Spooktober, Day 30: Hellblazer

538b2a99c267bfdec836a153741ed0ad--constantine-comic-constantine-hellblazer.jpg“I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I’ve got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I’ll drive your demons away. I’ll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they’re down and then I’ll be gone back into darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone… who would walk with me?”

When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, do yourself a favour: don’t call John Constantine. It rarely ends well.

Hellblazer (sometimes known as Constantine, John Constantine, John Constantine: Hellblazer and Johnny Hellblazer’s Satanic Slip and Slide*) is an ongoing comic series by DC, released under the Vertigo label. John Constantine himself is probably the last person you’d think of as heroic. He smokes, he swears, he makes pacts with the devil, he’s incurably working-class is a con man with no problem committing a lesser evil if it benefits the greater good. He fights evil because he’s addicted to the high, rather than because he has any developed sense of right and wrong, though to his credit he doesn’t flinch from the fact that he’s done some pretty bad things in the past. He’s the most powerful sorcerer in the world and doesn’t use magic if he can help it because he knows there’s always a price. Although he’s technically in the same continuity as Batman, you won’t see Constantine throw around any fireballs or even throw a punch. Instead, he uses his wits, his charm and his formidable ability to lie through his back teeth to get his way. One of the persistent factors of his life is that the use of his powers has a price: Constantine’s friends and associates have a nasty habit of dying when the proverbial hits the fan, and for the most part, evil is only delayed, never destroyed.

He looks nothing like Keanu Reeves: in fact, he was initially modelled on Sting (the musician, not the wrestler).

Hellblazer has been written by several writers over the years, including Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Spooktober’s secret MVP, Neil Gaiman. It’s still going, and it’s easy enough to pick up any story arc and read it as a stand-alone story. It’s a dark-as-sin, adults-only freak-show, and worth looking for anyone who likes competent anti-heroes, high stakes and an excessive amount of flies.

Don’t watch the movie, but do watch the TV series.

* I may have made some of those up

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Spooktober, Day 22: Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson.

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Hexed is a spinoff of Michael Alan Nelson’s comic series for Boom! Studios, Fall of Cthulhu. It centres around the escapades of Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, AKA “Lucifer,” (yes, that is her name), a thief-for-hire and occasional witch who is technically apprenticed to an immoral sorceress from another dimension. Lucifer works for a gallery owner and uses her supernatural thieving skills to make sure the weird and unspeakable artefacts that are so beloved of Lovecraft’s monsters don’t end up in the wrong hands.

The series ran for two volumes, in 2008-9 and 2014-15 and they’re both worth looking into. Hexed has a lot going for it: Dan Mora’s fantastic line art; a badass yet likeable female lead; an urban fantasy setting with a darker underside; and a colourful supporting cast of strange eldritch creatures. It feels a lot like Buffy, in a way: the same youthful wit in the face of unimaginable horror. Both series are pretty short and self-contained, and worth checking out.

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Nelson also wrote a young adult novel about Lucifer’s early years called Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown. It’s full of YA tropeyness (cute boiz and high school angst), but it’s an easy and less hardcore intro to the series for those who prefer prose to sequential art.

Spooktober, Day 17: The Enigma of Amigara Fault, by Junji Ito

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Alright: Let’s talk about comics.

Junji Ito is recognised as the doyen of modern horror manga. Is artwork is by turns beautiful and freakish (often at the same time), and he has a fertile imagination for unknown and unknowable monstrosities. And while Uzumaki and Tomie are both excellent examples of his longer volumes, I can’t think of a better introduction to his work than his short piece, The Enigma of Amigara Fault.

It starts with an earthquake that opens a fault in Japan, where scientists make a remarkable discovery: innumerable holes in the mountainside, all shaped like the human body. No one knows where they came from, or why they are there, but it is soon revealed that the holes in the mountain are calling to people, that visitors to the site are drawn to find the hole that fits them and go inside. What happens to them in there? How far does the hole go? What’s on the other side? You’ll have to read it to find out…

There’s not much else to say about the story that doesn’t spoil it. Suffice to say that Ito preys on some fundamental human fears of claustrophobia and the irrational drive towards self-destruction. Ito gives the reader just enough explanation, so the mystery makes sense instinctively while leaving enough unsaid to leave them stumbling in the dark. Ito’s also the master of the horrific reveal, or visual jump-scares, using each turn of the page to rachet up the horror. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is a quick, easy read for anyone new to Ito, or to manga in general, and I thoroughly recommend checking it out.

Read The Enigma of Amigara Fault here.