Tuesday, May 10, 2016

[Happy Birthday!] Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #100


One of my favorite things about our charming anti-hero protagonist John Constantine is that he and I share the same zodiac sign. Damaged babe is a native Taurus: stubborn as fuck, endurable and slow to anger unless provoked, and a caring soul who tends to mess up his relationships due to ego and pride. In those ways, he and I are fundamentally the same in a nutshell. This will be the last issue I'm reviewing for this year's comics diet which I know is odd because it's only been two weeks and I'm already ending it so soon. It had to be done, unfortunately, because other reading materials have to be prioritized. That being said,  I sure picked the best issue to end it with, which is the 100th issue of the series itself entitled Sins of the Father. Clocking to forty pages in total, this special installment is one helluva awesome examination of John's pathology and daddy issues. If Paul Jenkins keeps up the quality of his run from this point on (he truly found his stride by the fifth installment of Critical Mass) then Hellblazer is going to be yet another thrilling Vertigo line that I regrettably have to abstain from again. How amazing is this 100th issue? Let me count the ways:

John Constantine performed the cleverest of tricks yet back in the resolution of Critical Mass where he divided his essence into two so he can give a portion of his soul to the Devil. He placed all his baggage and bullshit in that package and sent it to damnation. Aside from giving it his heartache and regret concerning his failed relationship with Kit Ryan, he also gave up Nergal's demon blood which was transfused to him during Delano's run. That itself had major consequences to his physical health and condition, which was why this 100th issue opens with Constantine falling into a comatose and having to be rushed to the hospital. As his friends and loved ones gathered, John finds himself trapped in a dream with the First of the Fallen who finally stopped pining over John's soul, but is still determined to fuck with him because (a) He could never get over the fact that a mere mortal piece of shit kept duping him and my personal favorite (b) He could never get over his obvious crush/infatuation with John Constantine. 

It's true: First fancies Constantine. Click this for evidence. Like, srsly, First of the Fallen, stop chasing the damn boy if he doesn't want you back. Stop fucking with his mind just because you can't fuck him. Come on, there has to be more subtle ways to let the boy know you like him, dude. Just let John come to you next time. Withhold a little and watch what happens.

Listen to your betters, Satan.

On a more serious note, First takes John to a part of Hell where there is a house and inside that house is an occupant of one: John's daddy Constantine Sr. who is not looking good, I may add. Being damned does not become him AT ALL. First off, the visual imagery is weird. Thomas is hanging surrounded by hangers. At first I thought it was just a silly pun. BUT IT IS NOT OH MY GOD. But I digress, let me build-up to that fuckery. Another commendable aspect I love about the 100th issue is that it issue made callbacks to two of my favorite classics from the Delano run which is The Family Man story arc and Hellblazer issue #31, The Mourning of the Magician. Thomas Constantine was murdered by the serial killer known as Family Man who became John's nemesis for a short while. And then, his soul couldn't pass over because John had charmed a dead cat's heart to bind Daddy's soul to earth, and that's how we get issue #31. John thought he was doing daddy dearest a favor by burning the dead cat's heart to set him free, but nope. Thomas' soul was officially damned in Hell after that ritual. Yikes. And so a grueling, brutally honest reunion commences.


John and Thomas start talking about their difficult father-son relationship with flashbacks to Thomas' drinking problem and abusive habits, John running away and bollocking around in a punk bad--all things readers already know about them at this point. But then First proceeded to keep opening more cans of shitty worms, and reveals to John that Thomas almost and I mean ALMOST thought about sexually assaulting his sister Cheryl when she started becoming a teenager because Thomas is lonely and can't cope with the fact that he's little girl has become an attractive young woman. But he NEVER touched her, only because Thomas chose to stole their neighbor's panties instead, and so the children were sent away to their aunt to live with them ever since. That was a close call. Maybe...just maybe...if Cheryl and John stayed with their dad, Thomas may have acted on his impulse and raped his daughter. John was shocked and repulsed, but knew that the Devil is only trying to push his buttons and make him loathe his father more, but John doesn't do that. He told Thomas that he forgave him for his lustful thoughts about Cheryl because at least he never got to act on them. First of the Fallen was impressed, but he still has one last ammunition to detonate.

Remember what I said about that visual imagery of Thomas Constantine being hanged next to hangers? Well...disturbingly enough, it's not for the purpose of innocuous silly puns. In the most Delano-esque fashion, that visual imagery serves a more terrifying purpose. It's worth noting that this hanger metaphor was used before in a comical way back in issue #99 with John's mate Straff wearing a shirt with a logo about it while they were riding the subway. It was later explained to be an Anti-Abortion shirt. So...do you--do you guys see where I'm going with this now? Go on and hold someone's hand (like your pet's whatever) because it's about to get ugly and uncomfortable. Are you guys, ready? Well, here we go:


For years, Thomas has blamed John for his mother's death when all along HE WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED MARY ANNE. He forced an abortion on her and has the gull to make John feel like his very birth had made his mother bleed out to death? HIS MOTHER BLED OUT TO DEATH BECAUSE SHE HAD A BOTCHED ABORTION VIA THE USAGE OF A HANGER HOLY SHIT FUCK! Is this a common practice? Why a fucking hanger of all things, merciful Yahweh, why?! And need I remind anyone of this passive-aggressive writing in the mother's tombstone? '...who died to bring is John'? FUCK YOU THOMAS CONSTANTINE.

