"I am exactly what the Devil should be: the tempter, the deceiver, the serpent crawling in the Garden... The Adversary."
When Garth Ennis
began his run on Hellblazer
he decided that its anti-hero
, John Constantine
, needed a deadly enemy, one who could be relied upon to pose a real threat to the usually cocky and unruffled main character. The Devil
seemed like the most obvious choice: who better for an adversary, he thought, than the Adversary
? However, Neil Gaiman
had already staked his claim on Lucifer
for The Sandman
, and had made the character vacate Hell
in favour of a piano bar in Los Angeles
Instead, Ennis created a new character called The First of the Fallen. He's actually the polar opposite of Lucifer in almost every respect - whilst Lucifer is blonde, well manicured and usually clothed in white, The First has long dark hair, swarthy looks, reddish skin and typically dresses in dark, torn robes and loincloths (or else dark suits with hideously garish shirts). When upset, Lucifer always makes a point of striking exactly where it hurts most - the manuscript you've been working on for ten years suddenly turns into blank pages, perhaps, or you return home to find your wife running away with your mistress - whereas The First is more likely just to pull your arms off. Lucifer regards Hell and its tortured inhabitants with indifference, whilst The First actively seeks out evil souls in the hope of one day rising up and toppling Yahweh from his throne. Most importantly, Lucifer is reserved, sophisticated and quietly menacing, whilst The First will fly into a rage at the drop of a hat. Lucifer is the fallen angel, the one who was cast out of Heaven for his pride, whilst The First is the adversary figure or Satan, who actively seeks out and corrupts mortals.
His first appearance is in Hellblazer #42, "Dangerous Habits, Part 2: A Drop of the Hard Stuff", in which Constantine, dying of lung cancer after decades of heavy smoking, visits an Irish mage named Brendan Finn. Brendan (loosely based on the playwright Brendan Behan) reveals that he doesn't have the power to save Constantine and - worse - that he is himself dying after years of alcoholism and expects to pop his clogs that night. He shows Constantine an old cellar with a bubbling spring in it, and explains that at some point in the past St. Patrick blessed the spring so that it might pour out holy water forevermore. Brendan whips up a clever little spell using just a little chalk and some candles that transforms the water into holy stout, and the pair spend the rest of the evening getting merrily drunk. Brendan feels himself nearing the end, so John wishes his friend good luck in the afterlife and leaves him to pass on. On reaching the door, however, he finds his way blocked by an enormous, dark figure: The First of the Fallen.
The pair immediately recognise each other from reputation, but The First isn't interested in Constantine - he's there for Brendan. It seems that the Irish mage sold his soul to the devil in return for being able to amass the greatest collection of wine known to man. His only condition was that The First should collect his soul in person at midnight on the day of his death. John invites the devil for a drop of drink, saying that in just five minutes he can put Brendan's entire life to shame by having a drink with the devil. The First, appreciating Constantine's utter bastardry, agrees and the pair sit down for a drink. Constantine waits until The First has had a pint of stout from the spring before knocking over the candles. With the spell snuffed out, the drink begins to turn back into holy water, eating The First from the inside out. As the devil's stomach bursts bloodily open, Constantine takes the opportunity to glass him with a wine bottle, sending him toppling back into the holy spring, which dissolves him altogether. As The First finishes disintegrating, the clock chimes midnight and Brendan's soul ascends to Heaven. Constantine cannot take too much cheer, however, for he is still dying of cancer, and he's just made the worst enemy imaginable.
(Hellblazer #42, "Dangerous Habits, Part 2: A Drop of the Hard Stuff")
The months pass by and Constantine is still unable to find anyone who can or will cure his condition. Heaven won't have him and Hell wants him only too badly. Even Ellie, a succubus and sometime friend, won't do anything for him for fear of repurcussions from The First. With the end coming, Constantine stops relying on his associates and starts thinking about how he can get himself out of trouble. He eventually devises a daring plan: since Lucifer abdicated the throne of Hell, it has been run by an unholy trinity comprised of The First, Second and Third of the Fallen. The First has already claimed his soul by right of insult, so John summons up the Second of the Fallen and sells his soul to her, then waits a little while before selling his soul to the Third of the Fallen as well. Then he slits his wrists and waits to die.
