By Taylor Pechter —
“We watched our friends grow up together
And we watched as they fell
Some fell into Heaven
Some fell into Hell”
Rainy Night in Soho – The Progues
This melancholic song excerpt is what closes out the story Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, collected in Hellblazer #41 - #46. Dangerous Habits is also the debut story written by now-comics legend Garth Ennis with art by William Simpson. In it, John Constantine is dying. Having just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer thanks to his addiction to cigarettes, how will he spend his last moments in the land of living?
Dangerous Habits explores not only how crippling addition can be to the addict, but it also looks at the impact on the people around them. Friends will be driven away, old demons come back to haunt you, but in this story there’s at least one thing we can count on—Constantine will be ready to confront this challenge, cigarette in mouth and middle finger cocked.
Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits
The story begins with Constantine going into a London café. As he sits down, he monologues about how he has gotten to this point. “I am the one who steps out from the shadows. All trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness...I walk my path alone…But who wants to walk with me?”
Constantine has made a life fighting demons and dealing with the occult. When you deal with that on a constant basis, you expect to die a certain way, to go out in a blaze of glory. Constantine doesn’t want to die wallowing in self pity and waiting for the sickness inside to claim him. As his doctor breaks the news to him, he thinks of people to who he is closest: his driver Chas Chandler, his former flame Kathy “Kit” Ryan, his old friend Brendan Finny, fellow patient Nick Higgins, and his family, namely his sister Cheryl and niece Gemma.
Family as a Linchpin
Ennis uses these relationships as the linchpin of his story. While most are important and speak to Constantine as a character, the most important, I feel, is the aforementioned relationship with Nick Higgins. Nick is a cancer patient that John normally visits at the hospital. In a way, he is what John fears he might become, a dying man only kept alive by a machine. It is through this mutual dire situation, however, that they connect.
Higgins and Constantine share stories, having some laughs reminiscing about the past and pondering their situations. It is through Nick that Constantine learns he doesn’t have to fight this alone. Sadly, when Nick passes on, Constantine thinks that he failed his friend. He has pushed everyone away and one of the only people he has kept close is gone now.
As Constantine exits the hospital in the pouring rain, he is joined by Kit Ryan. He then breaks down in her arms, narrating, “The rain washes over me, every drop of it like liquid guilt drenching me in my own evil. It’s not a pleasant burden, but I am used to it. Because that’s what is to be me. To be John Constantine.”
Artwork with Urgency
Joining Ennis as the artist in this collaboration is William Simpson. His scratchy style not only adds atmosphere but also urgency to the art. He is joined by a cadre of inkers, my personal favorite being Malcolm Jones III (of Sandman fame), and colored by Tom Ziuko. Ziuko’s colors are quite minimalist, emphasizing muted browns and tans most of the time. There are flourishes, however, where he adds splashes and reds and also very deep blues, especially in the scenes where it is raining.
In the end, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits is one of the best comicbook stories about addiction, the effect addiction has on the addict and those around them, confronting demons, and accepting fate. Garth Ennis and William Simpson tell a moving story that is perfectly paced and rife with emotion. Ennis went on to have one of the most critically-lauded runs on a critically-lauded title, ultimately writing a combined total of forty-eight issues. Later, of course, he also wrote the acclaimed series Preacher with artist Steve Dillon. As I leave you, I would like to remind you, if you are in a tough place, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you face your hardships alone, it’s only going to make them more challenging to overcome.
Read more of Taylor’s writing on our comics analysis page.
Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter@TheInspecter.