But you know what? JOHN FORGIVES HIM ANYWAY:


John leaves his father, absolving himself of the guilt he felt for his mother's death, tells the Devil to fuck off and stop flirting with him via mind-fuckery, and wakes up from his comatose, much to the relief of everyone (Chas, Rich, Straff, Michelle). He wakes up, not actually feeling better even after knowing the truth. He just felt numb and aimless so he started hitting on a nurse. But hey, at least it's one less baggage this time, and he has his friends. I never got to fully discuss how much I appreciate the fact that John has people in his life again who cared about him, joked around with him, trusted him, and got worried sick when they thought they were going to lose him earlier. I'm just relieved that John doesn't have to be as alone as he feels most of the time. That's progress for me! 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN CONSTANTINE!

RECOMMENDED: 10/10

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issues #97-99


I'm happy to say that this day's post includes a review of three standalone issues which were pretty enjoyable and well-written. After the stellar conclusion of the previous five-parter major story arc, Critical Mass, third writer for the Hellblazer series Paul Jenkins has finally started to grow on me. The tenth volume of this series collects issues #97-107 and it startes with three standalones which I will be discussing individually below. I only have one issue to read and review before I end my third wave. Yes, it's comparably more short-lived than the previous two back in 2014 and 2015, but I have other stuff to read, but I do intend to end this wave with the 100th issue and post the review on the day of John Constantine's birth, May 10th.

In Critical Mass (#92-96), John dupes the demon Buer into what should have been a simple quid pro quo transaction where John had to give up his soul in exchange of a child's. John had this elaborate scheme which essentially had him tearing himself into two entities. He purged himself of his soul so his physical body can take over Alistair Crowley's essence whilst him--as a soul--can hijack the process. It's pretty damn clever. Buer had no choice but to offer to the First of the Fallen a version of Constantine who has all the guilt, the petty mistakes, Nergal's demon blood, and the broken heart (due to ex-girlfriend Kit Ryan from Garth Ennis run) while a new version of Constantine gets to keep his life and start over in both a literal and symbolic sense. The three issues below mark the beginning of this new John Constantine, and so far I think I'm enjoying that he doesn't have to necessarily always carry the burden of his sins on his shoulders. Here we get someone who actually has friends again, and is helping people not because he was forced to do it, or because he has a debt to settle. Jenkins gets to explore and expand on a new characterization at that.

"With the demon blood gone, there's a physical difference in me, I can feel it. My tolerance for alcohol now resides in Hell--along with the shadow of my former self."

Issue # 97, The Nature of the Beast, is my most highly-rated issue for Jenkins' run so far, and that's because it was an insightful look on John Constantine's struggle to re-define himself after he literally discarded the man he used to be, condemned in Hell as a replacement so he could be reborn. He started walking through the woods in the middle of the night for no explanation other than be fancied a stroll that would hopefully enlighten him as soon as the sun sets. Along the path, he met an old gypsy psychic who offered to read John's cards. Tailoring the two stories for John's benefit, the psychic told him about the Fox and the Butterfly.


The fox was clever and sly, and ended up deceiving every animal in the forest so they all stayed away from him. One day a vicious hound started chasing him but no animal helped the fox. Left to fend off by himself, the fox devised a way to dupe the hound which he successfully executed. This was definitely a representation of all the times John was able to trick the Devil himself. The next story was a message of hope. An exhausted traveler named Peredur had been moving from one place to another until he found a beautiful garden with a mysterious stranger. He wanted to stay there forever because he can't be sure what awaits for him out there if he keeps on traveling. He specifies that he is afraid of making the choice of choosing one path over the other. The stranger showed him the enchanted tree where one half was evergreen and the other was burning. He then showed him the butterflies who always went for the evergreen even though the temptation of flame is there. As a parting lesson, the stranger tells Peredur:

"CHOOSE LIFE.
That is the choice of path that matters, not the path itself."

It's the same thing that this old gypsy psychic is telling John, and John listens so he doesn't take out the third card which was the future of who he will become next. Might as well, because it doesn't look promising at all:

RECOMMENDED: 9/10



Issue #98, Walking the Dog was a fun one. Readers were introduced to uet another one of John's mates from his punk band days named Straff who has epilepsy and is living with his grandmother Betty. John has crashed to their place but was still seeing Rich and his family as well. There was something weird and ominous about the place, though, because the animals have been wilder and even vindictive than usual. That was when John remembered this prick named Kevin Marsh lived there before, and he apparently murdered his dog. So now John has to exorcise an animal's spirit who cannot find peace. It's really amusing and even touching near the end. I also like the fact that John is very sociable now, and keeps in touch with old friends who definitely want him around too.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10


Speaking of old friends, Issue #9 Punkin' is frankly rather disheartening. It started out with a POV flashback of a woman named Sadie who used to attend Mucous Membrane (John's punk band) and their concerts, and she was totally crushing on John at that, and wanted to leave her steady boyfriend Terry so she could hook up with him. But they got into a horrific car accident which disfigured her face. Years later in the present, John, Rich and Straff decided to go on a road trip with a couple of friends and they invited Sadie and Terry along. John allowed them passage to the magical place of Abaton which Jenkins first revealed during Critical Mass. I still have no idea what this place was supposed to be except Robin Hood was enchanted by a minx to live there, and it is ruled by a prissy vegetable/wannabe Swamp Thing named Jack who was peeved that John even brought humans in his realm. He couldn't say no to Constantine though so begrudgingly allowed them to stay so long as they don't interact or trade with his constituents.

