Tales from the Crypt Keeper: Demon Knight


John Constantine

The Exorcist and The Poltergeist



First appearing in Swamp Thing #37, Alan Moore introduced the character of John Constantine in 1985. The titular Hellblazer, Constantine is a working-class warlock, occult detective, and con man from Liverpool. He is known for his endless cynicism, deadpan wit, ruthless cunning, and constant chain smoking, but he is also a passionate humanitarian driven by a heartfelt desire to do some good in his life. Originally a supporting character who played a pivotal role in the “American Gothic” Swamp Thing storyline, Constantine received his own comic in 1988. The musician Sting was a visual inspiration for the character.

The ‘Hellblazer’ series was the longest-running and most successful title of DC’s Vertigo imprint. ‘Empire’ ranked Constantine third in their 50 Greatest Comic Characters of All Time, while IGN ranked him number 29 in its Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.

Constantine is notable for the fact that many of the people who wrote his stories have claimed to see him apparently showing up in real life despite him being a fictional character. Constantine is wearing a green suit as opposed to his more traditional black suit and tan trenchcoat ensemble. Moore describes Constantine as being drawn from a number of “really good ideas… about serial killers, the Winchester House and… want[ing] to draw Sting in a story.” Calling these disparate strands a “big intellectual puzzle”, Constantine was the result of “fit[ting] it all together.”

“With Constantine, I don’t know who I was thinking of. I just wanted this character who knows everything, and knows everybody—really charismatic. Who knows nuns, politicians, and bikers, and who is never at a loss for what to do. I suppose there is a similarity with Baron Winters in that he is another manipulative character who has a bunch of agents working with him.”

Constantine is a foul-mouthed, disillusioned British cynic who pursues a life of sorcery and danger. His motivation has been attributed to an adrenaline addiction that only the strange and mysterious can satiate. He also seems to be something of a “Weirdness Magnet” (a term also used to describe Constantine). He is shown to be someone with a wide and international circle of contacts and allies, and is adept at making friends. At the same time, his close friends inevitably suffer or are outright killed simply by being in his life; this has left a severe mark on him. In #69, when the King of Vampires killed the man sleeping beside him and casually asked if he had been a friend, John replied, “Must be. He’s dead.”

Constantine also has a reputation as being one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. Despite this, he rarely uses magic, instead choosing to use his wits to trick his opponents. Constantine is also referred to as “The Constant One” because of his whole family tree being somewhat connected to the occult.

While Constantine has worn many clothes over the years, he was originally portrayed as often wearing a blue pin-stripe suit, tan trench coat, and occasionally gloves. As the series progressed, his trademark attire became a grungier (or perhaps the same, just older) trench coat, white shirt, and black tie, but eventually returned more to his earlier fashion. Constantine smokes Silk Cut cigarettes, consuming 30 or so a day. Constantine also occasionally breaks the fourth wall, where he talks to the reader and narrates the story himself.

Constantine is unusual among comic-book characters in that he has aged in real time since his creation. During the first year of his solo series, Constantine celebrated his 35th birthday. In the relevant issue, Constantine is reading a newspaper when he notices the date on the cover is his birthday, making his date of birth May 10, 1953.

John’s bloodline and ancestry were known as the Laughing Magicians, legendary mages who have the power over synchronicity and were infamous for bluffing and tricking gods. This ancestry later drives John Constantine to partake in his lineage and practice magic. One of John’s first acts of magic, as a child, was to hide all of his childhood innocence and vulnerability in a box to rid himself of it.

During the 1970s, John became involved in occult circles in London. He travelled other countries and visited San Francisco, where he met, and subsequently began a relationship with, the female magician Zatanna Zatara (in DC’s The New 52, but the two met in New York). He also became enamoured of punk rock; after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Roxy Club in London in 1977, John cut his long hair, called himself Johnny Con-Job, and formed his own band, Mucous Membrane, whose members included Chandler (as a roadie), a drummer named Beano, and fellow Liverpudlian Gary Lester.

John’s first venture into occult “heroism” was a disaster. On tour with Mucous Membrane at the Casanova Club in Newcastle, he found the aftermath of a magical orgy gone horribly wrong; an abused child, Astra Logue, had conjured a hideous monster that took revenge on her father, the club’s debauched owner, and the other adults who were tormenting her, and the monster refused to leave. With typical recklessness, John convinced some members of the band, along with several occultist friends, to try destroying the creature by summoning a demon of their own. Unfortunately, this demon was not under their control; and after it had destroyed the child’s monster, it tormented Constantine’s friends and took the child to Hell.

