Welcome, one and all, to the Comicon Advent Calendar, a new feature we’re running here over the run-up to Christmas. Every day of advent, from the 1st Dec through to Christmas Eve, we’ll be giving you a little seasonal present in comics form. Some you’ll know, some may be new to you, but they’re all here to make the month that little bit magical! So, onwards…
Today, for the first Advent present, I wanted to share my favourite ever Christmas comic, Hellblazer #49 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, published in 1992. Maybe not as seasonal and sentimental as you’d first expect from a Christmas comic, but trust me here… it’s got everything you want – Lord Of The Dance is just perfect Christmas fare.
John Constantine’s having his usual low-key Christmas time, desperately looking for a present for the love of his life, Kit, on Christmas Eve – hint – do NOT leave it that late!
And then, what should he happen across but a dishevelled and miserable looking bum on the streets… a ghost who’s following John on this most special of days…
John and the bum get a coffee and John sits there listening to the bum explaining just why it is that he doesn’t like Christmas at all.
And it’s all to do with the song, “The Lord of the Dance”. You know the one, all about Jesus, upbeat number, how God’s son is the life of the party and all that…
Except, as is explained… that’s not the thing at all.
He explains how it was rewritten, the first verse changed, two new verses added, just not that well.
His version doesn’t scan very well, he pushes the rhyming a bit too much, and the tone of the thing changes in an instant… one minute there’s this getting whipped and stripped and hung business, and the next it’s leading dances and all that.
But, as John asks, what does it matter and what’s it got to do with this miserable ghost?
Oh yes. THIS is THE Lord of the Dance.
From a time long ago, when there was no Christmas but the people still went by the seasons, the end of the year was marked by revelry, a feast, where all “drank and sang and laughed and fought and screwed,” in one almighty celebration of being alive in the time of year when all was dark and dead.
And this big, one thing, a God perhaps, certainly one who’d been in the world from its earliest times, he came upon them dancing… and they all danced together, singing their song to celebrate him, to celebrate the Lord of the Dance.
Except then the monks came, decided that what the people were doing just wasn’t right, wasn’t properly Christian, was against their ideas of this new Christmas thing.
And that was that, the old ways were gone.
And the spirit of the old ways? Well… it didn’t go well for him.
But, he’s here with John Constantine on this Christmas Eve – and John has a plan.
And it’s here where the chill of sentiment will zip down your spine, where that strange feeling of something bubbling up in your chest might hit you, progressing into that unexpected lump in your throat, as that moment of feeling so damn good, so perfectly seasonal, so warm and loved, comes over you.
Because John takes the Lord of the Dance to the pub.
And it works. The magic works. The swell of the crowd at the bar, the shared warmth of the people, the feel-good magic is all there once more and the Lord of the Dance can feel it again, the wonder hasn’t gone, not really, you just have to look for it that little bit harder nowadays.
And Garth Ennis’ words and Steve Dillon’s pictures just nail that perfect night out feeling just perfectly…
It’s just perfect. The tale still gets to me, still gives me those sentimental goosebumps, still puts a lump in my throat, even after all these years and knowing it almost off by heart by now.
Of course, this being Constantine, it’s not quite the end, not yet. Because of course, this is John, and John always manages to grab some sort of failure from the jaws of victory – right?
Except no. Not this time. Just for once, Ennis gives John a break. And it’s a Merry Christmas after all.
And then comes the bit that I loved then as a celebration of two best mates making a great comic. And a bit I love now, with all the bittersweet feelings of knowing we lost the great Steve Dillon back in 2016.
Because the comic ends with two very happy, very drunk lads making their way home this Christmas Eve. And what do you know, they’re only the spitting image of Garth and Steve.
So make it a Merry Christmas this year. Sure, it’s been a bad couple of years. But let’s celebrate the winter, look forward to the spring, raise a glass for those we’ve lost, hold those tight that we love dear. And let’s dance. Dance like we used to. Dance and sing to the Lord of the Dance.