Trade paperback cover.
|Publication date||May – October 1991|
|Main character(s)||John Constantine|
First of the Fallen
Dangerous Habits is a six-issue Hellblazer story arc written by Garth Ennis and art by Will Simpson published by DC Comics, later under their Vertigo imprint. Dangerous Habits collects issues #41-46 of the Hellblazer series. The story features the occult detective John Constantine, who at that time contracted terminal lung cancer, and subsequently conning the Lords of Hell to cure it, mixing contemporary horror with Faustian theme. The comic became a success, being well-received and was the best-selling Vertigo series of that time. It also catapulted Ennis's career in the American comic book industry.
The story was loosely adapted into the movie Constantine released in 2005.
The story was written by Garth Ennis of Preacher, who took over the title in 1991, after Delano's run on the series. The title was the first major work of Ennis in the American comic industry, where he proceeded to write the longest run for any writer on the title.
What could I possibly do to John Constantine that hadn't been done before? And one course of action suddenly stood out above all others: Kill him.
After having some serious cough attacks, John Constantine checked himself to a hospital. The doctor diagnosed John with advanced terminal lung cancer, and told him that he only has a short time to live. Upon hearing this, Constantine attempts to cure it and save himself, knowing that his soul is damned and Hell is ready to welcome him.
John then visits a friend and fellow mage in Ireland named Brendan Finn for help. Upon arriving however, he learns that Brendan cannot help him, and that he too is dying. Disappointed, John and Brendan decide to celebrate the last remaining time of their lives drinking. Brendan tells John the secret of how Jesus managed to turn water into wine. He leads John to the cellars, where he changes a pool of holy water into Guinness. The two get drunk together and the pair share one final drink as Brendan passes away. As John leaves, he has his first meeting with Satan, known as The First of The Fallen, who came to collect Brendan's soul.
The First tells him that Brendan sold his soul in exchange for the biggest drink collection, and he agreed to the deal because he finds a hopeless drunkard like Brendan amusing. But both agreed that the First must collect Brendan's soul at midnight the day he died or the deal will be null and void. The First suspected that Brendan may have been trying to cheat him due to the fact he hid himself inside an undetected holy place. Angered by the discovery, John attempts to save his friend's soul from being dragged into Hell. Five minutes before midnight, he invites the First for a drink, offering him a glass. The drink however, was actually holy water turned into alcohol. The First drinks it, and was poisoned. Seeing him in a weakened state, John mutilates him with a shattered bottle and sends him back. Brendan's soul wasn't collected in the allotted time, sending him to Heaven instead of Hell, thus John saved his friend from eternal damnation.
John then seeks to enlist Ellie's aid in a search for a cure. Ellie reveals that the First is furious with John and that upon Constantine's death, his soul will be claimed by Hell and tormented as none before it. Realizing that he now simply cannot afford to die, John gate crashes a gentlemen's club and seeks aid from the Angel Gabriel. John bluffs him by reminding the angel of his debt to the conman, but Gabriel was unfazed. Believing that no mortal can order an angel, Gabriel rebuked him, saying that he does deserves Hell for all the mortal sins he committed.
Realizing that he can only rely upon himself, John sets about in saving his life. John later gives his goodbyes to his lifelong friend Chas Chandler, and to a fellow old man who also has cancer whom John befriended. On the eve of his death, Constantine sells his soul to the other two lords of hell. Each thinking he is the only one to have "bought" John's soul. As John dies, the First Of The Fallen arrives on the scene, determined to taunt John during his dying minutes. The First however, is shocked when the other two lords show up to claim John's soul. The three lords are faced with a terrifying situation—if Constantine dies then they will be forced to go to war for the ownership of his soul, which if they do will cause unbalance, and a chance for Heaven to attack them in an unbalanced state. The three themselves are too proud of letting the other into gaining the prize, as all three have a reputation to keep in Hell and surrendering a deal is humiliating. Unwilling to risk all out war, the three decide to heal John of his cancer. Once the healing is complete, John taunts the three and flips the First of The Fallen a finger. It is unknown what Azazel and Beelzebub gave him in exchange for his soul.
Reception and legacy
Many praised Dangerous Habits as one of the greatest stories in Hellblazer. Goodreads gave it a 4.29 out of 5. Jim Pascoe praised the comic, saying "The result is a tense supernatural drama that begins with Constantine being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Though this book only hints at the freeform casualness and over-the-top vulgarity that became Ennis's trademark in the Preacher series, this is an immensely enjoyable read with strong characters and dynamite plot twists."
Dangerous Habits was voted the best Garth Ennis story on Comic Book Resources, ahead of his work on Preacher, The Boys and The Punisher. In the same article Brian Cronin describes John's one time love, Kit Ryan, as one of the series' most memorable characters. The popularity of Ennis and Dillon's run on Hellblazer is also credited for Vertigo agreeing to publish their seminal series Preacher. Empire Magazine called it "rightly one of the most celebrated in comic book history".
The cancer storyline is partly adapted for the 2005 movie starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, with John learning that he is dying of cancer and knowing that he is destined to go to Hell for attempting suicide when he was fifteen, having failed to achieve redemption as everything he has done has fundamentally been done to better his own condition rather than to selflessly help others. During the film, he finds himself working with Detective Angela Dodson to investigate the suicide of her sister Isabel, learning that Isabel killed herself because she was being used by Mammon, the 'son' of Satan, to essentially 'give birth' to Mammon so that he can trigger his own apocalypse. In the final confrontation, having learned that Mammon is working with the angel Gabriel to unleash the apocalypse in the belief that this will make humanity 'prove' themselves worthy of God's love, Constantine is forced to slit his wrists to draw Satan to Earth and ask for his help in stopping Mammon's planned Apocalypse, recognising that Satan prefers the ambition of setting off the end of the world at his own pace rather than letting his son do it. Although Satan now owes him a favour, John's last act is to ask for Isabel's soul to be released to Heaven rather than to receive an "extension". Satan begins to take him to Hell, but this selfless sacrifice earns him a place in Heaven; Satan heals Constantine's cancer only to ensure that he has a chance to fall and be damned once again in the future.
The story was reprinted and collected in trade paperback released in 1994. The book includes an introduction by its author, Garth Ennis.
- Irvine, Alex (2008), "John Constantine Hellblazer", in Dougall, Alastair (ed.), The Vertigo Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, pp. 102–111, ISBN 0-7566-4122-5, OCLC 213309015
- Amazon.com description: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits
- Brian Cronin. "The Greatest Garth Ennis Stories Ever Told!". Comic Book Resources.
- "WWPhilly: Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon". Comic Book Resources.
- Empire | The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters