Hellblazer isn’t a title where single episode stories occur regularly, which made the job of selecting material for a compilation tying in with the 2005 Constantine film trickier than it would have been for pretty well any other long-running title. It’s the reason almost all this content is from the first five years of a title that in 2005 had run for seventeen.

The collection begins with what probably still remains John Constantine’s pivotal moment, an incident in Newcastle that went disastrously wrong due to his lack of experience and over-confidence. A brash statement of “what we’ve got to do is raise a really powerful demon to destroy it”, doesn’t seem as advisable ten pages later. It’s a story in which Jamie Delano laid out how Constantine became the way he is in the present day. Richard Piers Rayner pours a lot of effort into the art, but his precise, clean style isn’t entirely suited to what he’s drawing. Sean Phillips works better on the second Delano story about someone who can see to the core of what Constantine is and where his life will lead.

Grant Morrison and David Lloyd supply the only two part story, one that gradually turns bonkers. Constantine arrives in a small town where they have an annual costumed festival. It’s located near a weapons devising facility, and employed there is someone for whom scientific curiosity is all and whose moral compass is void. Morrison’s aiming for a similar tone to The Wicker Man, and Lloyd nails that completely, with deliberately misty and indistinct art swathed in darkness, featuring creepy, mood-setting close-ups.

Lloyd also draws a Garth Ennis story about a man haunted by his own diary who can’t stop confessing past sins and unsavoury habits. It’s a wry joke, overplayed by Ennis, but that’s the only wrong note in a neat little horror piece, ultimately about what we’ll do to cling onto life even when it’s crap.

It would be a few years beyond the stories reprinted here that Phillips took a stint as the regular Hellblazer artist, but his second piece exemplifies the seediness required in detailing Constantine’s life. Constantine’s mate Chas is prepared to leave his wife attending to the birth of their first grandchild while he picks up Constantine from the airport, but favours only run so far. It’s a darkly comic tale with Delano keeping the exaggerations under control, revealing more about how Constantine and Chas remain mates, and how some favours have no price.

Despite most of the material originating from the early 1990s, it’s aged well. For anyone who’s not read Hellblazer this is a nicely representative collection of who Constantine is and how he became that way.