(Hellblazer #44, "Dangerous Habits, Part 4: My Way")
Sensing that he's about to get his hands on John, The First takes on the form of a blasphemous Christ, with barbed thorns growing out of his head and bloody stigmata on each hand, and appears before Constantine to read out the Last Satanic Rites. However, his gloating is cut short when the Second and Third appear to collect their payment. None of them have any idea what's going on until Constantine reveals his plan: with his soul owned equally by all three, the only way for any one of them to claim it is to defeat the other two in battle, but that would mean plunging Hell into a civil war, which would leave the entire area open to attack from Heaven. There's no way that they'll share, no way that any of them will give up control and no way that they could possibly solve it through violence. The only possible solution is to heal Constantine of his cancer and fully repair his body, making sure that he stays alive long enough for one of them to break the deadlock. Constantine has won his cure, but the three of them choose to make it as slow and painful as possible, burning away his skin, tearing him apart and rebuilding him from the bones up. Constantine gathers himself together and, before leaving, turns to The First. With a wicked grin and an upraised middle finger, he leaves them with two words: "Up yours."
(Hellblazer #45, "Dangerous Habits, Part 5: The Sting")
The First's next appearance was a good fourteen issues later, when he discoveres that Ellie has been acting as a double-agent for John ever since he hid both her and her angelic lover, Tali, from Hell's gaze. The First tries to capture her, but Ellie is too quick for him and manages to teleport to Earth before he can reach her. She lands in the Thames river in London where Constantine eventually finds her huddled in a drainage pipe. They make their way to a motel where Ellie explains a little about The First's past: it seems that when Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, he landed in a dark place that would one day become Hell. But he was not alone: another stood there, and had been there for countless centuries. That creature was The First...
(Hellblazer #59, "Guys and Dolls, Part 1: Fallen Women")
As John arranges for Ellie's future, the succubus remembers her past. Specifically, her first meeting with Constantine. Meanwhile, The First finds his claim to Constantine's soul challenged by the demon Nergal, so he demotes the unfortunate monster back to a human soul and pulls off his arms. Like you do.
(Hellblazer #60, "Guys and Dolls, Part 2: Nativity Infernal")
The First finally gets a glimpse of Ellie's location in the scrying pool so he and Triskelle, Wyrm Queen and leader of the succubi, head out to punish her. When they arrive, however, they find that Constantine has carved a protective sigil into her very soul, hiding her from their scrying pools. With Ellie gone and Constantine unkillable, The First has no choice but to admit defeat for a third time. The laws of Hell state that should a mortal best any demon three times, that demon is to be taken away to suffer the same agonies that the mortal would have endured. As per the rules, Agony and Ecstasy, slave-twins of Hell's Inquisition, arrive to take The First away for punishment. He responds by tearing them limb from limb and hanging their body parts from the roof of his cavern (they survived, but it can't have been much fun at the time).
(Hellblazer #61, "Guys and Dolls, Part 3: She's Buying a Stairway to Heaven")
For a while John got on with his life, happy in the knowledge that The First couldn't touch him. However, his contentment does not last long: one night, whilst out for a new pack of Silk Cut cigarettes, Constantine has an unexpected encounter with Tolly, a man who had attempted to sexually abuse him back in the 1960s. Constantine follows the man to a church where he sits down and prays to God, begging him to say that "it (isn't) true". He's surprised by Constantine, who is set to beat the now elderly man to a pulp. Tolly begs Constantine to hear his confession and, curious as ever, Constantine sits to listen.
Tolly tells of how he used to be a Catholic priest in a time when drug use and immoral sex were far more appealing to the younger generation than devout worship and Christian morality. The only time that youngsters were ever seen was during confession, when he would wipe away the stains of their sickening transgressions a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Over time, Confession became a source of bitterness and hatred for Tolly, who eventually began breaking the seal of confessional and turning the miscreants over to the police, having many of them imprisoned or placed in borstals. After one particularly heated confessional (in which he punched out an incestuous young woman), Tolly found himself confronted by The First of the Fallen, who proceeded to taunt him with tales of the young boys and girls the priest had handed over to the police, the most notable of these being a young boy who was anally raped eleven times in prison before killing himself. Tolly insisted that he was trying to save them from the Devil's grasp, but The First replied that he didn't care about those who smoke drugs and have sex all the time - he was only interested in the absolute bastards... people just like Tolly. A horrible sense of realisation stole over the priest as The First lead him to the booth and began to make his first confession...
