Constantine first appeared in The Saga of Swamp Thing #37 (1985) whilst investigating rumours of an impending supernatural event. At first, we know little about him, only that he is an occult investigator and seems to have a great deal of information. It is this information that leads Constantine to be a regular visitor to Swamp Thing, guiding and teaching him. The two start to become strange ‘sort-of’ friends because of their adventures together, but their paths would ultimately diverge again.
Luckily for us, in this time Constantine had been given his own title, and we start to learn more about the man behind the mystery.
The story of such a troubled character can only start one way; with tragedy. Constantine was born into a bloodline known as the ‘Laughing Magicians’ powerful magi known for their trickery. It was in fact his twin brother, referred to as the ‘Golden Boy’, who was meant to be the greatest Magi that ever lived. That is he would have been, had he not died in the womb, strangled by John’s umbilical cord. Tragically, their mother Mary Anne also died giving birth to John and his stillborn brother.
This led his father, Thomas, into long boiling anger and hatred towards John, blaming him for their deaths.
Constantine had a troubled youth. So much so, that on learning his families magical lineage, one of the first spells he learnt was to place his childhood innocence in a toy and bury it. He had moved back and forth between his father and other relatives, is bullied constantly and does not need such youthful ideals. His interest in the occult continued and grew, much to the annoyance of his father. It was in anger then that Constantine cast a spell that tied his father’s spirit to a dead cat, it began to weaken and almost killed his father. Constantine was able to break the spell, but his father was left permanently frail. It was soon after that Constantine run away from his home in Newcastle to the hope of a new start.
London was where Constantine would make his home, but he always allowed himself time to travel. He learned more about the occult and how to grow his powers. He travelled to America, studied under the great magician Zatara and met Zatanna for the first time. And he started a band, Mucous Membrane, with his good friend Francis Chandler and others.
It was on tour in 1979 with the band, back in his home town of Newcastle, where events would come together to define the person he would become.
The Newcastle Crew
Throughout his appearances, he would sometimes make vague references to a life-defining moment. A troubled character straddling the lines of right and wrong, you sometimes wonder if he is making amends for something.
It was Hellblazer #11, 1988, where we finally learnt the truth of his dark past.
It was during the bands trip back to Newcastle that they played a gig at the Casanova Club. When they didn’t get paid, the band went to visit the club owner, Alex Logue. Knowing that Alex dabbled in the dark arts, a group of occultists joined them, curious to learn more. Together this group would be known as ‘The Newcastle Crew’. Entering the club they found more than they bargained for, as Alex and his followers had been brutally butchered in the clubs’ basement. The only survivor they found was Astra Logue, Alex’s daughter. Hypnotising her they discovered Alex and his followers had forced her to take part in orgies against her will. The previous night it had become too much, and she unconsciously summoned a demon, Norfulthing. Protecting the one who had summoned him, the demon had slaughtered everyone in the room.
A Costly Mistake
Realising they needed to deal with the demon, they decided to summon another. If they were able to speak a demons name they would be able to control it, using it to rid them of Norfulthing. John tried the spell several times but it didn’t seem to be working.
Unfortunately for John, it had, but not in the way he wanted. He had indeed named a character of the demon, but not its true name. The demon Nergal was amongst them. It did indeed kill Norfulthing but then turned its attention to the Newcastle crew.
John opens up a portal to hell to cast the demon back into it, but Nergal wasn’t leaving alone, It dragged Astra with it, leaving only her arm behind. As John took stock of the situation around him, he realised the damage that had been done. Astra was gone, and the Newcastle Crew were broken and would never be the same again. One would become a Nun to escape the pain, one joined a dangerous cult and one became an addict. John himself checked into Ravenscar Asylum, where he would stay for two years, coming to terms with what he’d done.
Considering this is just one storyline in the Constantine history, it’s fair to say there’s a lot to read. He learnt from his mistakes in this encounter, as we discuss in the episode, like the time he cheated death by tricking demons into fighting over him. His timeline is still full of despair, loss and tragedy, however. If there was ever a character that showed how deep Comics can be, Constantine is a top contender.
Steve‘s Reading List:
Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore – Vols. 1-6
Hellblazer by Jamie Delano
Justice League Dark: New 52 – 6 volumes
Wonder Woman and Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour
Justice League Dark: The Last Age Of Magic
Justice League Dark: Lords Of Order
Justice League Dark: The Witching War