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A BASTARD WITH A CONSCIENCE – SI SPURRIER TALKS HELLBLAZER

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

The Sandman Universe is expanding as John Constantine joins the fray with a one-shot spinning into an ongoing series. I spoke with writer Si Spurrier about entering this world with the supernatural detective of the DC Universe. I took this opportunity to pick his brain about the character, what makes him stand out, and his place in this wide world. I also learned that I've been mispronouncing the character's name this entire time. It's John Constan-TINE, not TEEN.

James Ferguson: As full disclosure, I haven't quite cracked the John Constantine nut yet. To me, he's an asshole, but everyone loves him and I don't quite understand that. What brings you to the character?

Si Spurrier: I think – and I can only speak for myself – the essential quiddity of John Constantine is that he's honest and not in the way he deals with other people. He's a liar and a cheat and a con man, and as you say, a nasty piece of work. He has ultimate self-knowledge. He knows what he is and who he is. He knows that he's done awful things and he suspects that he'll probably have to do more awful things. He is utterly guilt-riddled as a result, but he does it anyway. He's a bastard with a conscience. I think that's quite compelling. Readers of a particular short (otherwise he'd be the biggest character in the DC Universe) really respond to that. There's something quite exciting, like a guilty pleasure, about watching a “hero” (which is not a word he'd ever use for himself) always doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

That's at the very core of the character. He doesn't really go out of his way to try and save the world, but occasionally he is required to do so. It usually ends up causing great misery for anybody that he knows. He does it anyway. I hate to make it feel like I'm unfairly comparing a complicated, nuanced character with the sort of classic super hero, because as you know, many super heroes are just as complicated and nuanced. It feels like there is a fundamental dichotomy at the heart of John Constantine. He's a good guy and a bad guy at the same time in a way that just doesn't really work with any other super hero. I guess it says something about the British character that I respond to that level of surly, reluctant do-gooding.

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JF: That's an interesting way to put it. I'm going into this with open eyes. Having the tie-in to the Sandman Universe is definitely a help. How does this version of the character compare to what we've seen in the DC Universe before?

SS: The end goal of what we're doing here is an ongoing series which feels like classic Hellblazer in the sense that you have John Constantine wandering around the world, solving strange supernatural mysteries, screwing people over, feeling guilty ad nauseum. The problem with just doing that is that the character has been through an awful lot. It's very difficult to just launch a book like that that wouldn't feel like we were cheating. There's an awful lot of tangled continuity. There's a very ambiguous ending to the last time we saw the character in the Hellblazer title. There's the DCU version of him which is not simplified or more naive, it's just not the same as the Hellblazer version. It's one that somehow works in the context of super heroes which Hellblazer just wouldn't have any track with that.

Our mission was to acknowledge all these tangled threads and assume our audience is sophisticated enough to let us say this is kind of a mess. The answer came from Neil [Gaiman], long before I was involved with this project. DC told him they were thinking of relaunching Hellblazer and asked if he had any idea how they'd do that. Neil remembered that in the original Books of Magic series he wrote back in the early '90s, there is a sequence where the main character, a little kid named Timothy Hunter, who is destined to be a great magician, goes on a guided tour of the future. In one of these particular visions, he comes across a magic war that's tearing the universe apart. It's the last great war of the age. Oh, and by the way, the baddie of the piece is a grown up version of Timothy Hunter and he has to reconcile himself that maybe he doesn't turn out to be the good guy after all.

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In the midst of this, he finds an older, wearier version of John Constantine bleeding out, sitting in a puddle of his own guts, dying. John is less than happy to see this little kid who grows up to become the person who tears the world apart. Neil realized that that imaginary, potential version of John Constantine would have all the memories of the one we last saw in Hellblazer #300 and any other memories we want to give him. We can wave our hand a little about whether he's experienced the DCU in the way that the current version has. He basically solves all of our problems. If we can find a way to pick him up and plop him back into our world, then hey, presto, away we go. It's a really cute magic trick, which is quite apt, so that is what we've done.

Sandman Universe Presents Hellblazer #1 is a 38 page annual which comes out at the end of October. It untangles the continuity and earns the right to reintroduce John to the real world in a way that he hasn't been since Hellblazer folded all those years ago. From November onwards, it's a good old-fashioned ongoing series set very much in the real world.

SS: It's pretty much its own animal. We utilize Books of Magic to start with. There's one major crossover with Books of Magic with issue #14 which comes out in November. If you're John Constantine and you've just been rescued from a magic war caused by a grown up Timothy Hunter and here you are back in the real world, what's the first thing you do? You go and look up Timothy Hunter. It's this really cool, experimental thing co-written by Kat Howard and me. The idea is that John and Timothy sit down with each other and John says that you're probably going to kill the world and you need to prove to me that you're not going to do that. Timothy, being a child of conscience, decides that yes, he would quite like to prove to John and to himself that he's not going to do that. It takes the form of a test. I won't spoil what that test is and it is of course not what it seems to be anyway.

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JF: It's a multiple choice, isn't it?

SS: It's a choose your own adventure. I'm not even joking. It's great. The storytelling trick we've used is that every page is divided into top and bottom halves. The top half is the scene from Timothy Hunter's perspective and the bottom half is the scene from John Constantine's perspective. You're constantly hearing two different takes on the same thing.

After that, other than in a few quiet, creepy ways that might or might not end up paying off down the line, Hellblazer is pretty much its own beast. It doesn't have tendrils attached to the rest of the Sandman Universe.

Horror DNA would like to thank Si Spurrier for taking the time to speak with us. Sandman Universe Presents Hellblazer #1 from DC Comics is now available at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Amazon Kindle.

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About The Author
Spez Bio 2
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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