My Favorite Monster: The Short But Terrifying Reign Of The King of the Vampires [Fantasy Week]
This week is Fantasy Week at ComicsAlliance, celebrating the best in magical fiction and imaginary worlds, and we’ve invited our writers to mark the occasion by celebrating a hallmark of the genre; the legendary creatures and outcast freaks we call “monsters.” This is My Favorite Monster.
John Constantine has fought many a monster. He's faced everyone, from the First of the Fallen to renegade demons causing football riots and beyond. But of all the villains he's fought, probably my favorite is one who only ever appeared in three stories: the King of the Vampires.
The King of the Vampires first appeared in February 1992's Hellblazer #50, "Remarkable Lives," by Garth Ennis and William Simpson. Published not too long after the legendary "Dangerous Habits" storyline, "Lives" opens with John in an all-too-rare state of happiness with his new girlfriend Kit, which comes crashing down one night when John discovers bird entrails in his bathroom sink and the words "Hampstead Heath" written in blood on the mirror.
Heading to the north London park in the dead of night, John is escorted by a naked dude missing his torso to a clearing where, sitting under a tree surrounded by wolves and naked ladies, a man in a leather jacket sits.
The King doesn't even have to name himself; John does, in a great sequence that not only shows how great Simpson can draw Constantine lighting up a cigarette, but also underscores how terrified and unnerved John is of this villain we've never met before.
Given that it's the book's 50th issue, Ennis and Simpson use an extended page count to do something a bit different. Rather than having the King exposit his long history --- which he does, off and on --- we get several full-page illustrations with florid prose detailing the debauched, horrible antics of this immortal creature that extend from killing the first man on Earth, to ancient Rome, all the way to the future end of the Earth itself. It's a smart change-up that underscores just how otherworldly and alien the King is.
The King only appears once more in Hellblazer and it's when John is at his lowest point. By August-September 1993 and the two-part storyline of Hellblazer #68-69, written by Ennis and drawn by the late, great Steve Dillon, Kit has left John, and his life is hell; he's homeless, drinking non-stop, begging, and sporting a gross beard. He makes one friend in fellow homeless man and prostitute Davy, but that comes to a horrible end when the King, after a night of debauchery, suddenly reappears.
An immortal driven by his own pleasure, the King is utterly invincible but for sunlight and his own substantial hubris. But really, who wouldn't give into our own hubristic, worse impulses if allowed to indulge with almost no consequences?
Despite being a vampire, the King is almost too human --- even apart from looking like James Dean, despite existing millennia before Dean ever did --- and that's the scariest part of all. And that's why he's my favorite monster.