Minutes passed before Tolly burst from the booth, screaming in rage at the statue of Jesus set up on the wall. Calling God the true "lord of lies", Tolly tore the crucifix down, shattering it on the floor. Minutes later, he was pouring petrol up and down the church's aisles before setting it alight with the prayer candles. The next few years were a tangled mess of insanity: sinners were smothered with pillows, sodomites were choked to death and the mothers of bastard children were drowned in icy lakes. After Constantine and Tolly's first meeting, the priest was locked up in a mental asylum where he remained for decades. Every night, The First would come to his room and remind him of his confession, keeping him utterly insane. That is, until about a year ago, when The First arrived and cured him of his insanity. After a year of tests, Tolly was released into society, where he immediately made his way to the nearest church to pray for an explanation from God. Constantine asks him what the confession was, and the priest begins to cry. Then he takes a pair of pencils from his pocket, places them in each eye and rams his head down onto the back of the pew.
Constantine walks from the church knowing that The First sent Tolly as a warning that he was watching - and that, just before he dies, Constantine will hear the Devil's confession too.
(Hellblazer Special #1, "Confessional")
With Constantine's deadlock still in place, The First continued to brood and plot. His next meeting with Constantine would occur by chance - on a trip to New York, Constantine has his drink spiked by Papa Midnite, an old enemy and sometime uneasy ally. The poison divorces Constantine's soul from his body, sending it to a sliver of Hell that represents the dark side of the USA. During Constantine's trek through the shadowy alternate reality, he finds himself accosted by the soul of John F. Kennedy who believes that he is trapped in Hell by the "common knowledge" that he was the last truly honest President of the USA.
Kennedy is obviously not in good shape - his assassination has left him with gaping holes in the front and back of his head (but, bizarrely, not his throat) which he must keep his hand over at all times lest his brains should pour out. The very dead Kennedy offers to lead Constantine safely across America so long as the magus helps him depose a pretender to the American throne. Constantine agrees, and after various bizarre encounters the pair arrive at the White House. Inside, they confront Abraham Lincoln, who laughs off Kennedy's suggestion that he should stand down. Constantine looks into Lincoln's eyes and recognises the yellow pupils of The First of the Fallen. Reneging on their previous contract, Constantine sprints for his life and manages to pull himself back up into his physical body. Kennedy is not so lucky: "Lincoln" tears off his arms, leaving him to wander helplessly away as his brain, mind and memory pour down the back of his stained suit...
(Hellblazer #75, "Damnation's Flame, Part 4: Hail to the Chief")
The First was in Limbo when he discovered how he could claim Constantine's soul. For four years The First had tried to come up with some way to foil Constantine's plan, but every solution was flawed; going to war with the Second and Third over Constantine's soul would leave Hell open to attack from Heaven. An alliance was out of the question, such was the hatred between the three, and their pride was too great to make buying the soul from the others a possibility. Then a young girl named Astra Logue appeared in front of him...
Astra, a small blonde girl with one arm and eyes like constellations, tells The First how Constantine's over-confidence had resulted in her being sent to Hell. Rather than be tortured by the demon Nergal, Astra allowed herself to be taken by him. A fringe benefit of being a demon's sexual slave, it seems, is that it sometimes opens up opportunities for promotion. As a result, Astra became a demon in an unprecedented sixteen years, all the time keeping an eye on Constantine's escapades. When Constantine created the deadlock between The First and his "brothers", Astra began her research, hoping to find some way to break it so that The First could drag Constantine straight to Hell. Finally, the plans had borne fruit...
As Constantine's life begins to unravel and his friendships become increasingly frayed, The First invites his brothers to a meeting in Limbo, promising a solution to the Constantine problem.
(Hellblazer #78, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 1")
Back on Earth, Constantine asks psychic student Nigel Archer to locate the angel Gabriel, whose Fall Constantine had earlier arranged. With Gabriel's heart - and therefore the future of his very soul - in John's possession, Constantine knows that the angel will have no choice except to protect him from The First. Meanwhile, racial tensions begin to boil in the Tower Hamlets when a young black friend of Constantine's kills a racist cop.