Sadie and Terry just couldn't help themselves though. Sadie was overjoyed that in Abaton her injuries became non-existent and she was whole and beautiful again. Meanwhile, Terry tries to free a scarecrow owned by Jack, unmindful of John's warning not to get involved with the affairs of the Abaton folk. Now Sadie and Terry were doomed to remember Abaton forever, with Terry being mentally trapped in it until the rest of his natural life. That was their punishment while the rest of John's friends were able to forget and move on with their lives. Sadie can't. With her boyfriend in another world while still being physically present, she goes to the woods during a snowy day then drowns herself in the pond. It's...yeah, it's morbid. But hey...it's still Hellblazer after all.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issues #96

How do I even begin to explain this issue?

I don't think I can.

So, what I'm going to do instead is be an asshole. I will give you a short recap of events from the first four installments, and then let you read the pages taken directly from this issue. I'm honestly at loss for words, mates. I feel as if I have no business reviewing this issue using my own words because the hat trick John pulled out of his ass is very impressive--in the most disturbing sense possible.

Y'all have to experience it firsthand to believe it.

So, John Constantine is once again being hunted by demons, specifically someone named Buer who also collects children's souls to torture them. Buer wants to bring the First of the Fallen back in hell because First apparently was turned mortal and is now a Greek sailor named Theo. It's a hilarious bit, but that's not the important thing in the story. The important thing is that Buer abducts the boy Sydner, son of one of John's old friends Rich. 

Now Buer will only give back the boy if John agrees to trade his soul for him. Buer also parades around Astra in front of John, just to be a cunt. Now, as I stated before, Astra was the little girl John had condemned to Hell back in Newcastle during Delano's run (it was issue #11, I remember). Buer basically pissed all over that old wound, and after wallowing about his guilt all over again, John finally came up with the greatest fuck-you ever orchestrated in Hellblazer history yet; which for me has officially made John earn this series' title as a Hellblazer indeed!

Hey look, I was serious about posting the pages where he explained the trick, guys. It's so goddamn simple yet complicated at the same time. So go ahead. Read and weep:



This is definitely my favorite moment: It's when First stole John's shtick at the end:



Unfortunately, in doing what he had to do, he ended up damning Ellie, a close friend and ally of his in Hell. So it definitely defeats the purpose of acquiring a guilt-free clean slate right now. Once again, John Constantine has committed yet another awful thing to feel like a piece of shit for. Oh, John. WHY CAN'T YOU JUST BE HAPPY!!?



RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Friday, May 6, 2016

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issues #93-95


I guess I've really made a habit out of reviewing a slew of Hellblazer issues using a single post as oppose to individual respective reviews. Now I don't think I'll be stopping this format soon because (1) it's convenient to discuss issues back-to-back; (2) I frankly don't feel like explaining everything in detail for each issue at all anymore. Maybe it's because there's something about Paul Jenkins' style of writing that has yet to connect with me. Still, it's not to say that his first major five-parter story arc Critical Mass is boring--it's actually going pretty great so far, and I only have the conclusion issue to review next week. For now, let's briefly tackle what happened in issues #93-95.

John Constantine has started hanging out with an old mate of his during his punk band days named Rich, and the guy has a wife and kid named Michelle and Syder. Meanwhile, somewhere in the burning pits of inferno, a demon named Buer is torturing souls of children. He's also hang up over the absence of the First of the Fallen who was banished as a mortal in Greece where he worked as a sailor. Buer was also a former lackey of the demon Nergal. In case none of you remember who this fucker was, Nergal was the demon whom John had made contact with back in Newcastle, a place where all his guilt stems from. This demon was one John got cocky with, so he didn't bind Nergal properly with his name. In doing so, he ended up damning a little girl (Astra) and her soul to hell. Nergal bit the bullet during the Delano run, but not after he transfused his blood into Constantine's body which is all kinds of gross, but was actually helpful in a few ways. One example was when the King of Vampires tried to suck John's blood and ended up getting poisoned by demon blood instead. That was hilarious. Unfortunately this time around, John having Nergal's blood running through his veins had made him Buer's main target.

Apparently, Buer felt as if John owed him, considering he has his former master's blood coursing through him. See, Buer took over the children torture back in Hell since Nergal died and all, and the work was good because he has a passion and natural talent for making children's souls miserable and forever in agony and torment. However, John had duped the First of the Fallen thrice now, and the last time was by conjuring a series of events where First was officially punished to have a mortal life, banishing him from his realm of Hell for good. Buer takes offense with this because I personally believe First is the love of his life, and John made him go away. So, Buer took the kid Syder and possessed his body so he can make John suffer. Ever the World Expert in Blaming Himself, John nervously informed Rich and Michelle that he may be unable to save his son. He also confessed to the events of Newcastle with Astra. And afterwards John got the worst reaction he never expected:

THEY FORGAVE HIM. Shockingly calm, Rich didn't blame him at all, nor did he get angry. He simply said that he knew John did all he could do for their son, and then he and his wife proceeded to grieve. John was unraveled by this. So then he tried to fix the shit he had let into his friends' quiet and normal lives by going to a place called Abaton. The explanation for what it is wasn't really that clear to me, to be honest. It's a supernatural hub for forgotten people? I don't know, but Robin Hood was there and John exploded on him like a jerk and demanded to know what is going on. Robin was kind enough to inform him Buer has plans to take his soul and offer it to First of the Fallen, who sucked at acquiring it for himself in the first place. How did a one-off character like Robin Hood arrived to this information? Abaton must have been such a gossipy bitch of a town. 

