Revisiting Kit Ryan, Hellblazer’s Ultimate Forgotten Heroine

Kit Ryan stands as the forgotten backbone of Garth Ennis’s early ’90s Hellblazer run. Kit’s name might be largely unfamiliar to those that aren’t too well versed with the comic book series and its original run. Hellblazer’s main character, John Constantine, has taken on a life of his own and become a broody mainstay of DC fare. He’s also often featured outside of his own solo-run comic books in this more contemporary age. It’s easy to lose track of John’s mischief and his many lovers.

But back in the early ’90s, the original series and John’s character were finding their footing with Ennis as a writer. The infamous Dangerous Habits arc follows a dying John Constantine after he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The storyline is rife with existential dread and subsequently introduces Kit as an old acquaintance of John. Kit is brought up in the issues leading up to her actual appearance, foreshadowing her arrival back into John Constantine’s life. After several fond mentions by John, she finally appears by chance in issue 46, the Dangerous Habits epilogue. Kit provides a spot of hope at the end of an emotionally arduous arc and ushers in a new era for everyone’s favorite conman/magician. 

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Kit’s background before walking back into John Constantine’s life is delineated in later issues, providing readers a full picture of the vibrant Irish woman that would become John’s greatest love. Born in Belfast and the second of five children, Kit Ryan came from a troubled home with a loving mother and an abusive alcoholic father. Her father’s alcoholism caused the family copious amounts of strain. His abuse finally culminated in Kit stabbing him with a kitchen knife. Kit’s past set the stage for the woman that readers would come to know and love even before the full story had unfolded for them.

Kit Ryan

At 18, Kit was an art school dropout in a relationship with a good friend of John’s named Brendan Finn. Kit’s relationship with Brendan signified the continuation of a cycle that started with her mother and father due to Brendan’s alcoholism. The relationship proved torrid to a degree, made fraught by his out-of-control drinking. But Brendan never was physically abusive like her own father. Nevertheless, it was a romance that perpetuated a dangerous cycle. She left Brendan when he refused to seek treatment for his alcoholism. But that didn’t stop her from begging him to quit drinking for his own good as she was literally leaving him. 

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Kit’s fiery self-possession and strong personality naturally make her one of the most memorable members of John Constantine’s supporting cast. In a comic book that traffics in horror, bloodshed, and socio-political commentary, it’s no shock that Kit’s portrayed as having a hard-won backbone and that she’s better for having one. Kit is never villainized by Ennis or the narrative for not being the sort of simpering enabling girlfriend character that Hellblazer would eventually introduce much later in its run before the main comic’s untimely death in 2013. In fact, Kit’s outright rejection of the life that John leads. However, her unconditional acceptance of the actual person he is creates one of the most interesting dichotomies in the comic books. Thus, this gives way to an achingly realistic romance between two deeply traumatized people. 

Kit’s introduction at the end of the Dangerous Habits storyline is symbolic of a hopeful future, one that the reader knows will be dashed in a matter of time. John Constantine is notorious for ruining the more positive aspects of his life. With Kit, it was no different. It doesn’t take Kit long to shake from the roles she’s introduced by, i.e. Brendan’s ex and John’s old friend. She’s a go-getter, an artist who defines her life for herself. It’s easy to see why John falls in love with her. She’s beautiful, yes, but her spirit is incomparable. Little is known about the nature of their relationship prior to their chance run in issue 46.

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But of course, in truly maddening non-linear fashion, a quiet love story unfolds with Ennis taking his sweet time filling in the blanks to their pasts together and separately. From the moment Constantine met a young Kit many years before, she was a point of steamy contention for him, one of his best mate’s girls. That didn’t stop the two from having lovely chemistry together and John becoming besotted with Kit long before she was back on the market and years separated from her relationship with Brendan. 

After issue 46, the growing realization that Kit and John are going to become an item is palpable. She’s shown as being his equal; she demands respect, and he willingly gives it to her. Kit is marketed as the gal who can see through his occultist conman bullshit, and that she does. She’s not afraid to poke fun at his overly serious brooding nature, bringing him down a much-needed peg in the process.

As their relationship becomes more serious, Kit puts up some hard but reasonable boundaries for John. And it’s an understandable act. In an age where we preach having better boundaries, Kit was putting that gospel into action in the early ’90s. Brendan himself had been in on the occult racket like John is; she’s no stranger to John’s lifestyle. Kit made her terms clear; the first time that his world touched hers, she was out. She didn’t want to have to live in fear of being roughed up because of the guy she dated. John obliged to these terms, and for a time, everything was blissful…as blissful as life in a Hellblazer storyline can be. 

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Kit unlocked a softer side of John that hadn’t been fully explored. Romantically, Kit was never encumbered by John. There were no demands, and Kit did as she pleased like she always did. Kit’s life was always her own even if she was sharing it with someone. In one issue, she remarks that one of the best facets of her relationship with Brendan was she was able to experience freedom without any ridiculously gendered expectations being saddled upon her. Being someone’s wife was not for Kit; after all, she’d seen the abuse her mother was subjected to. It wasn’t a life she wanted for herself. Kit was the only one who would define Kit.

It’s Kit’s dedication to her own life and the humanity that she brings that grounds John’s world. While he might be dealing with a member of the royal family who has become possessed by a cannibalistic demon, she is living her life as a freelance artist who has no interest in meddling in magic. Kit domesticates John in many ways. They go and do as they please and then come back home to one another — a relationship that meets the criteria of both of their lifestyles.