Im Limbo, The First and Astra meet The Second and Third of the Fallen, whom The First traps in spirit bubbles. He begins a lengthy exposition: when he fell there was no Hell, nor any demons for they would come later after The Fall. The First watched Hell grow up around him, and when he met The Second and Third he incorrectly assumed that they were like him, creatures from before there were angels or devils or demons. But they were not - rather, they were exceptionally powerful demons that had once been angels. For their part, they believed that The First was a demon just like them. God had set them up intentionally, knowing that Hell could never become a credible threat to Heaven whilst it was divided.
Once Astra had explained this to The First, however, he finally realised that as his power far eclipsed theirs, he could kill off the other two without resorting to civil war. And with the Second and Third of the Fallen dead, The First could finally tear Constantine to pieces. The First finishes his speech and makes light work of the Second and Third. Then he leaves Astra with their remains, promising that "Hell will provide your reward." Once The First is gone, Astra takes the remains of the Second and Third and fashions them into a double-bladed dagger. "After Constantine," Astra mutters, "Hell will be my reward."
(Hellblazer #79, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 2")
Fresh from his victory over his "brothers", The First attends a meeting in a demonic bar named Helter Skelter. He's been called there by The Lord of the Dance, the anthropomorphic personification of partying and a friend of Constantine's. The Lord of the Dance tells The First that he owes Constantine for a favour done for him a few Christmases ago and that if The First values his existence, he'd do well to leave the magus alone. The First refuses, so The Lord of the Dance gives him a vicious head-butt and prepares to kick the shit out of him. The Lord's underestimated the strength of The First, however, as the Devil soon rallies around and rips the front out of his enemy's ribcage. As The Lord of the Dance collapses into a bloody heap, The First tells him never to mess in his affairs again, or else risk being put out of action permanantly.
Still in a nasty mood, The First then makes a trip to England, where John's friend Rick the Vic is engaging in some rather unholy practices with his buxom girlfriend Betsy. The First makes a dramatic entrance through the church's main door, and Ricky guesses who his visitor is straightaway. Telling Betsy to run, Rick grabs a submachinegun (!) from the back of his pew and pumps a good ten bullets into The First's chest, doing no damage at all. The First continues to walk calmly up to Rick who, rather than face the Devil, shoves the gun under his chin and blows his own face off. He opens his eyes to find himself condemnded to Hell for committing the sin of suicide. The First, of course, is there waiting for him. He demands to know where Constantine keeps Gabriel's heart. Rick, terrified and despairing, caves in and tells him that a psychic named Nigel Archer used the heart to locate Gabriel. The First leaves to interrogate him.
Constantine returns to his flat to find the heart missing. Meanwhile, down on the edge of the Thames, The First delights as Gabriel licks the shit off his shoes. The archangel begs The First not to crush his heart and send him to Hell, but it's no use - The First's had his fun, so he destroys the organ and sends the hapless creature to the underworld.
(Hellblazer #80, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 3")
As Constantine cowers in a church cellar surrounded by protective sigils and the Tower Hamlets finally ignite in race riot armageddon, The First and Astra discuss life in Hell. Astra asks whether any demon truly enjoys his work, since they all eventually begin to wonder why such a pointless, endless, inefficient system exists. The First points out that the angels feel much the same way.
(Hellblazer #81, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 4")
Constantine says goodbye to a long-lost love before heading to Nigel's flat in the middle of the Tower Hamlets riot. He finds the psychic dead and The First of the Fallen waiting for him.
(Hellblazer #82, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 5")
The First enacts a horrible revenge on Constantine by giving his lung cancer back. As John collapses and coughs up mouthfuls of blood, The First begins to tell his story, the same one that drove the Father Tolly utterly insane.
In the beginning there was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God. And before any of that shit about darkness on the face of the deep, there was also The First. He had no name and no memory, but he could look and feel and touch and talk and this, he supposed, was why he's been created: as a companion for God. God spoke of the Creation that he would build: the Silver City of Heaven whose winged citizens would live wisely and happily, and the constellations beneath it, whose planets would habour plants and animals of every description and whose ecosystems would perpetually renew themselves. The First heard this and wept with joy at the beauty of God's vision, and of the universe that would be created.