Er, Buer also demanded to take John's soul in exchange for Syder's soul, and John certainly does not want to condemn another child to Hell so now he's in a tight spot. Meanwhile, First of the Fallen joyously poisoned his co-workers in the belief that he is coming home to Hell. Way to jinx your chances, man. Try not to be too confident next time because you still have a hurdle of John Constantine to overcome after all, and that hurdle is never to be underestimated. Anyway, those were issues #93-94 now already, I think. Yeah, I covered the relevant details well enough.

Look. I'm sorry, all right? I know that I'm probably being the worst reviewer ever right now. I've been so lackadaisical in my reviews since my third comics diet started, I know. But I'm not going to continue to be an apologist. It's not my fault that Hellblazer is sort of having a dry spell run for me. Blame the nineties instead!

But also, get over it!

In issue #95, John Constantine teams up with Alistair Crowley who was imprisoned inside magic circles and was bored and a little resentful of John for putting him there? I don't know. I'm pretty sure I didn't miss this guy in the earlier issues of Delano or Ennis, and so I'm also sure that this was the first time he ever made an appearance. But he and John are mates, so John asked for his help and then they got naked together and did some magic stuff. Meanwhile, Rich and Michelle bring their still-possessed son to John's care, and Chas drove them around for a while as Buer (who was still controlling Syder) started making snide remarks concerning Chas' penchant for porn and lack of sex with his obese wife. Just dandy and all. John arrived to a location where Buer's powers are at its height, and he proceeded tormenting John with images of poor Astra even more suffering than when Nergal has her. John is weirdly weepy about everything. And it turns out the reason why he was being a total wimp was because that was not John at all. It was probably Alistair or something. The issue ends with the real John making a deliberate appearance before Buer. Stay tuned for the concluding issue next week, guys.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issues #91-92


Newly minted Hellblazer writer for the nineties run Paul Jenkins has yet to impress me, but after smirking through his amusing two-parter about a rainbow snake in Australia, I managed to get two really nice issues from him this time. Once again, I'm combining these issues in one official and succinct review, mostly because IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS HOW I WANT TO WRITE MY REVIEWS, and so with that in mind, let's talk about issues #91-92, both were of course illustrated by Sean Phillips, the constant artist for this series (with the exception of some Garth Ennis issues, I think).

So what was so nice about these issues? Granted, "nice" isn't something one immediately associates a title like Hellblazer with, but stay with me on this one. It'll make sense. Issue #91 featured John Constantine finally back in his homeland, only there was some remnants of the Aboriginal rainbow snake socio-political commentary to be had, comparing and contrasting it to whatever Neo-Nazi, post-colonial, post-civil war or something movement happening in the UK. Again, that's all backdrop and scenery. What this issue was really about was John encountering old mates of his back when he used to be in a punk band named Mucous Membrane. The couple, Rich and Michelle, were more than happy to catch up with John, and they brought along their adorable little bugger of a son named Syder. John was at first feeling awkward about the kid because the last time he was this close to one was when he damned a little girl to hell back in Jamie Delano's defining character moment story arc in Newcastle. But let's not rehash the eighties drama. John and Syder got along quite well, and the sweet child kept using his old man's nickname for John which is "Con-Job". It's all cutesy and fun to see John actually trying to be involved with people he cares about, and not just pass through them, bringing havoc and tragedy. 

NOW I'M NOT SAYING IT WON'T HAPPEN EVENTUALLY. I mean, come on, Constantine has a grimy track record of fucking shit up just because he was there in the wrong place during wrong time; albeit he does so unintentionally. But for now, at least I got to enjoy John and his friends reminiscing about their punk-band days (right before shit hits the fan later).

One of the things John and Rich got to reminisce was their friend Deanie who had a penchant for riding his bike for hours. One memorable acid trip that their group took together, Deanie goes off somewhere in his bike, hoping he could fly, and never to return. Fifteen years later, John found the poor bugger's corpse under a tree with his bike whilst his soul is trapped during a hellscape of civil war where people actually thought his apparition was a witch. For old time's sake, John rescued his soul, not really having the balls to break it to him that he has passed over already. But ultimately it didn't matter to either for them, especially for Deanie who wanted to fly while he is riding his bike--and now he could. It was a pretty poignant moment, and I appreciated the sentiment behind John's final gesture for a lost friend who has, in his own way, found closure.

Issue #92 marks the start of a major story arc for Paul Jenkins entitled Critical Mass, and so far I'm hooked. It picked up with John still hanging out with Rich and his family, while somewhere in Hell a demon named Buer is emo-ing about missing the First of the Fallen whom John has humiliated about three times now. Buer is a clingy piece of shit who seems to have unrequited feelings for First (while he loathes Lucifer Morningstar for abandoning Hell) and he tried to kill the pain of that loss by torturing children, both in their physical and spiritual states. After a while, he just couldn't take it anymore and went to see some witch and offered her a newborn baby so she could help him find the exact location of the First of the Fallen. He was in Greece, playing sailor who is afraid of pain, apparently? He's become mortal now (all thanks to Johnnie). Buer was livid and swore to avenge his lord liege/secret crush by personally delivering to him John Constantine.

