Paul Jenkins' run on 'Hellblazer'

I have been a fan of the ‘Hellblazer’ series of comics for a long time now, initially being alerted to the character of John Constantine from his brief appearance in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ series. A creation of the legendary Alan Moore as a supporting character in his run on ‘Swamp Thing’ (largely credited with beginning the modern swing to a more serious form of comic-book writing), Constantine is a rather unique figure in fantastic literature. A working-class trench-coated mage and mystic, from Liverpool but settled in a very real and recognisable London, ex-punk singer, chain smoker and all round anti-hero, the character immediately appealed to me.

Getting his own series beginning in the late Eighties, penned by Jamie Delano, the comics differed from many of its contemporaries by its very real and dowdy English setting – fags, cups of tea, football thugs and pubs rather than lazers, superheroes and women with big tits – and it’s focus on a number of social problems that were besieging Britain at the time, namely Thatcher’s government and the effect it was having on society. Plus it had demons. I hope the appeal of this comic is now apparent? Delano’s run was followed by that of Garth Ennis (of ‘Preacher’ fame), rightly lauded for his ‘Dangerous Habits’ storyline where Constantine develops lung cancer and outwits the Devil. But I want to focus on the writer who picked up the ball after Ennis’ run, who curiously is the only writer of the Hellblazer series not to have his works collected in a trade paperback. That writer is Paul Jenkins, and on my current rereading of the whole series I feel he has been unjustly neglected. In fact, his run is one of my very favourites.

I think, however, it is understandable why his stint on the series was less successful that Ennis’. For a start, the appeal to an American readership must have been limited by Jenkins’ insistence on bringing the action back to the United Kingdom and using Constantine as a means of indulging his interests in all aspects of British history, folklore and mythology, plus his obvious political sympathies with the road-protests and opposition to the implementation of the Criminal Justice Bill. This is all regionally specific, and is why I love this particular part of the series, but I understand that it may have an alienating effect upon a wider audience. A second reason why I am so fond of Paul Jenkins is his supporting cast that he introduces to Constantine’s world – a very recognisable, ‘normal’ group of people, all based in and around South London.

These are friends from John Constantine’s days as a singer for the punk band ‘Mucous Membrane’, an area that was largely unexplored by the two previous writers, but something that appealed to me immensely (being a massive punk rock fan) and seemed to be a key element to the character, and explains a lot about his involvement with the more counter-cultural/left-wing/crusty aspects of British society. His friends include Rich the Punk, his wife Michelle, their son Syder and a whole host of others who really help to ground the character in a very human, realistic world. This obviously is not something that many comic book fans want, however! But I have a great deal of admiration for Jenkins attempts at marrying this world of punk rock, boozers, fags with that of British myth and folklore. So we get stories involving LSD trips and ghosts of the English Civil War; an attempt by Myrddin (i.e. Merlin) to destroy the sacred sites of Britain, a search for the true heir of King Arthur, dealings with Jack-in-the-Green (or The Green Man), a meeting with Aleister Crowley, the ghosts of dead WWII soldiers, werewolves, and a discovery of what happens when you go around a graveyard ‘widdershins’. This mixture of two aspects of under-reported British culture makes Paul Jenkins’ run on ‘Hellblazer’ one of the most compelling I have read, and I recommend it to any fans of the more literary titles put out by Alan Moore, the works of Neil Gaiman, psychogeography, punk rock and British history and folklore. Great stuff.

Like I said, these forty or so issues are currently uncollected in any trade paperback. But you can download them…