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Original Sins

Original Sins

Writer: Jamie Delano

Artists: John Ridgeway, Alfredo Alcala

Publisher: America's Best Comics

Synopsis: John Constantine, paranormal and occult detective, started off as a minor character in "Swamp Thing" but soon spun off into his own book. And with good reason, too. Constantine's an instantly memorable character, a working-class shaman with nine lives and a roguish outlook on life, haunted by the ghosts of those he's let die over the years. In this first collection, we meet Constantine as he investigates a variety of bizarre paranormal cases, from people whose hunger rages out of control to a pair of obnoxious yuppie demons.

How Is It?: Bent, satirical tales of horror with an enjoyably snarky protagonist. Along with Sandman and Watchmen, Hellblazer was at the vanguard of the "British Invasion" that took place in comics in the mid-to-late 80s and finally had people starting to take it seriously as a medium. Delano writes some stories that seem like the antecedents for X-Files episodes, but without the paranoia or aliens. The opening two-parter, about a "famine spirit" from Africa that causes people to starve to death even as they're cramming themselves with food (or any non-edible substance if food's not available) is particularly creepy.

Top Ten, Vol 2

Dangerous Habits

Writer: Garth Ennis

Artist: William Simpson

Synopsis: John Constantine knew he was going to die someday, and probably not far in the future, but after dodging curses and murderous entities for years he never thought it would come down to...lung cancer. Yes, years of smoking like a chimney have finally taken their toll, and John only has a few weeks to live. Unfortunately, a recent encounter in Ireland has provoked the personal wrath of the devil, and since Constantine's almost certainly bound for hell, dying would be a really, really bad idea...

How Is It?: Nearly two decades later, this storyline, Ennis's first on the series, is the Hellblazer story that everyone still talks about (in fact, it was rumoured to form the basis of the inevitable movie adaptation). We've always known Constantine was a sneaky bastard, but now his back is well and truly to the wall, and his gambits are going to become more and more desperate as he tries to stave off the inevitable. The second chapter features a clever little story, right out of Irish folklore, in which Constantine outwits (and severely pisses off) the Devil, which makes it all the more urgent that he not die. His last, desperate gambit is one of the most tense things I've read in comics, even for someone who doesn't regularly read this series. My quibble, naturally, comes from the art...this being the 80s, comic art was not exactly at its peak, and the colouring, especially, of this story is downright ugly at times. And yet, in a weird and unintentional way, it does match the tone of the story, involving as it does terminal illness and extremely evil demonic entities.

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