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When the horror comes home to Kit, there’s hell to pay. Ennis makes it clear that she is capable and strong enough to deal with the darker elements of John’s life. But her past with her parents and Brendan makes her rightfully hesitant to deal with any man’s nonsense. She’s canonically crafty, able to hold her own in a fight, and can drink men under the table. She’s seemingly made for John’s world. But she doesn’t want that. She’s not interested in watching the man she loves slowly kill himself like Brendan eventually did.

Kity Ryan Hellblazer

When the illusion of safety is shattered in the inner world John and Kit have created together, she leaves. A known neo-nazi and white supremacist gets the bright idea to send John a message by harming Kit. John’s always pissing off the dregs of society and the 90s equivalent of today’s alt-right is no different. The bigots were always in bed with the demons and making dirty deals. John’s famously against this sort of ideology, which is what makes his character so deliciously radical even by today’s standards.

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Of course, Kit never goes down without a fight. Her story comes full circle when she easily dupes and takes down two white supremacist wanks by stabbing one in the crotch and coldcocking another. The damage is done. After some contentious interactions with John regarding the state of their relationship, she enforces the boundaries she laid down and makes her way back home to Belfast. Kit stands apart from many love interests in comics; she’s not “fridged,” a term created by comics writer Gail Simone to denote women who are killed, raped, or badly injured to further a male character’s plotline. Kit Ryan spits in the face of “fridging”. She’s no dead love interest for John to pine and cry over.

This is also where the storyline gets even more markedly unique. There are two full issues dedicated solely to Kit and how she copes with the end of the relationship. There’s no grand magical plotline. It’s a woman grieving her lost love and dealing with her familial issues. Ennis is every bit as invested in Kit as he is John here. He recognizes that Kit is a character in her own right and that she can function without John just fine. Again, Kit was never defined by John, Kit is defined by Kit. Kit’s rich internal life is examined time and time again by Ennis as the reader revels in her complex imperfection. She’s one of the most interesting and fully realized women in Hellblazer and the solo issues prove it. 

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Ennis explores Kit as a character that is entrenched in the real-life horrors of a cruel world. She diverges from John in this way. He straddles the line between the occult and humanity while Kit is firmly in the human world. She’s seen terror and trials that have nothing to do with demons, possessions, and so on. Kit is a survivor of abuse. She’s trying her best to break cycles that she seems destined to carry out with the men in her life. Kit would beg her mother to leave. But Concepta Ryan stayed in a horrific marriage for her children.

The boundaries that Kit puts up and carries through make sense in the special spin-off issue titled “Heartland”. It explores Kit’s home life as a teenager and how it colored her interactions with her siblings and with the men around her. Sometimes, the most terrifying parts of life are the ones that are unequivocally human. Demons can be banished but trauma cannot. 

A year nearly goes by before Kit comes back to London to say goodbye to John and make sure that they end their relationship on good terms. She makes it clear that at the core of her decisions are her love for John and her desire to see him live. But that she cannot be the woman who hangs around while he commits himself to his own type of addiction and dies in the process. There’s some real-life horror here. Everyone wants to believe that love is enough. Yet, Kit and John prove that isn’t always the case. The love remains, but it’s understandably complicated even though the two wanted to make their relationship work.

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The emotional gravity of issue 82, which sees Kit’s return, is heady and heavy. It’s the penultimate issue to the Rake at the Gates of Hell arc, where John must face the devil after expertly crossing him in the Dangerous Habits arc. Kit acts as a bookend and a symbol of all the good in John Constantine. When she’s gone, there is a marked void in the narrative. Her memory lingers when she’s not on the page. 

Kit’s powerful balancing act has yet to be brought to any screen, large or small. That in itself can be puzzling. In reality, it likely comes down to writers not knowing how to handle a character who, from top to bottom, isn’t defined by John Constantine. Kit’s a lot of character, an intimidating feat, and could crumble apart in the hands of the wrong writer. It seems safer to nix Kit from the narrative altogether than deal with a character who functions on her own.

In the age of celebrating complex, interesting, and flawed women in fiction, though, it’s odd that no one has given her a shot. Many creatives have sought to adapt the Dangerous Habits arc, notably the 2005 Constantine movie and the Legends of Tomorrow show. Yet Kit is excised from a storyline where her presence was a powerful reminder of hope and goodness to a mentally exhausted John Constantine. It makes readers wonder if Kit will ever get the adaptation treatment. Given the state of adaptations related to Hellblazer, that future seems bleak. It would take an exceptional writer to pull off the finer facets of Kit Ryan. Kit’s character is a commitment, there’s no slapdash action or drama with Kit. She’s a stark reminder of the human elements of Hellblazer, the plot points that are difficult and rewarding. 

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The past two years have swirled with Hellblazer/John Constantine adaptation news. Who knows if that will come to fruition. Still, it’s a great time to re-evaluate the characters that haven’t been adapted or have seemingly been lost to time thanks to the end of the main series and the rebirth of the DC universe. Kit’s not been seen since. But there have been cheeky references to her by Simon Spurrier in the most recent Hellblazer run for DC Black Label. This shows that while Kit doesn’t get the hype of, say, Zatanna in these more contemporary times, she’s still honored as a dynamic and integral part of John Constantine’s character.

While Kit never was defined by John, it might be safer to say that a great deal of his development and character was influenced by her during Ennis’s run as a writer. It’s time to take the opportunity to give Kit Ryan her due. One can’t say what the future holds for the character, but her importance still stands the test of time. But for now, let this be a little rallying cry for Kit Ryan to be brought to the forefront. 

The Essential Kit Ryan Hellblazer Reading List: 

Want to read the whole thing for yourself? Start with the Dangerous Habits arc, which begins with issue 41. Read through to the end of Rake at the Gates of Hell, which is issue 83. 



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