Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #135 by Drew Barth

Crate Digging: Hellblazer #63

Did you know that Bruce Wayne would be turning about 102 this year? Dick Grayson would also be well into his nineties. Jason Todd would be a young man in his fifties. That is, of course, if these characters would age in real time. That doesn’t happen in comics. Otherwise, we would be having funerals for Bronze Age characters by now. But somewhere after the Bronze Age, in 1985, John Constantine was created by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben and was made to age. He would be one of the only characters in DC canon to age in real time as he had his definitive birth date and he would be one of the only characters to celebrate turning forty.

In a hit of mortality, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Tom Ziuko, and gaspar gave us John Constantine turning forty in 1993. How would a character like John Constantine turn forty, though? He is known as a perennial bastard the world over. Could he even have a birthday party?

Yes, actually.

John Constantine, despite his outward misanthropy, is a beloved figure to readers. His birthday escapades include drunkenly pissing on the Phantom Stranger’s shoes and asking Swamp Thing to save the dying pot plant in his flat. Standard birthday fare.

Escapades aside, though, this single issue has its own significance. Bruce Wayne is never going to age out of being Batman unless the story calls for it, but in this original run of Hellblazer, John Constantine gets the same mortality as the rest of us with the same amount of mortal dread as that brings. Or as much mortality as a comic character can get.

It’s unfortunate that the folding in of the Vertigo mainstays with the rest of the DC Universe did push Constantine’s age back into his nebulous twenties/thirties again if only because that robbed us of Old Man John Constantine being even more cantankerous than normal. But then that also means we’re being spared a younger character “OK, Boomer”-ing him in canon. Still though, the experiment that Constantine represented with real-time aging showed us that characters could be older without it being a story-line gimmick. It brought us closer to Constantine because we could grow old alongside him.

Get excited. Get old.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.