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One ?Hell? of an Anniversary

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A popular topic of conversation among comic fans is the lack of newly-created characters matching the popularity and longevity of, say, Spider-Man, Superman or Batman. These characters have been around for anywhere between 45 to 70 years and will probably be around in some form for decades, if not centuries, more.

Outside Wolverine, and maybe the Punisher, the chances for this kind of longevity in characters created in the last 30+ years are pretty slim. Will our grandkids be reading Moon Knight in the future? Azrael? Dazzler?

There is one character that seems to not get the proper respect for his longevity. He is quickly approaching his 25th year in existence and the title in which he stars is just about to start its 21st. He has been one of the few DC/Vertigo characters to make the leap to the big screen. His name is John Constantine, and his series, Hellblazer, is commemorating its 250th issue this week. How’s that for longevity!

Constantine made his first appearance in 1985’s Saga of the Swamp Thing #37. Written as a streetwise magician by Alan Moore and drawn to look like recording artist Sting by John Totleben and Steve Bissette, he made an immediate impact.

It is a credit to the creators (and no surprise considering one of them was Alan Moore) that the character came so well developed right from the get-go. Constantine was part-rogue, part-charlatan, but with enough human decency to make him charming. He is what Dr. Strange would be if he grew up on Yancy Street. He didn’t travel through mystical dimensions but rather on the mean streets of the real world. He was able to see all the angles, and play most of them. He knew what needed to be done, knew what it took to get done, and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the process.

Constantine proved popular enough in his many guest appearances that in 1988 he received a series of his own, named Hellblazer. The series started as a DC title and became a member of the first group of Vertigo titles—the only one still being published today. It has run continuously for over 20 years. You can count on one hand the number of titles that share that honor (and those titles star either Superman or Batman, just to prove a point).

And over those 20-plus years, the series has passed through a veritable who’s who of the best comic creators those two decades had to offer. The names are legendary: Neil Gaiman, Jaime Delano, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Brian Azzarello, Tim Bradstreet, Eddie Campbell, Paul Jenkins, Sean Phillips, Warren Ellis, and many more.

Any title making it to 250 issues is cause for celebration, but, as the above shows, Hellblazer #250 calls for a special celebration. And Vertigo, being a classy organization, is giving it one. A number of those creators above are returning for a special oversized holiday issue. There will be five tales set on or around Christmas time. And new creative team Peter Milligan and Giuseppe Camuncoli will make their debut in this issue too, as if you needed more encouragement.

John Constantine has certainly stood the test of time and his series shows no signs of stopping. Will Hellblazer be gracing comic store shelves (or whatever they will have at that time) in 2108? I don’t know. But he does have the potential.

Also out this week:

Spider-Man Noir #1:

It’s the 1930s, a young man dresses up in an arachnid motif to fight crime fighting. The costume gives him courage and anonymity in his fight against the underworld. His battles are recounted in a pulp-like adventures being published by one of the biggest companies of the day. 

Of course, I am talking about The Spider, a character who appeared in a series of pulps from 1933 to 1943 from Popular Publications. And yes, this description also matches Marvel’s “noir” take on Spider-Man, too. Is this a simple coincidence? Is Marvel using their noir Spider-Man as a homage to the classic pulp character?  Or is Marvel just copying a successful concept from years past, thinking new readers wouldn’t know the difference? 

  David Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky (W), Carmine Di Giandomenico  (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

The Greatest American Hero #1:

Superheroes are so prevalent in all forms of media, that it’s hard to remember a time when they weren’t.   You can go into any bookstore and pick up a superhero novel. You can go to any Cineplex almost any time of the year and see either a movie that was adapted from a comic book or one that could have been, and you can turn on the TV each week and watch the adventures of your favorite Heroes.

Back when I was a kid, we had much fewer options. One of the best was The Greatest American Hero. Teacher Ralph Hinkley found an alien suit that gave him Superman-like powers. There was only one hitch—he lost the instruction manual. Hilarity ensued as he tried to fight crime and figure out how to work the suit.