Now remember when I said that sooner or later, John is going to fuck shit up, and his loved ones who are bystanders may end up a part of the savage mortality count? Yeah, it happened again like clockwork. This time, Buer targets the boy Syder to get to Constantine. He put himself inside the boy's body, demonic-possession style. And now John has to exorcise Buer out of the kid, no doubt, which would be a grueling process I am not at all looking forward to reading. But this is Hellblazer; and the worst part of it all is that in order to get a compelling story I can emotionally invest on, it's when John Constantine is sacrificing people or losing some bits of his humanity along the way. But that's just the way it goes. That's the familiar tune this series knows best to manipulate and keep playing. Oh, boy, here we go.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issues #89-90


I had just finished reading new writer Paul Jenkins' two-parter story in nineties Hellblazer in which readers witness John Constantine's pursuit and eventual and momentous interaction with a rainbow snake while he is slumming it up with the Aborigines in Australia. Yes, I did just write that loaded sentence, and I could just leave it as that. That sentence should suffice as my official review for issues #88-90 because, really, what more can be said? Isn't that statement vivid and colorful enough to make up for whatever arduous length I have planned of this review (which wouldn't be that much, mind you)? Let me be real now: reading Hellblazer after that surprise Delano issue #85 is sort of a little dire and baffling, five issues in. Like, I was properly pissed by Eddie Campbell's forgettable storyline about mad ghosts and murderous cats and whatever fuck-all end-of-the-world crisis Constantine managed to put a stop to. Now we have Paul Jenkins' two-parter which honestly reads like an acid trip. I don't want to get needlessly discriminatory all of a sudden BUT YES THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO DO NOW.

I think that even Vertigo's Hellblazer series wasn't safe from the general drought that has permeated the comics industry during the nineties. I mean, if I'm simply only basing this observation with Campbell's Warped Notions and Jenkins' two-parter, then, yeah, Hellblazer is sorta sucky at this point. Not that Jenkins' story wasn't compelling. I think there are a few parts of the issues that I enjoyed and even laughed at audibly while my brother is sleeping very comfortably next to me. I had to stare at a few of Sean Phillips' illustrations and just admire them too. I never really took special notice of the artist's work for Hellblazer (and Phillips has been a constant one), but I think I only do so when it's the only worthwhile thing to look at and appreciate in the story. Jamie Delano's writing was far too sublime and heavy in the symbolism at times too that Phillip's visual rendering take a backseat, and I don't get to comment on it as much, but I did so here with Jenkins' mystical exploration of an Australian myth where the 'whiteman' representative John Constantine battles a rainbow snake. 

It's basically like that horror movie Anaconda only while you're tripping balls and laughing at a few things in the background. Or--if you're well-versed in the arts of getting high in horror movies--it's how one should normally watch Anaconda. That's what Jenkins' two-parter story was in a nutshell...and nothing more. 

Now I'm sure there is some socio-political commentary about white man vs. the natives which I can tackle here in the review, but Jenkins' writing doesn't even warrant that. And I'm frankly never going to be in the mood to discuss themes like that for a formulaic, paranormal series. Garth Ennis did a piece like this with Damnation Flame and y'all should know how much I hated the piss out of that. Only Jamie Delano got it right with his clever satirical oneshot piece from an earlier issue. So, I would like to beseech future Hellblazer writers to stop inserting political themes in this series especially if they don't work. Like, oh my god, stop trying to make fetch (or political Hellblazer), guys!

But Mean Girls quote memes are still up-for-grabs!

So after the boring clusterfuck that was Warped Notions, Constantine is still stranded in Australia, and he decided to go on a dreamtime journey with the Aborigines who bemoan the sins of the white man. They paint him in spells and then made him blow a horn so he could fall into a trance and visit the water dwelling of the bitchy rainbow snake who has had enough shit about the white men populating the fertile areas of the Aborigines. I'm surprised John was able to blow that horn, considering how much cancer sticks he smokes a day. But he succeeds traveling in dreams and even gets to talk to a dead kangaroo. What a vision quest, amirite? Things only get serious when crabby-much rainbow snake was totes unwelcoming to John, which was odd because you would think that a cold-blooded reptile named 'rainbow' snake would be all buy-you-all-drinks fun and not a party pooper, but rainbow snake is exactly that. But at least the giant carnivorous fiend looks fab as shit:

This sexy beast should be a mascot for a gay pride parade. I mean, why isn't it already?

I have nothing more to say about this story. You can read the issues for yourself and leave me alone!

FINE, FINE, STILL RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hellblazer by Eddie Campbell issue #86-88


I've been reviewing comic book issues long enough to encounter some really shitty material that I often just post one official review that collects all of these issues just so I could get over discussing it, and move on to better stuff. However, I'd also do this with some of the greatest issues whose badass storytelling demand to be summarized in one post. This time, the remaining three issues (#86-88) that comprise the story arc written by Eddie Campbell entitled Warped Notions belongs to the unfortunate former. I read the three issues in one sitting and I can swear up and down to all the gods in Olympus and Asgard that I DID NOT UNDERSTAND A DAMN THING. Usually, Hellblazer issues are formulaic; a supernatural case calls the attention of John Constantine, some fucked-up shit goes down, and John either finds some helpful insight about his current personal troubles, or learns to accept that human nature can be so vile and wicked, and he has to deal with it in the best way he could. Writers like Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis provided rich stories that follow this formula, and some of them often stray away from this too, and they are often the most riveting and satisfying of arcs.

