord of the Hosts” (i.e. God) and his angels. However, they were also far too stubborn and proud to enter anything resembling an alliance. As a result, they were forced to cure John of his cancer.9 This led to the First plotting a grand revenge on Constantine, who manipulated the demon via his ally Ellie (a succubus) into coming into a trap; the plan only barely succeeded, and while the First was temporarily defeated many of John’s friends were killed.
Between the two battles John entered a heavy relationship with Northern Irish girl Kit Ryan, one that saw him briefly consider settling down and which others saw as his last chance at normality. However, his schemes against the First indirectly put her in danger — something he promised her wouldn’t happen — and she left, causing him to briefly fall into a major depression and become homeless for part of 1993.
Constantine then went on to have a series of adventures and misadventures playing the role of puppet and puppeteer with his signature style and profane sarcasm. He managed to free Astra and every other child in Hell, but at the cost of the First returning to power; also, as part of the scheme, John’s worst attributes were given separate existence as “Demon Constantine” which meant he himself couldn’t go to Hell. As part of an attempt to regain his nastier edge, he used Ellie, and this led to her taking out a revenge scheme in 1998 that forced him to turn to the First for help; Ellie ended up in Hell, several of John’s oldest friends left him, and he sold his soul ensuring he was damned once more.
Soon after, he battled the demon in Harry Cooper’s son’s corpse while helping Chas out, and was left despondent at the memory of his dead friends and how all the carnage had been caused by him refusing to clean up the mess he started. The following year, he tracked down a rival magician who had murdered an old girlfriend of John’s, and took revenge by torturing him into insanity.
The new millennium
In 2000 while in America, he was framed for the murder of an old friend called “Lucky” Fermin (who had committed suicide) and locked up in a maximum security prison. After arranging a prison riot and having his release orchestrated by FBI agent Frank Turro, Constantine (officially killed in the riot) traveled across America for a time on a personal quest to ask the forgiveness of the widow of Lucky, for whose death he felt responsible even though he was innocent of his murder. After encountering, roughly in order, the psychotic pornography-making relatives of Lucky, a huge black boar, and a group of snowbound killers, Constantine’s journey culminated in his discovery that Lucky’s widow Marjorie had joined a neo-Nazi group. Constantine, who has often shown a dislike for “fascists”, disassembled the group from the inside and burned Marjorie’s house to the ground after Lucky’s ghost revealed he had killed himself as part of a deal he and Marjorie had made with Stanley Manor, a billionaire who Constantine once swindled in the seventies, to frame Constantine for murder.
At this point Constantine was contacted by Agent Turro, who had initiated his release from prison, and asked to take part in an attempt to incriminate billionaire Stanley Manor (whom the agent knew was responsible for numerous illegal and immoral acts, but who, because of his wealth, could never be brought to justice). To this end Constantine frequented a BDSM sex club, seduced Stanley, raised the ghosts or the illusion of the ghosts of Stanley’s parents, and finally faked his own death, all part of a con to bring about Stanley’s own suicide. Unfortunately, Turro was killed in the process.
On return to Britain in 2003 and after reconciling with his sister (who believed he was dead), he went on to be involved in a magic war in London and was horrified to find his niece Gemma — who he’d wanted to keep out of this life — had become a witch. He soon ended up organising a counterstrike against the Shadow Dog, warned of its coming and believing it was an entity that brought death and madness; instead, it was a guardian against the true enemy, the Beast, who was manipulating John into giving it free access to humanity. Horror and carnage swept the globe, and only with the help of Gemma and the Swamp Thing did he resurrect the Shadow Dog and defeat the Beast. In the process, he was rendered amnesiac, leaving him vulnerable to the schemes of the demon Rosacarnis. To get his memories back, he had to spend a day in her service in which she had him father three demonic children, who went on to massacre anyone who knew Constantine, from friends to enemies to people who’d only briefly met him. Among them there was also his sister Cheryl; one of his sons had in fact exploited her husband’s religious fanaticism to make him see his wife as a witch — and thus a person to be killed. This would set up Constantine to go on journey to Hell in the hopes to return his sister’s soul. Accompanying him was Nergal, the demon he thought he had killed by sending him to the border of Heaven. Actually Nergal had escaped that fate, but was punished by the First with death; yet his essence survived, was able to build a surrogate body, and tried to get his power back from Rosacarnis, his own daughter. Greatly weakened and without his original demonic body, Nergal could do nothing when Rosacarnis ordered him again killed.