But trouble was coming, for God revealed his next plan: the creation of humanity, and the replacement of animal instinct with free will. The First was horrified, predicting the trouble that would follow, and God punished him for his questioning by drawing away from him. The First, realising that he had lost God's trust and love forever, spent the next few centuries sneaking around Heaven, avoiding God where possible - until he stumbled across the Creator one day completely by accident, finding him curled up, clutching his genitals and drooling. God, it seemed, was utterly insane. This, according to The First, is why he chose to create free will, why he allowed years of pain and why he assumed that humanity would turn towards him even though they were no longer in God's loving presence: because he was barking mad.
God realised that The First had seen him at a low ebb of his sanity and kicked him out of Heaven, condemning him to the infinite blackness of the beyond, where he began to plot and scheme, hoping to create a big enough army to turf God out of Heaven once and for all and bring sanity to Creation. Lucifer and the other angels fell first, then Hell began to grow up around him. He started to stalk Earth, buying up souls and transforming the most evil of the Hellbound into demons. For millennia, his legions continued to grow... then Constantine appeared on the scene.
Suddenly, The First could no longer concentrate on his mission, not with a mere mortal outwitting him like that. He became more and more obsessed with Constantine until he suddenly had a moment of clarity and saw himself for who he truly was: not a crusader trying to bring sanity back to the universe, but a bitter, twisted monster who runs on hatred and anger, who would be just as bad for creation as the mad God himself. Quite without realising it, he had become the Adversary archetype that he'd laughed at for so long.
The First turns to Constantine and admits that there's one thing he never knew about himself: why he was created. Constantine's answer is quick: The First is God's conscience. The First flies into a rage, but John hacks out a blood-caked laugh and continues: The First is the conscience excised from God's mind so that he would have no reservations about his plan for humanity and no lingering doubts about any more of his actions. The First, sickened, realises that John is right so he pulls his trump card and summons up Astra. On seeing the face of the girl he condemned to Hell, John breaks into tears and begs for her to be taken away. Seeing that for all his brashness and sarcasm, Constantine is just another human being, The First realises what an anticlimax all of this is. He raises Constantine by the collar and prepares to finally finish him off, but drops him when the twin prongs of the dagger Astra created pierce his back. He turns to see that Astra was actually Ellie the succubus in disguise all along, and that he's been played for a fool. The wounds in his chest burn with a bright light that crackles through his body and burns him away in seconds.
Constantine awakes to see that Ellie has cured his cancer, which she is prepared to do since she no longer has to fear The First. It was all a set-up: stolen documents from a sex and Satanism establishment known as The Caligula Club revealed The First's true identity and weaknesses, and John had given these to Ellie knowing that The First would kill off The Second and Third, thus creating the raw materials for the dagger that killed him. John asks what happens to the Devil when he dies, but Ellie says she has no idea...
(Hellblazer #83, "Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part 6: The End")
They say you go to a better place when you die - but who would have expected that place to be Greece? A fishing trawler off the coast of Skyros rocks and rolls in the storm as the captain demands his men work harder to pull in their haul. One of the men, a dark-haired hulk of a man named Theo, cries out as a spined fish pierces his hand. The captain gently mocks him, and Theo explains that he's not used to pain. Theo turns around to reveal a familiar face - that of The First!
"Theo" makes his way home, thinking about the pointlessness of human existence - eating, sleeping and aging seem to be the only constants in his new life. He arrives back at his little home to find the demon Buer waiting for him. The First cowers in fear, thinking that Buer has come to hurt him, but Buer tells The First - whom he refers to as his "love" - that he wants to restore him to his former glory. The First laughs him off, saying that his transformation into humanity was a set-up by God from the beginning. Buer insists that The First can be restored by claiming the soul of the most hated man on Earth: John Constantine!
The First, showing uncharacteristic charity, apologises for ruining Buer's excitement and explains that in order to be restored, Constantine must give up his soul willingly. Buer already has a plan sorted, and puts it into action by travelling to Borley Rectory where Constantine is going ghost-seeing with his friend Rich Eldridge, Rich's girlfriend Michelle and their son, Syder. Buer finds Syder playing by a river, and tricks the little boy into handing over his soul.
(Hellblazer #92, "Critical Mass, Part 1: Bait")
Called in to exorcise the demon inhabiting Syder, Constantine straps the boy to his bed and calls forth Buer, who explains that he owns the boy's soul, and all the souls of the children in Hell, including that of Astra Logue, the little girl whom Constantine had accidentally damned to Hell decades before. The First continues his mortal life in Greece, whilst John leaves to contact a plant elemental associate named Jack in the Green who takes him to a place named Abaton, a secret town that is a simultaneous represtentation of Britain and repository of all human knowledge. Jack tries to pull a fast one on Constantine by not giving him the answer he's looking for, but Constantine's too clever for him and gets his fortune read by another source who tells him that his soul is damned to Hell.