Tragically, Eddie Campbell did not live to any of his predecessor's accomplishments based solely on what he had come up with Warped Notions. It's not even comparable to the lesser works of Delano and Ennis (Fear Machine and Damnation's Flame respectively annoyed the hell out of me). That being said, those two lesser works actually made sense because they were building up to something, and each installment at least had some moments to it that made them bearable enough to see through the end. Warped Notions did not have any of this at all, which was why I didn't want to waste three more separate posts about it because I frankly don't have much to say, if not anything at all. From what I can gather, even Campbell himself doesn't know what's going on with his plot twists. First there were apocalyptic whispers, an alliance with spirits, then reality-breaking curses that made urban legends come true, then something called an Everything Virus where rain forests could stop it from spreading, and then the spirit of Sir Francis Dashwood betrays John and the world and its creation because he made this magic circle--OH MY GOD JUST TALKING ABOUT THEM AGAIN IS MAKING ME IRRITABLE!!




Sean Phillips' illustrations were at least a treat. Because of Campbell's many locations (some of them I can't even name because at this point I just wanted to finish this pointless story), Phillips was able to draw different landscapes and an ensemble of irrelevant and/or soon-to-be-dead characters whom I can't even give a damn about. I really don't know anymore. This entire Warped Notions arc was a waste of my time. It was inconsistent, muddled with details that don't have any long-term pay-off in the end, and characters who weren't even developed. Worst of all, John Constantine was jerked around in several places both metaphorically and literally, and in the end he resolved the matter in the most underwhelming way possible. He did not shine for this story at all. He did not make me laugh with his witty quips. He did not make me feel a damn thing--AND THAT IS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT IN ITSELF because John Constantine always makes me feel things.

Hopefully, the official replacement Paul Jenkins who is taking over for the next issues would do better and make me forget about this whole ordeal. For now, I would advise anyone reading Hellblazer chronologically to avoid issues #85-88 altogether because it would have no kind of impact at all in how you would appreciate this series. That's how much of a non-event it was. These have to be the lowest rated issues I've ever reviewed in the blog. That's saying something.

NOT RECOMMENDED: 4/10

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hellblazer by Eddie Campbell issue #85

It's officially the nineties for Hellblazer, y'all! And we have a brand new writer on the black named Eddie Campbell who is now about to give us a riveting story arc that we're supposed to sink our teeth in. From what I understand, Campbell is only going to be present for this arc alone, and a more constant writer by the name of Paul Jenkins will take over, making that guy the official successor of the entire line-up. So let's tackle the story arc entitled Warped Notions.

The premise issue #85 features a cover that at first I thought was a callback to the previous Delano issue about Chas' grandchild whom John refused to hold. I thought this was a sort of wish fulfillment scenario or something--but I was mistaken IN THE MOST HORRIBLE WAY POSSIBLE. But before we touch upon that, let us talk about what happened in the premise. John was consulted by a friend of his whose uncle was being possessed by apocalyptic visions of the future. He tried to exorcise him but failed spectacularly because the uncle, Arthur Shinbone, died in his bed. John wasn't too eager to tell the family how he fucked that up, so it was fortunate that a bunch of dead people greeted him in the living room instead.  

These unwelcome guests are spirits, and the spokesperson of the triad is the historical Sir Francis Dashwood, one of the founders of the original Hellfire Club. The other two companions who are less willing to see John are Bona Dea (a handicapped woman missing her arms, legs and eyes, resembling the Venus de Milo statue) and Murnarr, a giant cat. Sir Francis Dashwood sought for John Constantine's help about some case which I instantly forgot once I started typing this review.

Now that sounds neglectful, I know, but I'm sure I'll make up for it in my next review when things start making more sense later on because for now I don't think either Sir Francis or John have a clue as to what they are about to face. However, they are going to Philadelphia to track down more supernatural activity that has something to do with their case at hand. It's something to do with mobs. Yeah. Mobs are a product of 'the delicate power of terror' as Sir Francis creatively put it. People will riot about anything for any reason. Ah, the poor, gullible masses indeed. 

All I can gather for now aside from that socio-political stuff is that urban legends are coming true. One of them is a half-dead rodent climbing up a man's anus to eat his internals. Another is a baby sewed up to become a drug mule. The issue ended with that happy note where a dog apprehended a mother and her babe in the airport because the baby is apparently full of drugs inside. So that's where the cover idea came from! How quaint. This is a very short review and I promise that tomorrow I will come up with something that actually expounds the plot and the characters included. For now, the premise issue was baffling in a lot of places yet I'm still interested to see what Campbell intends to do with the story as it develops.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #84

Welcome back, everyone! It's officially the third wave of my Hellblazer comics diet, and it feels so good to be back, reading more of my most favorite troubled anti-hero, John Constantine. And what better way to start the diet than with a surprise Jamie Delano issue? In case you guys have forgotten (which is understandable since I haven't been reading/reviewing Hellblazer since August of last year), Jamie Delano is the first writer of the series itself, and he was succeeded by Garth Ennis since my second wave of Hellblazer reviews came around. 

