"Rebirth" brings John Constantine back to England in more ways than one, as DC has enlisted British-raised writer Simon Oliver to return the character to London for an adventure the writer calls a "silk cut and Johnnie Walker-fueled journey to the dark side and back again."
Working with acclaimed artist Moritat, Oliver is relaunching The Hellblazer as part of DC's "Rebirth" event, continuing some of the established continuity of the "New 52" while also trying to get the character back to his roots.
Oliver is best known for Vertigo series like The Exterminators and FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, while Moritat won acclaim on Elephantman and The Spirit before working on DC's All-Star Western.
As July's Hellblazer Rebirth #1 issue introduces readers to the character's new status quo before the title begins proper with Hellblazer #1, Newsarama talked to Oliver and Moritat to find out more about their approach to DC's supernatural world and the fan-favorite character John Constantine.
Newsarama: Simon, we've been hearing so much about how DC's "Rebirth" event is basically boiling characters down to their core. How would you describe John Constantine at his core?
Simon Oliver: One of two ways – John Constantine is either a great magician pretending to be an arsehole, or an arsehole pretending to be a magician. Personally, I think he can be both at the same time.
Nrama: As you kick off this run, what's the situation in which John Constantine finds himself?
Oliver: Home is where the heart is, and I think Constantine wants to come home. Only, of course, things never go to plan and as soon as he’s back, events conspire to drag him into something bigger and badder.
Nrama: When you say "home," you of course mean John's coming home to England. As an Englishman yourself, was that your idea?
Oliver: DC really wanted me to take him back to his roots, so to me it made perfect sense to bring him home again. We’ll be on the move again pretty soon, but first I wanted to re-establish the character by bringing back some old characters first. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent runs, it felt like he was losing a little of that Englishness and as an estranged bitter Englishman that’s maybe why I got the call.
Nrama: What about you, Moritat? What attracted you to this project?
Moritat: Are you kidding? Dark occult detective living on the fringes of the DC universe, dark staircases, constant rain, death.
Nrama: An artist's dream. Readers are familiar with your art from other projects, but are you tweaking your work in a manner that's specific to Hellblazer?
Moritat: Yes. Kristy Quinn, master editor, has given me the opportunity to control the colors. Thank you, thank you Kristy. When I draw, I think in color. So it always kills me when I have to release a page with no colors on it.
Nrama: Who's the colorist again?
Moritat: Some kid. [Laughs.] My old friend Andre Szymanowicz and I are co-coloring. Again, a huge thank you to Kristy. I think the term colorist is outdated. I know video games and animation have vernacular for what I'm going to call "mood setter." I know. I know. Sounds like something bad, something illicit.
The ability to render atop line art is comic bliss to me. To get close to the European painted album look is what we are trying to get right every panel that we work on.
Nrama: Does it help that it's grounded in a "real world" setting like London or is it more of a challenge, since it's among superhero characters in the DCU?
Moritat: I love the challenge of a realistic setting. A lot of my comic artist friends make their own worlds and dislike real environments.
Nrama: So does that make a difference in the way it's drawn or the way you approach the art?
Moritat: Yes and No. The escapist genre is great. I love it. But the fans of this book are different. There is the stereotype of someone with a boring job, gets on a bus or train after work to read their fantastic escapist story and the black and white resolution. Readers of this book, I found out, are not that crowd. John Constantine spends 600 pages tricking the devil and he has more problems than when he started? What? Heroes who visit the fringe of the DC universe are going to be explored not in the way they will in their own books.
So "being grounded in the real world" is important for this book. The readers seeking out John Constantine are a bit more disillusioned and accepting of the “real world.” the art has to reflect those sentiments. What if you don't have a job? What if something terrible happens on the way to the bus or bus stop? I have to approach the artwork that way.
Nrama: How much design work are you getting to do for this project?
Moritat: A lot. I love it. But I have to be more disciplined about drawing actual pages.
Nrama: Simon, how much does The Hellblazer interact with the rest of the DCU?
Oliver: I’m going to bring in some DCU characters, but I really see it more like me bringing them into his world, rather than the other way around. I’ve been given the luxury of having a book that’s not tied into the bigger picture and intend to use it to have some fun. John is a little like me, he wouldn’t be a part of any club that would have him—and I’m not too sure that the superheroes really know what to make of John.
Nrama: The solicitations mention quite a few guest stars — or cast members? — including Mercury and Swamp Thing. Can you talk about their role in the comic?
Oliver: Well of course everyone knows Swamp Thing, and some might, if they’re Hellblazer super fanboys, remember Mercury. She was introduced in #14, as a child. But now she’s all grown up and has her own emotional baggage. Using Mercury gave me a chance to touch on the Delano run, but at the same time update and bring an old character into the present as a grown-up.
I’m also bringing back some old favorites, like Clarice and Map, and of course poor, long-suffering Chas.
Nrama: We know the hunt for Abigail Arcane will be something that John gets involved in pretty soon. Is the continuity from the New 52 carried over here, with her role in the Rot? And does that play a part in the story you're telling?
Oliver: Yeah it does; we will be returning to the Rot. And I might be setting a record for bringing together so many strange threads of DCU continuity in one story.
Nrama: With the revelation at the end of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 exposing what was implied to be a dark influence on the DCU, is John at all aware, or are there plans for him to be involved in the investigation or fight with the Watchmen-associated character (or characters) that caused the "New 52"?
Oliver: No, not that I know of. I’ve been given the luxury of a pretty much stand-alone book that as far as I know doesn’t tie into the bigger world of the DCU. I’m a superhero outsider and as an outsider that stuff is seriously daunting.
Nrama: Then getting back to the Constantine universe, what else can you tell us about what's coming up in The Hellblazer?
Oliver: It’s going to be a silk cut and Johnnie Walker-fueled journey to the dark side and back again. No seriously, it’s going to be a fun ride. I’ve got a couple of arcs mapped out, which will end in an Indiana Jones type journey across the desert to find and enter the lost city of Ubar.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about The Hellblazer?
Moritat: Simon can cover this better than I can…. Our team, our gang, are a bunch of misfits and outsiders. We are the ones to bring you a cult book from the hinterlands of DC's dark swamps and endless nights.
Oliver: Apart from “buy it?” Well, out of any established book out there, this is the one that’s closest to my heart, by far, and the one I wanted to write. It was important to me to do the character and his world justice, but above all have fun with it, and hopefully at least some of the fun I have working on it will leak through onto the page.