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Constantine’s quarter-century

Constantine’s quarter-century
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First Published: Sat, Apr 23 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Soldiering on: Keanu Reeves.
Soldiering on: Keanu Reeves.
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 01 52 PM IST
I would say the cigarette that’s forever hanging from his lips is cool but I know that it isn’t. There was a time in my teens when I thought cigarettes were cool. A decade and several tens of thousands of cigarettes later I gave up smoking because it bored me. And I immediately put on weight, going from 62kg to 80 in just around a year. Back when I smoked I was lean and mean.
Like him.
Soldiering on: Keanu Reeves.
The trench coat is definitely cool. I’ve often considered getting one like it (but good sense has prevailed). And his punk rock background (his band was called Mucous Membrane) gives him street-cred.
All this, and the fact that this week marks (by some estimates and an event happening in London over the weekend) 25 years since he first appeared in print (and the fact that I like him) influenced my decision to do yet another column on Constantine, or Hellblazer as one of Vertigo’s longest-running series is called. Readers whose only acquaintance with Constantine is the movie of the same name starring Keanu Reaves will probably wonder what the deal is—I must admit, the movie was a pale reflection of the books, although it had its moments—and (for their benefit), it is simply this: It is a rare non-superhero comic character that lasts a decade. One that lasts 25 years is pretty much unknown. Just to clarify, I am not referring to characters in the funnies that last forever.
So, what explains the popularity of a working-class warlock (a minor one at that), one who actually ages in his books and, according to rough calculations, is around 58 now?
One reason for the longevity of Constantine has to be the writers who worked on the series over the years: Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mike Carey and Peter Milligan (the current writer; and I have left out several names). The second has to go with the characterization of Constantine: He is scruffy, unkempt, and easy-going; he doesn’t seem to worry about consequences, which explains why people around him keep dying. With his acerbic wit and surprising resilience he is to comic books what Philip Marlowe is to noir detective fiction (and something tells me that had the comic book come out earlier, Bogart would have made a dashed good Constantine).
The third has to do with the ability of Hellblazer’s writers to come up with interesting stories (a recent one concerned a visit to India) even as they keep alive the thread started by the previous writer on the project. There’s a good chance I will be re-reading, in order, all the Hellblazer books even as you, Dear Constant Reader, are reading this fine magazine.
PS: I do know there is some confusion about the 25 years and I am very sure that the character first made an appearance in 1984, although the first storyline may have appeared a few years later (probably in 1986). Still, apart from adding to the mystique surrounding the character, the 25-year celebration gives me enough reason to revisit Constantine in a column that is horribly beyond deadline.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Apr 23 2011. 01 15 AM IST