John had summoned the demon by one of its names, but not its true name –Nergal— which would have been required to bind and control the demon. Nergal went on to be a regular antagonist throughout the series. John suffered a nervous breakdown after this incident, and was committed to Ravenscar Psychiatric Hospital, which he drifted in and out of over the years.

The guilt of Astra hung over him for many years, until in his mid-40s, he used some magic and con-artistry to free not only her, but also the souls of all the other children trapped in Hell. As for the rest of the “Newcastle Crew”, the incident left the group both physically and psychologically scarred. After helping Dream [from ‘The Sandman’ series] retrieve his sands from Constantine’s own dying ex-girlfriend Rachel, Dream in turn relieves Constantine of the nightmares that had plagued him since the incident.

Gary Lester

John first met Swamp Thing in 1985 after being interested in the creature. John later acts as the Swamp Thing’s protector, guide, and voice of omen, even teaching the Thing to amplify his powers. Both would have further adventure with each other, such as John introducing the Thing to the Parliament of Trees.

Both carry a dull, but nevertheless fruitful friendship with each other. Constantine even invites Swamp Thing to his 40th birthday and assures the Thing he will try not to bother him again. In 1991 while in his late 30s, John contracted terminal lung cancer. During this time, he sought the help of a dying friend, Brendan, who had sold his soul to the First of the Fallen, the most powerful lord of Hell. When the First came to collect the soul, John tricked him into drinking holy water, which rendered him helpless and prevented him from collecting the friend’s soul at the appointed time.

For this, the First promised to make John suffer unprecedented torment in Hell when he dies. Slowly dying from cancer, John hatched a plan to save himself from eternal torment. He secretly sold his soul to the other two Lords of Hell. When they discovered Constantine’s actions, they realized that they could not allow him to die, or else they would be forced to go to all-out war over his soul, a war whose only winner would be “the Lord of the Hosts”, i.e., God and his angels. They were also far too stubborn and proud, however, to enter anything resembling an alliance. As a result, they were forced to cure John of his cancer.

Hellblazer boosted the popularity and image of the occult detective fiction genre and shaped it into its modern form. Many modern examples of the genre such as Hellboy, Supernatural, Grimm, The Originals, and The Dresden Files have been influenced by the character. Its elements and style have been used countless of times in other works and many analogues of the cynical John Constantine have appeared.

Demon Knight

Tales from the Crypt

>>>>>>16th Century AD, part 1.

The behavior of the Fugger family (and of Jakob in particular) is characteristic of the paradoxical nature of the age. The Fuggers were the quintessential transitional link between the piety of the high Middle Ages and the rapacity of the capitalist spirit which was the driving force of the modern era. They were at once pious Catholics, who were lavish in their dealings with workers and the poor, but ruthless in their treatment of fellow merchants, not hesitating to sell at dumping prices to drive the competition to the wall.

The Fuggers represented an unlikely combination of rapacious Italian usury at its worst, combined with a Germanic Catholic piety according to which they treated their employees fairly, something which can be seen as the legacy of the Germanic-Christian tradition and the high value it put on human labor.

Each employee of the Fugger firm received a lavish salary plus expenses. As a result, these employees signed contracts that ran years into the future, even though they knew that the utmost was expected of them.

Jakob was on the road for large portions of the year in order to fine-tune his understanding of every aspect of his operation both in terms of materials and men. In one instance, this meant living for weeks in the forests of Thuringia, where he was “shut off like a charcoal burner from all civilization,” to supervise the building of smelter.

While there he took time from the technical aspects of the metal industry to have the local church renovated. He also concerned himself with the needs of his workers in the Slovakian and middle German mining operations. In Neusohl, he paid for the renovation of a hospital and encouraged others to follow his example. While at Hochenkirchen he petitioned Pope Alexander VI for a mitigation of the fasting rules. It was impossible, in his opinion, for men working in the mines or the smelters to follow the Church’s rules on fasting. He was able to work out a deal with the pope which relaxed the specific rules. The time had not yet arrived for social measures or welfare on anything on a local scale, but he did his best to ameliorate the working conditions under his control.

The whole enterprise was surrounded by a sense of solidarity between the lord and his followers and was underpinned by a serious consciousness of the religious responsibility which the employer bore. This conjunction of differing attitudes towards business practicality on the one hand and religious devotion on the other was typical of Jakob.

Nonetheless, it was not clear how these contradictory parts, which we have designated “Italian” and “German,” fit together.