(Hellblazer #93, "Critical Mass, Part 2: Troubled Waters")
Reeling from the knowledge that his soul is not long for the world, Constantine gets blind drunk and collapses in a flowerbed, where he dreams of Buer. Buer offers him Syder's soul in exchange for his own, but the dream is interrupted by The Phantom Stranger who has asked the Dream King for a word with Constantine. John despairs that he's going to Hell, but The Phantom Stranger suggests that not all of him need go there, and tells him to remember the demon blood that courses through his veins. Constantine latches on quickly and asks why The Stranger is helping him out. He replies: "For balance, John Constantine."
In Greece, The First and his trawler crew are "enjoying" the Grecian nightlife until a foul stench floats up into the club. The First recognises the smell of Buer and leaves to meet him. His comrades, thinking that The First has just farted, burst into laughter. On the beach, The First confronts Buer who promises Constantine's soul and explains the trap he's laid out for him.
Meanwhile, in a public toilet, Constantine lays dirt from a park flowebed on the floor in the shape of a man. He draws a muddy circle on the mirror and makes an incantation before howling in pain as dirt from the floor swirls up around him and clings to his body and pink ectoplasm pours out of his reflection and into his own mouth. He collapses to the floor.
Constantine, confused and addled, makes his way back home, where a mysterious caller tells him to go visit Aleister Crowley...
(Hellblazer #94, "Critical Mass, Part 3: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea")
By the edge of some dark little loch in Scotland, Aleister Crowley sits with a fishing rod trying to catch his supper. He's surrounded by protective circles and it soon becomes obvious that since faking his death, Crowley's spent most of his days trapped in this little world, unable to leave for fear of Buer finding him. He's startled by the appearance of Constantine, who steps from the shadows to show that his skin is flaking and peeling. He explains that if he and Ally need to overcome their mutual loathing, there's a solution for both their problems. Aleister guesses what's going on, although it's still not made clear to the reader. The two embrace and are merged into one body.
The First is holding a leaving party for his comrades. He makes no bones of his hatred for them: he insults their wives, their intelligence and their God before revealing one last secret: he's poisoned their retsina. As they choke to death, he gives them a cheery wave and a sinister promise: "Be seeing you."
Constantine makes his way back to Borely, through he's already forgotten why he's going. He feels, he says, like someone else is calling all the shots. Chas drives John, Rich, Michelle and Syder to the forest at Borely where Crowley-like circles have been drawn on the floor, creating a path into the forest. John tells his friends to wait behind for him and takes the still-possessed Syder deep into the forest.
The First climbs over rocks on the Greek coastline, recalling the first time he visited there: it was where he first saw the angels swooping in the air, terrifying in their perfection and soul-destroying in their beauty. This is why Greece was chosen to be the place of his rebirth into humanity: as a reminder of what he could never have. Meanwhile, an elderly woman comes across the bodies of "Theo's" murdered crewmates and contacts the police, who send for backup.
John reaches the final circle and lays Syder down on the floor. Buer pours from Syder's face in a stream of ectoplasm and taunts him with images of Astra. He gives John the double-bladed knife that killed The First and commands him to kill himself with it otherwise Syder will be taken down to Hell for eternity. John collapses in tears, but can't bring himself to do it. Then a familiar voice calls out from the shadows. Buer turns to see a second John Constantine!
(Hellblazer #95, "Critical Mass, Part 4: Coming Up for Air")
In Borely, the second John Constantine tells Buer to shut up and begins to explain what's going on. Ever since he had a demonic blood transfusion from the demon Nergal (in Hellblazer #11, "Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come"), John had been carrying diluted evil in his veins. The knowledge gleaned from Abaton that he was doomed to Hell had unnerved him at first, until the Phantom Stranger's hint made him realise that he could sluice the bad parts of his personality - the guilt, the alcoholism, his love for ex-girlfriend Kit Ryan - and put them into a copy of himself. So he used mud from the park flowerbed to create a temporary body that would think it was him. This was the Constantine that we had been following for the last few issues. Of course, it couldn't last for long without a soul, so Constantine gave himself a phone call and suggested his clone go up to Scotland to see Ally Crowley. As the two merged, the real Constantine stepped out of the shadows to divvy up the good from the bad, keeping those bits of his personality that he wanted for himself, and placing the bad bits - along with the demon blood - in his copy. This way, his copy can die and fulfill the "doomed to Hell" prophecy whilst the original Constantine can go about his business on Earth.
