Entrenched: Why John Constantine Needs That Coat

JohnAs Corehammer has slowly grown beyond the original small circle of friends that initially comprised it to resemble a larger community of like minds, we have been fortunate to have made lots of new friends and allies who share our tastes and punk rock approach to gaming and ‘nerd culture’ (worst phrase ever). One such individual is Rich Nerdgore. I ‘met’ Rich through Instagram after chancing upon his wonderful illustration work (@artofnerdgore) and it was clear that we shared an appreciation for the good things in life, Discharge, comic books, Simon Bisley artwork and 80’s White Dwarf back issues. Rich did the incredible Moshpit artwork that graces the front of the most recent Corehammer shirt and we’ll soon be collaborating again on the Corehammer Fighting Fantasy zine I am currently writing. Anyway Rich sent this article over regarding a few things he needed to get off his chest about the current state of indomitable scouse warlock and all round shithouse John Constantine. I told him we needed a header image for the article and ten minutes later he’d knocked out the drawing above. TEN MINUTES. Makes you sick doesn’t it?

John Constantine; chain smoking, hard-drinking, British occultist and magician. He’s one of the most loved characters in comics that isn’t a conventional superhero and ever since the sad demise of Hellblazer under Vertigo, no one seems to know how to approach him.

But wait, what’s this? A new John Constantine series with the tagline ‘The Hellblazer’ added… ok I’m interested. What’s that? John doesn’t need his trenchcoat because it’s not 1993 anymore, he now wears a leather jacket… ok, are you mental?

I know, I know, the first thing anyone is going to say is who cares right? The coat isn’t a character (although it has been a plot device before) and even in the buff John is still John?

Yes, you’re dead right. But here’s the thing, what do you think John would want to wear?

The reason I pose this question is because I don’t believe for a minute that the embittered, cynical John Constantine that we all know and love would give a flying fuck about whether trenchcoats are in style. I certainly don’t think one of the most complex characters in the DC universe is going to stop and think… ‘you know, Justin Bieber wears a leather jacket, maybe I need to get with the kids and upgrade’.

It has absolutely nothing to do with what people think you should see in comics or what year it is, this is about proper writing and surely any characters dress sense is an integral part of what they are about? And good character led stories should have ‘choices’ that reflect their heroes personalities, this is fiction 101 – the minute your character acts in an unjustified way that’s at odds with their make-up, you’ve lost your audience. John wearing his trenchcoat is a symbolic fuck you to convention and illustrates that when you’ve taken on the denizens hell with little more than a battered packet of fags and sharp wit, worrying about fashion becomes inconsequential. Imagine another Vertigo hit, Preacher, without the ‘preacher’ outfit. If Garth Ennis’ seminal comic was revamped tomorrow would it somehow be more valid if Jesse Custer was a happy clappy, flip flop wearing Christian youth group leader? No, it’d be terrible!

But this is a trend of comics in general and led by the desperation of executives to appeal to the you-tube, instant gratification generation (don’t even get me started on Lobo). For some reason, they appear to think John Constantine has to be instantly appealing which is utter rubbish. If I picked up a proper Hellblazer book at the age of 13, I’d have put it back on the basis of too many words and reached for the latest JSA title and that’s perfectly OK. But as you mature, especially into your later teens (when a lot of people leave comics) you need to ‘discover’ something more interesting that appeals to the rebellious streak most late-teens go through. A book like Hellblazer is there to be read and re-read and pondered, it’s timeless in its refusal to be like other comics. It was the same with Marvel’s Max line, sure it was often gimmicking, but when they got it right (Punisher) it showed that there is a place and a need for more adult orientated comics.

And no title filled that bill better than Hellblazer, it was intelligent, dark, mature and well-drawn. The best writers dealt with modern, cutting edge problems (cancer, addiction, etc) in clever ways whilst hinting at all sorts of occult research going on behind the scenes. It dealt in the obscure, the arcane, the forbidden and the taboo; all incredibly important themes for young adults to explore. To put it simply, Hellblazer is the book that the ‘Mature Readers’ stamp could have been invented for and it definitely didn’t worry about looking too 1993.

It strikes me that the ‘big two’ are being left behind by the likes of Image and Dark Horse when it comes to darker, more serious comics. Image in particularly has produced a lot of well received older audience comics (Saga for example, though I’m personally not a fan) and in wider media, shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are doing phenomenally well despite having content that would previously have been considered too much for TV. I can only speculate, but if John Constantine moved to Image tomorrow, I’ve no doubt he’d be straight back to his mature Vertigo roots and one of their best sellers within months. And they wouldn’t give a damn about changing the coat.

So, what of that coat? Well, by the creators stating up front that he can’t look like he’s walked out of 1993, you already know they’ve missed a key aspect of John Constantine’s character; he’s a grumpy old bastard, beset by bad habits who doesn’t give a damn what you think… and that’s what makes him great.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this scene, unfortunately omitted from the final cut of the new comic:

We’re in a dingy old English pub where most of the punters bring their own glass and the footy match on the screen is re-routed through Arabian TV. The smoking ban has been in for 10 years, but the only fella without a cigarette in his mouth is Jeff who had his esophagus removed at 47. The door opens and in walks a tall, good looking guy in tight jeans, a leather jacket and a lumberjack shirt. He carries an Ipad and has designer sunglasses perched on his head. He skips to the bar, orders a pernau and lemonade and taps John Constantine on the shoulder.

‘Hey dude, what’s with the coat. It’s not 1993 you know!’

All heads in the bar turn towards the outsider. Constantine takes a long, slow, deliberate drag on his cigarette. He thinks of one or two spells he could whip up right now that would have the bell end next to him premature ejaculating every time he saw his mother. Or the nasty spirit he could summon to possess his silly haircut. But no, where would the fun in that be.

He glances over at the gatherings of sweaty men with knotted forearms, sagging bellies and fight in their eyes. And says:

‘Drink up lads, we’ve got a cunt here who needs to be taught a lesson’.

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