The Fuggers may have succeeded the Medici as Christendom’s premier banking family, but they never lost sight of the sober facts in the literary intoxication which flowed from the beauty of antique texts or the rediscovery of their glories. Jakob Fugger was not so easily moved. He wanted to be and to remain what he was by nature, which is to say, a merchant with every fiber of his being, even to the point of perfection. As such he loved columns of figures in the same way and with the same fervor that others loved the classics, and he knew how to construct his own political-economic world better than the best classical architects of his day knew how to construct buildings.

His system was attacked from without because his individualistic notions about the use of capital, as well as his cartel building, and his international connections, contradicted the conventional wisdom and the bourgeois way of doing business.

The Fuggers were hated. Nonetheless, the merchant was fiercely loved by his own people, who saw him as an inimitable example of the commercial talent that was the basis of their prosperity.

Rather than rein Jakob in, Maximilian decides to exploit Jakob’s industry (or his ruthlessness) for his own purposes.

The Hapsburgs were at a disadvantage ‘vis à vis’ the king of England and France because of the decentralized nature of the Holy Roman Empire and the disordered fiscal situation which flowed from that fact. The French crown seemed to have access to inexhaustible resources thanks to an orderly tax system and the legal possibility of forced loans. The same thing could be said of the fortunes of the King of England, who was a big time financier in his own right. Things were different for Maximilian. The emperor was unable to raise the money he needed by taxation, but with his astounding power Jakob satisfied their every need with the magic formula of the New Age: credit. The Fuggers loans were also to bring about an unfolding of the mining industry and thereby increase the further monetization of the country.

As a result, a quid pro quo evolved between the Fuggers and the Hapsburgs.

The charge of “usurious monopoly” was often brought against Jakob Fugger and his undertakings, but the emperor invariably brushed these charges aside in light of the advantages he gained by his relationship with the Fuggers. In an age when the sanctity of contracts was unknown and the sanctity of usurious contracts an oxymoron, Jakob and Maximilian worked out a financial ‘modus vivendi’ that would last for generations and paved the way for the development of the capitalist finance of government debt. Following Maximilian I’s example, the German kings and Emperors secretly pledged themselves unconditionally to honor the monopolistic ore contracts to protect the merchants, in case they were attacked on behalf of the Empire as monopolists. In exchange for loans from the Fuggers, the Hapsburgs granted them monopoly status in exploiting the Empire’s natural resources. In the final analysis, it seemed quite natural for the king to allow a monopoly, instead of dealing with a dozen different interests as he had in the past. This was the simplest solution to how to keep the extremely expensive court of the last knight including his war machine and his political operation flush with money.

The great bullion dearth took place when the economy of the Holy Roman Empire was still based on labor. The serf owed his lord three days a week of labor. When every prince was rich in labor but chronically short on cash, the Fuggers helped the Habsburg monetize their assets: “The ever needy Hapsburgs looked upon the mineral resources of their territories…as the best security for financial advances. In this way, the big Augsburg trading companies were led into the metal trade simultaneously with the lending business, and often earned as large sums in one as in the other. The individual merchant often rose from metal trading on a small-scale to large-scale operations by means of loans to “ore-wealthy” princes. From wholesale trade in metals it was only a step to the acquisition of mines, mining stocks, smelting works, and thus to entrance into the mining industry.”

As one might expect of economic activity in the early stages of capitalism, the Fuggers were involved in a number of different enterprises, some of which were morally licit and some of which were not. The Fuggers were pulled in two opposite directions at once: toward the labor economy of legitimate investment and toward the usury economy which was on the verge of once again gaining the ascendancy.

For centuries the Church has been complaining that usury meant no shared risk. Usury, according to St. Bernardine of Siena, killed both charity, when it came to the poor, and business, by discouraging investment, when it came to the wealthy. Tainted by their involvement in usury, the Augsburg bankers were largely unwilling to invest in mining operations in the Tyrol, which meant that they were unwilling to share risks, which meant that the Fuggers, who were willing to share risk, had an open field for investment. As a result of Jakob Fugger’s vision and his readiness to act, the Fugger firm got in on the ground floor when the European economy was starved for the precious metals which constituted money.

Both the technology of mining and the financing of that technology were ‘terra incognita’ and therefore full of risk, which the conventional bankers chose to avoid. Instead of the evil they didn’t know, risk in a new venture, they chose the evil they did know, lending to princes, and as a result missed the opportunity that the Fuggers seized in the production of precious metals in Europe…

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