I considered it a pleasant surprise only because I've developed a rather keen Stockholm Syndrome with Delano. I was held captive by his black comedy prose where he would often abuse me with a buttload of hurtful feels. I was so used to how much it hurts when I read Hellblazer that I don't think I would ever enjoy this series if it didn't make me feel like something is stabbing me in the chest or something. That's just how it goes.

Luckily for me, this eighty-fourth issue was an amusing standalone. And by "amusing", I'm also taking into account that Delano's signature penchant for the macabre and terrible is still a huge part  of it. This entire issue reminded me of his classic storylines back when he was still writing Hellblazer where humor and terror blended very well with each other. Issue #84 is entitled In Another Part of Hell, and man is it fucked up and super gross in a lot of places!

The last time we left John Constantine: he just broke up with arguably the love of his life Kit Ryan, became a drunken hobo and slummed it up with a sympathetic boy whore, killed the King of Vampires, got involved with some nasty racial strife in the streets, and finally duped the Devil for the third time (because the First of the Fallen is a real schmuck). Things hopefully will start looking up for Constantine this time. He hailed a cab driven by his best mate Chas Chandler, who was happy to see him again even though they had a recent falling-out post-Kit break-up. Chas also told John about his sixteen-year-old daughter getting knocked up and giving birth to a girl, and that Chas wanted John to be there and make nice with the family. John was not thrilled by the idea, considering he's going to have to deal with the missus, Trish, who never really liked him and will forever hold John responsible for all the shit in Chas' life every time he's around. She's not exactly wrong about that.

So Chas dropped off John in their house otherwise known as the Queen's Castle for reasons that John was just about to flashback to for readers' benefit. It turns out that Chas used to have a psychic, manipulative, and malicious mother named Queenie who would cast mischievous spells just to make Chas' life miserable. John was young and inexperienced as a mage and occultist then, and was essentially frightful of Queenie. He was living with Chas at that time because he had no place to go, and so Queenie started to have a little fun with John by having her familiar--a female monkey in a wig and a dress named Slag--spy him and torment him. Chas had complained and sought John's help about his mother and that damn monkey, and John was determined to help Chas; only because he wanted to gain the other bloke's trust because back then John considered friends as 'valuable' because they can be useful to his advantage. Constantine was young, jaded but thoroughly ambitious and filled with potentials. Getting rid of Queenie is a stepping stone for further greatness, I suppose.

The most unsettling aspect of this story was the blatant yet pseudo-bestiality between John and the monkey Slag, only because John tried to seduce the monkey herself and make her believe that John was developing feelings for her. John truly showcased superb acting skills that even Chas bought it! And unfortunately for Slag, so did she. It was pretty brutal--seeing John strangle and drown a monkey by the riverbanks just so he can mentally incapacitate Queenie and her magic since Slag is her familiar. It demonstrated just how ruthless John was then and how he would continue to be that way for the next years to come as his power go stronger. So John relived these memories while he waited for the Chandler family to come home. Trish was not pleased to see him again while Chas's daughter and grandchild felt differently. The issue ended with John begging them not to name the child 'Queenie'. It was delivered in a joking manner but we all know damn well he is serious. Queenie is finally gone, thanks to John's meddling, but he willingly admitted that the method he used to get rid of her was more than questionable and he will have to live with that, like most of his mistakes. What a fabulous way to start this comics diet wave!

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hellblazer Volume 8: Rake at the Gates of Hell by Garth Ennis

I'm going to address the elephant in the room before I begin to talk about the high points of this fourth Hellblazer collection written by Garth Ennis: the reason why the rating is only a solid 8 out of 10 stars--which is only a notch higher than the previous volume, Tainted Love. And that's all because of that regrettable story arc called Damnation's Flame that compelled me to remove two points from the collection as a whole. That left the worst aftertaste in my mouth. I don't want to waste anyone's time talking about its stupidity anymore; just know that it's the most singular flaw in an otherwise perfect wrap-up at the end with the amazing Rake at the Gates of Hell which is the titular story to watch out for in this volume.

The volume is comprised of issues #72-#84 but I only managed to individually review until #83 which is the last installment of Rake at the Gates of Hell. Between the mediocre hubbub that was Damnation's Flame and the masterpiece that was Rake, two standalone stories are squeezed in concerning the late Brendan, John's friend who is equally just as messed up as him, and Chas Chandler, John's unarguably most loyal mate whose friendship he almost completely lost since John broke up with Kit on bad terms. 


I think Ennis really shines with his standalone issues and I much preferred them to his major arcs. In fact, he had about seven of them now since he started his run and I only enjoyed two of them (Dangerous Habits and Rake). I think I would consider this as my third favorite volume because of Rake and I really wish that they didn't include that forgettable shite that was D.F. Fuck that shit.


So let's talk about Rake at the Gates of Hell. [SPOILERS AHEAD]


This introductory installment is written concisely but brutally in a manner so engrossing that I know Ennis is more than capable of delivering. There are some fucked-up scenes that chilled me to the bone. That opening one with Header talking about a wartime experience; that cringe-worthy racial assault against an African-American woman who was pushed down the stairs by an asshole police detective. The woman's son, who was being apprehended for planted drugs in his room, shoots the motherfucker in the arm and he falls down the window, bleeding profusely which he only deserved. On the more personal side of the narrative, John is currently shagging a black woman named Sarah who knows she's only there to warm his bed and is not happy about it, especially when John tried to help a woman named Helen, a former, uh, "bed-warmer" who is now a junkie prostitute obsessed with her pimp, Phil because he's been dosing her up senseless. John took pity on her but ended up slightly rejecting Sarah and she doesn't look like she would take kindly to that. I'm interested to see the kind of conflict this relationship will lead to. Sarah seemed nice enough. I hope to get to know her.