Notably, Nergal possessed Chas in order to contact and help Constantine — when the possession ended, Chas found himself briefly but totally uninhibited, and this led him to betray his spouse with a barely-of-age prostitute – and later, when he got back home, he also beat his wife. Constantine’s demonic daughter spied him, contacted him and got some fragments of Nergal’s “soul” out of Chas, rendering him again his old self — this was not an altruistic act, as she was able to discern who was aiding John. She subsequently left Chas to the wreckage that his life had suddenly become. While in Hell, John and Nergal met the demon Constantine, who tried to kill the original one. John was forced to let Nergal enter his body in order to finish him. Later they also encountered Ellie, who seemed to have quite pardoned John for him selling her out to the First. She was not subject to any torture or punishment, either. The couple finally arrived at Rosacarnis’s hall, where there was a feast with all three of Constantine’s children, the First, and many demons from all Hell.
Nergal left Constantine’s body and went to inhabit that of his brother, whom Rosacarnis had poisoned for years (he had an invulnerable body, and wanted regency; so she incapacitated him with poison and kept him that way ever since). After doing this, Nergal storms towards his daughter and Constantine. Constantine forces Rosacarnis to “swear so it will stick” that she will release his sister’s soul if he stops Nergal. She agrees and John then offers himself as a human voodoo doll. Because of Nergal’s earlier possession of his body, any damage done to John would be mirrored on Nergal. Nergal, however, calls the bluff, showing that the effect goes both ways by clawing at his chest slightly. John begs Rosacarnis to kill him to save his sister, but just as she’s about to, the First of the Fallen intervenes and immediately kills Rosacarnis, since Constantine’s soul is his by “right of insult” and will only be taken when he deems fit. The First also kills Rosacarnis’ two sons, but spares the daughter, who had been dealing with issues of identity and had doubts about whether she wanted to continue to exist.
Following this, The First commands Nergal to release the soul he’s holding. Cheryl’s soul is pure and innocent and does not belong in Hell, but The First offers her a truly devilish deal. Informing her that her husband, Constantine’s brother-in-law Tony, has killed himself with her blood still staining his hands, thus making him twice damned, and offering to fairly divide her husband’s punishment between the two of them if she stays of her own free will. Constantine attempts in vain to argue that Tony murdered her and doesn’t deserve that mercy. Despite all that has happened, Cheryl still loves her husband enough to accept The First’s deal and decides to stay. Constantine can do nothing as The First gloats over his victory and then sends him back home. Unable to look at his niece Gemma’s tear-filled eyes because of his failure, Constantine runs barefoot down the stairs and into the Liverpool night.
After the death
After the loss of his sister Cheryl and the very strained tension with his closest friend Chas, Constantine has an adventure during which he discovers a cult devoted to unleash empathy across the world so as to combat “The Third Place” that appears to be a metaphysical plane of apathy.
John goes along alone and sorrowfully pitiful until his services are requested by an incarcerated gangster. In the process of asking for the magus’ assistance in the passing on of his dead daughter, he makes a comment that will make him question who he has become. After being attacked by a disloyal crony of the gangster boss, John is tied to a port column as the tide comes in. He tries several times, unsuccessfully, to talk the crony into revealing the names of other victims he has brought to this spot. Finally the crony blurts some of the names of his victims. Constantine then frees himself from his handcuffs, almost drowning in the process, and raises people that the crony had killed from the dead to take their vengeance, including the boss’ daughter. He then offers to send her on, to the jealousy of the other ghosts. He warns her, however, that she will go to “where you think you belong.” She agrees, but soon regrets this as she is being dragged into Hell.
Following this he returns to the gangster to inform him of his daughter’s passing, neglecting to mention where she actually ended up, and winds up with the criminal in his debt. John capitalizes on this soon enough when he goes to a mega-casino owned by the gangster and rides a synchronicity wave of gambling, and ends up owning the establishment. The reason he did this was that the casino was in the same building that had once housed The Ravenscar Secure facility for the Dangerously Deranged, the mental hospital he had been confined to after Newcastle. John fires the entire lot of the employees and begins a summoning. At first it appears as though it is too much for him and that he will be overtaken by the images of the ones he has hurt, but the being turns into the form of a baby. This baby, who is the sum of all his guilt and self-hatred, is then promptly thrown off a cliff and into the sea.
