Dangerous Habits is the one of the best character studies of John Constantine. It deals with all elements of his flawed character: his hard alcohol and cigarette abuse, his exploitative use of friends, and his con-man status to the many ethereal beings of our universe, from both heaven and hell. It also shows the progression of the often morally grey anti-hero, as he deals with coming to terms with his eventual death at the hand of one of his many vices: his much loved pack of silk cut cigarettes.
For the uninitiated, John Constantine (pronounced Con-stan-tyne, as in fine) is a British occult magician/con-man/ arsehole who is modelled after the famous musician Sting. Known for his drinking and smoking habits, as well as his dry wit, he has been a mainstay of Vertigo Comics for well over twenty years. Dangerous Habits marks the entry of Garth Ennis to the series in 1991, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hellblazer storylines since the series’ inception. It deals with Constantine’s newfound knowledge of his terminal lung cancer, and as he says goodbye to the ones he loves, he formulates a plan that will at the very least, see him die swinging.
This story arc is Hellblazer at its most poignant. Constantine’s quest for redemption with what little friends he has left sees him backed into a corner as he fights for what little time he and his dying allies have. From the liver cancer-stricken Matt, to his old friend Brendan Finn, each allow Ennis to delve into the tortured mind of our anti-hero as he comes to terms with his mistakes, and all the friends whose deaths he blames himself for. John Constantine is a person hiding behind the con-man persona – too afraid to get close to anyone he cares about for fear of their safety. This story breaks down Constantine to his bare minimum: a man who despite his sins, wants to leave with having done more good in the world than wrong.
It is also to Garth Ennis’ credit that he chose lung cancer as Constantine’s downfall over a more supernatural curse as it both humanises and undermines his place in the world. Here is a man who deals with some of the most powerful beings in the universe, only to be taken under by one of the most basic of diseases. It allows Constantine to reflect on one of the of the most interesting issues faced in life: this is not how, and when, I planned to go.
Ennis also allows Constantine to show off his expertise as a con-artist, as the final stages of the story arc culminate in potentially one of the most badass displays of arrogance ever witnessed in comic form. He manages to pull off the most impressive cons I have seen in potentially any medium, and it leaves the series in an interesting place by the arc’s end.
The art in this arc is merely serviceable to the story presented here. On one hand, William Simpson’s drawings can be equally weird and fitting, as Constantine’s world is one part disgusting to two parts dark. On the other hand, certain panels that focus solely on characters look plain bad – their distorted faces resemble closely those of demonic caricatures, as odd angles and stretched faces lead the reader to often be looking up the nostrils of Constantine.
As mentioned, Dangerous Habits marks Garth Ennis’ entrance into the series and it is heralded by a bang, as he systematically sets up the title character to die, exploring Constantine’s own demons, while allowing him to battle some monsters as well. While Simpson’s art may not be up to par with the writing; the Dangerous Habits storyline manages to create not only a powerful part of John Constantine’s own story, but a classic in comic books overall.