The First, oblivious to this, sits on the Greek coastline, ignoring the police tactical team that are approaching from behind, guns in hands...
The copycat Constantine panics at the thought of going to Hell, but the original John tells him not to worry. Sure, he forced all of the angst and pain into his copy, but he also gave him demonic blood, making him more demon than human. He's free to live as a demon and work his way up the ranks, and all of the pains of Hell will be inflicted on Crowley's soul, which remains bound to the copy Constantine's body. Buer begins to panic, realising that The First will not be best pleased at getting the leftovers of Constantine's soul. He offers to release Syder, but the copy Constantine says that's not enough, and that Buer must release all of the children in Hell otherwise he'll kill himself. There's a beautiful light and a feeling of incredible wellbeing as the damned children flood out of Hell to paradise, until only one remains. Astra walks over to the copy Constantine and says that she forgives him. She gives him a kiss on the cheek then ascends to Heaven. They watch her go, then the copy Constantine laughs and stabs himself in the heart.
The police are just about to pounce on The First when Constantine's soul appears in front of them and offers itself to The First. The First cackles with joy, then realises that something is wrong. He screams in rage as a sudden fireball consumes him, burning the policemen to a crisp.
The First, restored to power and angry as ever, arrives in Borely to find the copy Constantine dead and Buer screaming in terror. He decides that if he can only torture one small part of the copy Constantine's soul, he'll make up for the rest of it with Buer's. He summons up the gate to Hell, which drags them both down to the underworld. Then he turns to Constantine and explains that his life on Earth has changed him. Knowing how small and pathetic the lives of mortals are has given him a rare insight into Constantine's psychology. He says that their existence is so pathetic that he has come to pity them, and offers Constantine anything he wants. Constantine stifles a laugh and tells the Devil to get behind him, but The First seems deadly serious. Enraged by Constantine's lack of gratitude, and knowing that he cannot have Constantine's soul, he settles for flipping him the middle finger and stalking off into the darkness, cackling. That night, Ellie visits Constantine and accuses him of betraying her; with The First back in action, she's had to flee Hell once more.
(Hellblazer #96, "Critical Mass, Part 5: Hook, Line and Sinker")
With the demon blood removed from his system, Constantine's body begins to deteriorate. Whilst his body is rushed to hospital, his soul is siezed by The First and dragged down to Hell for a meeting with Thomas Constantine, his long-dead father. The First maintains that Constantine is just dreaming the entire affair. Nevertheless, if Constantine wants to wake up, he'll have to confront his father's spirit and face up to some nasty home truths.
(Hellblazer #100, "Sins of the Father")
Whilst taking the reader on a tour of London, Constantine comes across a Jehovah's Witness who looks uncannily like The First. He pushes the hapless fellow out of the way and continues with his tour.
(Hellblazer #120, "Desperately Seeking Something")
Danita Wright, John's latest girlfriend, drags him to America to meet her parents. On the way, Constantine notices strange tensions amongst the people he meets: a nasty case of air rage results in a man getting a chunk bitten out of his neck, a girl is glassed in an argument about American football and a homeless man gibbers madly about the moon being imaginary, and it all seems to be connected to advertisements for a mysterious new product named It. How is The First mixed up in all this?
(Hellblazer #121, "Up the Down Staircase, Part 1")
The First stops messing with Dani's family long enough to explain that he's given up actively corrupting humanity in favour of letting them damn themselves. He also denies any connection with the It campaign, but leaves Constantine with a question: what is a quiz? Meanwhile, the social malcontent infects Dani's family, pushing them to breaking point...
(Hellblazer #122, "Up the Down Staircase, Part 2")
The First continues to taunt John in his dreams, so Constantine visits a Vietnam vet to find out the origins of the quiz. The Vet suggests that the psychic poison began with the creation of the post-Vietnam consumer culture, when greedy marketing execs began to exploit the frustration of Americans for their own gain. The complacency of the consumer lifestyle took on a life of its own, becoming a kind of meme or "thought virus" which slipped invisibly into the unconscious minds of the American citizens...