After killing the creature, Constantine is now free, and becomes even a bit more cocky and picks back up his earlier style from the beginning of his book and his appearances from Swamp Thing: a double-breasted blue suit underneath his trench coat, and slicked-back gelled hair.
Later on, a Sudanese shaman who had first bound the hunger demon Mnemoth (Hellblazer #2) has been having dreams of Constantine and a war-mage named Mako who is coming to kill him and devour his being. The reason that Constantine is a specific target of the war-mage is because he is “The Laughing Magician” who is also known as “The Constant One.” Mako wants to devour him so he can absorb that power and have his being made a fixture of the universe. To counter this attack to come the African magus puts a dream of his into a tree root, with Constantine’s true nature in those dreams. After doing this a young man is sent as a messenger to find John and deliver the message. Constantine sends the root to a wealthy politician so as to throw Mako off of his scent. Mako then makes a deal with the politician who owns a mirror that looks into Hell, Mako is allowed access to the mirror to increase his power, if he will convert an ornamental egg to hold his soul when he dies. But Constantine manages to create an image of the politician whilst Mako is in the egg, and sever his ties with the real world, Constantine then possesses the body of Mako, so that the politician will kill himself and be stuck in the egg for eternity with Mako. Constantine also uses the body of Mako to expose the dodgy dealings that the politician had performed.
Constantine later notices that something is wrong on the synchronicity lines and it seems that he is going head first against the traffic. Remembering that Mako mentioned Ravenscar when he found out about Constantine, he tries to summon his unborn brother, but instead is summoned to his brother. The soul of Constantine’s brother tells John that he was not to be born and that it should have been he who had been born instead, as he is the Laughing Magician, he requests that he and John merge their souls so that they become one and can fix the world, they had previously attempted this but John was apparently too strong willed. John then makes the link that it was the soul of his unborn brother that caused him to get cancer and for his relationships to fail, and that anytime he tried to take control of his life, something bad would happen to make John weaker, so that the souls might be able to merge. After realizing this, John cuts the soul of his brother out of his own soul, so that he can control his life and live his way.
Constantine in Vertigo X (2003). Art by Eduardo Risso.
John Constantine appears in an early issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. There in 1989, he helps Dream recover a pouch of sand which had served as one of Dream’s totems of power. John had purchased the pouch during Dream’s imprisonment and it had then been stolen from him by an ex-girlfriend. John and Dream find the woman using the sand as a drug and driven mad by it, and Dream recovers the pouch, granting the woman a peaceful death at John’s request and promising to end the nightmares John had been having “ever since Newcastle”.12 John’s ancestor Lady Johanna Constantine also plays a significant role in storylines of The Sandman and an Elizabethan-era “Jack Constantine” is mentioned.
In another of Gaiman’s comics, The Books of Magic, John is at hand to show the hero Timothy Hunter around the then-present day DC Comics Universe, along with Mister E, Doctor Occult and the Phantom Stranger. He later appears several times in both the monthly “Books of Magic” series and several mini and maxiseries featuring Timothy Hunter.13
During a crossover, Constantine met Shade, The Changing Man during the Hotel Shade era, by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo.
Constantine also makes a small cameo in Vertigo’s Lucifer. In issue #5 he is seen drinking at Lucifer Morningstar’s bar Lux, among guests that seek an audience with Lucifer about the gateway to the void outside of creation. According to himself he’s not there to propose a trade with Lucifer, only to take “a quick look at the field”.14 Coincidentally, Lucifer Morningstar makes a cameo in Hellblazer Vol.1 #192. Lucifer writer Mike Carey wrote Hellblazer between issues 175-215.
Constantine is one of the few people aware of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and one of the few to have foreseen it. Although longtime allies Zatanna, the Phantom Stranger, and Swamp Thing are still either active or frequently referred to in the DCU’s world of superheroics, the world of Hellblazer has become more realistic and no mention is made of John’s interactions with superheroes, which include attending the funeral of Hal Jordan uninvited, drinking with Doom Patrol member Mento, meeting Batman, attending the opening of Guy Gardner’s Green Lantern theme bar, helping an incarnation of the Challengers of the Unknown save London from one of the Millennium Giants and, in his own comic, playing host to a stoned Zatanna at his fortieth birthday party.
