Wednesday, September 08, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 35

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Hellblazer #63
by Garth Ennis

If you like dark fantasy and/or urban fantasy, but you're not familiar with the Hellblazer comic book, you need to kick yourself.

Hellblazer is about a modern-day mage named John Constantine. No, John doesn't go around wearing robes and waving magic wands. The closest he comes to wearing a robe is his trademark trench coat. The closest he comes to waving a wand is by flicking one of the endless cigarettes he smokes. He's also a Brit, and he generally has a fairly bad attitude, but he's also quick witted and smarter than the average bear.

One of the funny things about John is, you never really know how powerful he is. Sometimes he gets his ass kicked by some street thug, but at other times John has been known to go toe-to-toe with the powers of Hell itself and walk away. Of course he never walks away smiling, but that's usually because all his friends have been killed and he's bleeding from internal wounds and maybe he's lost a limb or is haunted by a ghost or demon or something.

All great fun, right?

The series has had a number of writers and artists over the years, but my favorite run on Hellblazer was back in the early 1990s when Garth Ennis was doing the writing and Steve Dillon was doing the artwork. I won't go into all the details about what John Constantine was into at the time, but for a while it involved neo-Nazis, an Irish girlfriend and Satan. But not all at once, and not necessarily in that order.

Issue 63 of Hellblazer has long been one of my favorites. For that one issue, it steps out of the continuing storyline and features Constantine on his 40th birthday. He's alone. His girlfriend is out of town. He wakes up late and pops down to the local store to buy some smoke and a big bottle of hard liquor. He's basically planning to spend his birthday alone and drunk.

Then his friends show up, and people he didn't even know were his friends. There's a priest, a magician, ancient gods, a talking rabbit, even Swamp Thing. Hilarity ensues. Believe me, lots of hilarity.

But between all the laughter and hi jinks, there's a story about a man growing older and facing troubled times ahead. It's actually a touching tale in many way.

This story helped me as a writer in that it taught me not to show all my cards at the table, meaning that as a writer I should only give the readers the information they need at any given moment within a tale. You don't want to cheat the reader by surprising them late in a story with information they obviously should have known early on, but suspense can be built by slowly reeling out needed information throughout a tale. Hellblazer is a great comic book for such, and this particular issues really brought it home for me.

Up next: Kingdom Come

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