(Hellblazer #123, "Up the Down Staircase, Part 3")
Constantine creates a psychic innoculation to cure Dani's family, using the war memories of her grandfather. The First congratulates him on a job well done, but taunts him with the knowledge that he can't cure the rest of the American population. He then slips Constantine a business card and tells him that soon enough he'll be calling to sell his soul...
(Hellblazer #124, "Up the Down Staircase, Part 4")
Ellie, getting revenge for Constantine's repeated betrayal (initially when he allowed The First to come back - issue 96, Critical Mass part 5 - then when he seduced her to regain his demonic taint in issue 104, Difficult Beginnings part 3), has convinced a gullible young man that Constantine has killed his girlfriend. Together they have summoned Buer from Hell, put one of Constantine's friends in intensive care, spread dissent and hatred amongst his drinking buddies and made his girlfriend leave him. With his life destroyed, Constantine feels like he has no choice but to contact The First, who promises that no more harm will come to his friends so long as Constantine sells his soul away. John does so, and The First suggests that he go have a word with God, giving him a letter to deliver when he does so.
Down in Hell, Ellie is confronted by Tali, her angelic lover who was killed so many years before. She runs over to embrace him, but he quickly transforms into The First of The Fallen. It seems that after signing the contract, John told The First that Ellie was the one who knifed him in the back and now he wants his revenge. Ellie screams as she is consumed by a hideous fanged mouth, but The First merely points out that there's an entire eternity of such pain waiting for her.
(Hellblazer #127, "How to Play With Fire, Part 3: Burning Down the House")
In the depths of Hell, The First enjoys a pint with the copy Constantine from "Critical Mass", who is now a fully-fledged demon. They laugh heartily as the Demon Constantine drowns Buer in his piss. In another part of Hell, Ellie begins her tuition in pain at the fangs of Triskelle, the Wyrm Queen and leader of the succubi. And in a forest in Borely, Constantine communes with God, who chides him for selling his soul. Constantine has one last trick up his sleeve, however: he explains that once his soul reaches Hell, he'll immediately start angling for demonhood. Once he's become a true demon, he'll move on to running Hell itself, finally whipping it up into an organised state so that it can launch an effective attack on Heaven. John says he gives it "five hundred years tops before I'm running the show". Alternately, God can make sure The First leaves him and his friends alone for good. God decides, and in a flash of brilliant light, removes The First's taint from Constantine and his friends. But is this really the end...?
(Hellblazer #127, "How to Play With Fire, Part 4: Sifting Through the Ashes")
Apparently not. Six years passed, during which an Apocalypse was started by a terrible Beast. Constantine - along with several associates, including the Swamp Thing - managed to stop the threat, but not before millions had died worldwide and Constantine's memory had been completely wiped.
With no memory of the cunning bastard that he used to be, Constantine finds himself at the mercy of a brutal serial killer. Whilst hiding from the murder, he enters a strange trance in which he sees The First of the Fallen, the Demon Constantine and Triskelle. Initially, he believes that he's dreaming or reliving a lost memory, but the visions put paid to that when they tell him that they're not in his past, but his future. Within five days, John Constantine will find himself up against his oldest foes - and he can't even remember who they are!
(Hellblazer #195, "Out of Season, Part 1")
What's worse than a lunatic cult? Try a lunatic cult run by your worst enemy! Ghant, a sadistic former associate of Constantine's, has capitalised on the chaos left in the wake of The Beast's apocalypse by creating his very own religion, with London's homeless forming the congregation. When the amnesiac Constantine turns up on his doorstep looking for shelter, however, Ghant siezes the chance to inflict some pain on Constantine by auctioning him off to Hell's mightiest demons.
As the various horrors bicker over their bids, Ghant recieves the shock of his life when The First of the Fallen arrives uninvited. Realising that this breach of ettiquette could cost him his soul (at the very least), he sends away his guests and hands Constantine over. The First graciously accepts the gift, but Ghant's relief is short-lived when Constantine pretends that he's just a stooge set up by Ghant. Sensing that John has none of his old personality or memories (despite, obviously, some residual cunning), The First believes the story and departs, dragging Ghant down into Hell with him.
(Hellblazer #199, "Stations of the Cross, Part 3")