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Some horror comic book series resonate deeply with their audiences. Evidence of this is the ongoing major horror comics series that we enjoy since the nineteen-eighties, like for instance Hellblazer.
As in the case of TV horror series, horror comics have advantages over movies and even over horror fiction.
You have the visual element, that’s limited by the power of the reader’s imagination in novels and tales. In horror comics, you have the openness and seemingly-endless narrative.
This aspect of the horror comic book as a serialized art form makes horror comic books even more enduring than T.V. series.
After super-heroes, horror is the most represented genre in comic books, if we take the gold standards of DC Vertigo and Marvel MAX to reach that conclusion, while all the time remembering all the EC, Warren and Gold Key lines of the past.
Still, there’s an overwhelming corpus of horror comics that’s not limited to big imprints that deserve to be known and enjoyed.
If one wants to have a well-rounded horror culture, horror comics and graphic novels have to occupy an important place, up there with horror audiovisual media, because some of them are sights to behold.
Hellblazer Case Study
Hellblazer is a horror series of comic books that’s going on since January 1988. The original was from that year. The first generation of Hellblazer lasted until February 2013.
It was relaunched in 2019 as part of The Sandman Universe on DC Vertigo and DC Black Label as The Books of Magic. Other things worthy of mentioning are the other comic book/graphic novel lines featuring John, like Constantine, The Sandman Universe Presents series, and John Constantine.
Pertaining to comic books and graphic novels, I was, for many years a reader of European comics. That changed one day when having a conversation with my brother when he introduced me to DC Vertigo.
I remember that I wanted to read something odd from DC, and I asked my brother who’s a long-standing Superman fan. Years before he had lent me some cool Superman comics, like Bizarro’s World! and some from the Amalgam line. This time he didn’t disappoint me like the first time.
He recommended me to read Preacher and Hellblazer. This was either one or two years after the movie “Constantine” was released. Because of it what my brother told me kind of reinforced my desire to know about Hellblazer.
I wanted to know how would DC Vertigo compare to those other two DC lines I read in my late teens. I loved it back then and I figured it was going to be fun.
The narratives of Amalgam and the art of Bizarro’s World in particular were something that made me see DC in a different light. I liked superhero comics, but those two lines were something else.
I began reading Preacher and Hellblazer like two-three years after that conversation with my brother.
I used an HP Inspiron 700m to read Preacher. Okay if you have a nice nightstand where you can prop it in portrait position, but otherwise kind of a hassle.
I used the same method for the first issues of Hellblazer. Then a Toshiba Thrive at a resolution of 1280×800. I also used a Viewsonic 12in tablet.
The Thrive was the best as a darkened room comic book reader. Generally better than the real thing due to the self-luminosity advantage. Also, while a tablet that fits in one’s palm, like the 12in Viewsonic, is okay to read comics, using a big one gives a lot of detail since they are almost as big as the real thing.
When my brother told me the gist of both comics I thought I was going to like Preacher more than Hellblazer. But it wasn’t so.
Preacher was rather short. Besides, I was already kind of too much ahead of the narrative in conspiracy theory knowledge cultivation and I saw the story as hackneyed. Overall, the horror part of Preacher fell flat with me.
Preacher’s art, the drama part of the story, and the characters are great though. It deserves a reading if only for those three aspects.
Right now I don’t remember the names of the movies, but off the top of my head, I remember three or four movies with a similar subject to the topic of Preacher, with “Constantine” (2005) being one of them.
Even if I didn’t like the main plot, I loved Preacher, but Hellblazer is much bigger by many orders of magnitude.
From 2008 or so, when I started reading Hellblazer, I kept reading it through the years. I read it in order. I loved the sinister atmosphere it has from the start and that the protagonist is a kind of noir punk sorcerer.
In the beginning, I binged, but then I started to pace my reading of it differently. Lately, I read at least a couple of series a year. I enjoy it so much that I rather make it last.
There’s no point in not reading Hellblazer if one is a fan of the horror genre. The scripts of the stories are stellar and the character development is overwhelming.
John Constantine as a character is overdeveloped and that makes him very likable and emotionally gratifying; to know a character as intimately as we are led to know him. He is one of my top three characters in any fictional work ever.
I think that a horror series of comic books with very high script standards like Hellblazer must be cherished by horror fans.
Hellblazer is very spooky. I think the scare factor is high due to weaving in the narrative things that satirize, imitate, or mimic real-life religions and cults.
Here is an appropriate trigger warning. Many moments, lines of dialog, or other things have a high potential to trigger those that dealt with the bottom-of-the-barrel social backdrops that cults and religions provide.
The development of an addictive character like Constantine and his story both go on for 300 issues and then they stop. Was it that way initially, because he’s more of an anti-hero than a hero?
Why something as cool as the universe and as bad-ass as the protagonist of a comic like Hellblazer should end, while superhero lines go on forever and are augmented with all sorts of derivatives?
As a side note, I didn’t finish the first generation of 300 issues spread over 38 runs of Hellblazer’s original line yet, so I can’t count myself among the cheated ones or the non-cheated for the faux-pas of Hellblazer ending on issue #300 and then restarting.
I stopped reading Hellblazer 2-3 years ago because I was waiting for this moment. For the moment to write something about it because I loved the cover. The cover of the issue in which I stopped, #227 was too much to let it pass without sharing it with others. For me, it represents the feeling of diversity of the whole series, of how much it draws from myriad sources.
I would say that this horror series has a style of its own, but at the same time is heavily influenced by a ton of things and some of its borrowed styles are highly recognizable but well-done and that fact makes the series much cooler.
Hellblazer versus Preacher. Which one of the two should one read? If one wants to get started with DC Vertigo horrors, I’d recommend Preacher. It’s short and has a lot of horror elements. It’s a good starting point because it doesn’t have the depth and complexity of Hellblazer.
Should an horror fan read Hellblazer? Absolutely! There’s too much horror story, shock setting, and handsomely fleshed-out character in it to let it pass. I know that 300 issues is a lot, but once you get engrossed with the story and the protagonist it’s probable that you’re not going to abandon it.
Know any other Horror Comic Book as Big as Hellblazer?
I would be hard pressed to name another saga as big as Hellblazer in the department of horror comic books. It could be argued that Sandman, or even The Crow are similar to Hellblazer in scope, yet, Hellblazer wins due to the sheer number of issues published to date. Please, if you know any other big graphic novels similar to Hellblazer share their names in the comments section below.
© Bholenath Valsan 2021 — Hellblazer Case Study: Horror Comic Book