The TV show was not adapted from a comic, but, now, it is going the opposite way. Arcana is bringing a comic version of the series, and Ralph Hinkley himself, William Katt, is taking part in the writing. The 10-year old me is very excited!

William Katt, Christopher Folino, & Sean O’Reilly (W), Clint Hilinski (A), Arcana Studio/Catastrophic Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Impaler #1:

The first series started with vampires sneaking into Manhattan and ended with the U.S. Government dropping a nuclear bomb on New York City—with a lot of chaos and mayhem in between. For some, that sentence alone has decided whether or not you will be picking up this ongoing sequel series.

But if you are still undecided, here’s what the creators have in store this time. The bomb was a case of too little and too late. The vampires are still around and threatening to take over the country. The only thing that can stop them is a vampire hunter named Vlad the Impaler and what little humans survived the vampire and nuclear holocausts. Unfortunately, it looks like Vlad and his cohorts are hopelessly outmatched.  

William Harms (W), Matt Timson (A), Image/ Top Cow Productions, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Beanworld Holiday Special:

You might think that the black and white boom of the 1980s was all poorly drawn superheroes, emo autobiography comics, and endless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles parodies. And, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. But there was a lot of quality titles in that black and white boom. One of them was Tales of Beanworld.

Beanworld pretty much defies description, as it is everything to everyone. It is a charming universe of talking beans with stories that are great reads no matter what your age is. The Beans have been on the shelf for over a decade as creator Larry Marder worked behind the scenes in the comic industry. But now, Marder and the Beans are back, and this holiday special will lead to more adventures in the New Year.

Larry Marder (W/A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.

Imaginaries Vol. 2 #1:

How many times have you bought an expensive toy for a young one and had them spend more time playing with the box it came in? A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. That box could be a race car, a spaceship, or anything the kid desires.

This series involves a kid named Tanner whose imagination can create superheroes—real, tangible superheroes. But as the kid grew up, he no longer needed his super friends and he exiled them to Imagine Nation. However, Superhero G doesn’t want to be banished. Now he will do whatever he can to be reunited with Tanner, even asking the evil Ice Queen for help.

The popular Image series moves to Bluewater for its sequel. If you liked the first series, then be on the look out for this one tomorrow.

Mike S. Miller & Ben Avery (W), Nikos Koutis (A), Bluewater Productions, $3.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Terminator: Revolution #1:

The Terminator comic book franchise shares a lot of the same qualities as its robotic lead character. It is an unstoppable force of nature which moves from location to location, succeeding where other franchises might fail. And just when you think it’s dead, it pops back up, and continues along unaffected.

Over its 20 year association with comics, the movie franchise license has been held by no less than four comic book companies—NOW Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Malibu Comics, and Beckett Comics. Dynamite Entertainment has had their name on the list since 2005, when they published Terminator 2: Infinity, which this series is a sequel to.

And if you think five companies in 20 years is impressive, then how about two companies at the same time—IDW will be adapting Terminator Salvation while this series is going on. Talk about being unstoppable!

Simon Furman (W), Lui Antonio (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50. Five-Issue Miniseries.

C.E. Murphy's Take a Chance #1:

The Dabel Brothers have an uncanny knack when it comes to lining up authors to work with. If you can name a writer of genre prose fiction with a cult following, odds are that they will one day be working with the Dabels. The latest is Alaskan-born, Ireland-residing C.E. Murphy.

However, where the customary relation between the authors and the company is one where the Dabel’s adapt one of their works, it’s slightly different with Murphy. She is writing an all-new, original superhero comic for the company!

Chance was driven to become a vigilante by her son’s murder. Using her innate fighting skills and knowledge of weaponry, she chases after the child’s killer. But what will happen when a virus gives her prey—and not her—superpowers? How can she ever avenge her son now?

C.E. Murphy (W), Ardian Syaf (A), Dabel Brothers Publishing, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY and is expecting his first child with his wife Jennifer. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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