More recently, he appeared in the pages of Justice League of America: Wedding Special, during the bachelor party of Green Arrow. He was walking behind Metamorpho during a conversation between Hal Jordan and John Stewart.
Constantine was slated to be a main character of the aborted company-wide crossover Twilight of the Superheroes, however the project was ultimately shelved.
Alan Moore was written into issue #120 of Hellblazer by then-author Paul Jenkins. Moore is seen sitting in silhouette at the back of a bar as John Constantine (who is on a pub crawl with the reader) informs us of all that they have done together (‘back before I was a player’) and raises a drink to him; Moore, in response raises one back in the shadows. Constantine also made light of his previous encounters in real-life with Moore, mentioning that they had ‘bumped into each other a few times’.15
A man who looks suspiciously like John Constantine can be seen in a panel in Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Secret Origins story “When is a Door”. In it, a film crew is asking people on the street what they think of Gotham’s super-villain problem, John is shown smoking a cigarette, responding "Sorry squire, I’m not from ‘round here’ make that “no comment.”" Though it is not stated that this is Constantine, he has the same appearance, speaks in a decidedly British fashion, and this would not be the first cameo Gaiman has given him in a comic. The story was later reprinted as an extra in Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”.
While not seen in the JLU (Justice League Unlimited) comic books he was mentioned.
Powers and abilities
Unlike most comic book magicians, Constantine rarely uses magical spells, unless he has to, especially in combat. Constantine faces most of his challenges relying primarily on his cunning, his vast knowledge of the occult, manipulation of opponents and allies, and an extensive list of contacts.
Constantine’s blood is demonically tainted, initially by a blood transfusion from the demon Nergal, and later by sex with a succubus. His blood has been shown to have healing properties. It also acted as a defense mechanism when attacked by the King of the Vampires (Hellblazer #69).
Although John has generally been shown to lose most fights against a superior combatant and generally avoids physical battles — he has been known to win fights, either by using a magical weapon (Hellblazer #217) or by fighting dirty (Hellblazer #42, #57 and the graphic novel All His Engines).
Some examples of Constantine’s magic:
Divination — Used a pendulum and map to find the location of a magical disturbance. (Hellblazer #4 and #182)
Demon summoning — Summoned the demon Nergal to destroy a monster for him, which it did (although John lost control, due to his inexperience). (Hellblazer #11)
Cursing — Placed a curse on his father that caused him to waste away. (Hellblazer #31)
Psychic mediation — Acted as a psychic medium, allowing the spirit of a boy’s dead mother to speak through him during a séance. (Hellblazer #213)
Spirit ward creation — Placed a magical sigil on a succubus named Chantinelle that prevented the forces of Heaven and Hell from tracking her. (Hellblazer #60). As well as using sigils to hide himself from Satan (graphic novel collection Rake At The Gates Of Hell) Also placed various sigils on an abandoned caravan that he housed himself in to hide himself from the demon Nergal. (Hellblazer #12)
Golemancy — Raised a golem. (Hellblazer #167)
Oclumancy — Erased a man’s traumatic memories. (Hellblazer #217)
Necromancy — Raised a group of murder victims as zombies to attack their murderer (Hellblazer #230) and raises a soulstorm that blows a hole in a wall and kills a weapons tester.
Vivimancy – Explained to his niece Gemma how to commune with his still living soul, after making himself braindead to avoid “The Beast” getting into his mind (Hellblazer hardback – Staring At The Wall).
Illusion — Making people think he’s someone or something else. Or using Illusion to scare susceptible opponents into catatonic insanity (graphic novel collection Hard Time)
Synchronicity highway or synchronicity wave traveling — An instinctual supernatural ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time. This has led John to uncanny luck at games of chance, the ability to avoid harm and to meet the right kind of ally to help prevent or stop an apocalyptic event from happening (Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer run).
Constantine has also exhibited considerable mastery in “stage magic skills” – hypnosis, sleight of hand and escapology.