Meanwhile, Astra approached the First of the Fallen with a promise of retribution against John Constantine to which they will both reap many benefits from. She claimed to have found a way to undo the tangled-up contract that Constantine got him and the rest of his devil-brothers to participate in. This said contract disabled any of them from getting John's soul because that would result to a civil war among them so it was best for the three of them to keep John alive and to make sure his soul is untouched. But Astra, who had nothing more to do in Hell but plot and scheme for ways to destroy the man who damned her there, reassured the First of the Fallen that she had found a loophole. The issue ends with the Devil looking celebratory as fuck as he prepared to move his first piece in the chess game.

There is an ancient law that states that when a demon is bested three times by a mortal then this demon would receive eternal torment instead. John Constantine has tricked the First of the Fallen (Satan himself) about three actual times now. FotF, however, refuses to acknowledge the last con as an official one and begins to plot his next move to take down John. Although these two first met in Ireland when John was visiting his friend Brendan to ask for help, John and FotF go way back. They had an indirect contact when John was infected by Nergal with demon blood under orders of FotF himself so when John has sexual congress with the second Mary (Zed), he will taint her and she will become an unsuitable vessel to birth out a new Messiah for Heaven.

Their first real face-to-face encounter was not very pleasant. First Fallen was supposed to snag Brendan's soul which the poor sod sold in exchange for the world's finest collection of wines. John helps a brotha out by duping First into drinking holy water which rendered hin weak enough for John to beat him up and help Brendan pass over to Heaven when First's claim of his soul expired. Anger and hilariously shamed, First Fallen vowed to take John's soul the moment he dies of lung cancer. John tricked him the second time when he brokers his soul to not one but two other devils, Beelzebub and Azazel. The three now have legitimate claim but cannot risk going to war to fight one another in exchange of claiming one mortal's soul. So they had to cure John of cancer and let him live. This all went down in the Dangerous Habits arc, and man it was hilarious.

Interestingly enough, this story isn't just about John's duel with the Devil. There is a nuanced and troubling story involving the secondary characters of African-British decent and their violent conflicts with the police. It's a subplot that is riveting and chilling on its own, focusing on a character named George who is running away from law enforcement that doesn't give a shit about his civil rights and therefore would gladly be rid of him. And he fights back and his struggle may have some sort of parallel to John's but his own cavalry is unique on its own and I don't want to compare it to John's experience at hand because they are fundamentally very, very different. The situation for this arc reminds me of The Master and Margarita novel which makes use of the Devil and the concept of Hell to highlight important socio-political strifes in Russia. The devil character in that book is both literal and symbolic and equally functions at both. I don't think Ennis himself is attempting for the same effect but it has come off to me that way nevertheless and that's really awesome. Ennis can write satire if he doesn't force it down our throats like that regrettable Damnation's Flame (I swear to Loki this is the last time I'm mentioning that story arc again).

Personally, the two most notable contributions that Ennis bequeathed the Hellblazer series is the iconic Dangerous Habits and the character of Kit Ryan whom John began a meaningful monogamous relationship with. She was a great breath of fresh hair that stands out from the previous women John only shacked up with and then nearly destroyed once the affair burned cold. Kit was sincere, beautiful, assertive and devoted to John in a way that does not diminish her person, and that's why I thought she was a great companion to John when it lasted. But it didn't, mostly because Kit does not want to have anything to do with the crazy, dark side of being with a man as haunted as John; and the moment she got a taste of that, she was left with no choice but to discontinue the relationship. I find it brave and wise of her to make such a decision. Most women would stick around for their man, believing they can fix or save him if they loved him hard enough. Not someone as sensible like Kit though.

She really, really loved John for who he is and not what he could become and that was something I will always adore her for. In this issue, they finally had one night together to talk about how both of them fucked up their break-up conversation since Kit has got quite a temper and John purposefully got her angry at him just to avoid a more mature conversation. And now they are having said talk and I can tell it was cathartic for both parties especially to me as a reader who has been a supporter of this couple from the very beginning. They were old friends; Kit was the ex of the late Brendan, one of John's mates and possibly the only one aside from Chas who had always understood what John is all about perfectly. Kit loved John not because of his charisma or infamy as a occultist but rather because she could see through that costume and acknowledge the insecure man underneath who does long for a stable, home life and she was eager enough to provide him that.

The last installment was almost as satisfying as the ending for Dangerous Habits. It had been a fast and unpredictable roller coaster that paid off with a satisfying and humane conclusion. John moves on from his heartbreak over losing Kit, he finally learns to forgive himself over his friends' often unhealthy attachment to him which gets them in trouble, and he saved a woman he cared about from utterly destroying her life into shambles. Those are the small victories that matter in life, and sure, having his ally Ellie kill the Devil was an amazing feat but John could hardly take credit for that so he focuses on the one thing he can feel triumphant about; and that is to live another day, wiser, more evolved and less afraid. 

Bravo, Mr. Ennis. This has been a very spectacular story arc! I expect more great things from now on. But this is the last issue for my second wave of comics diet for Hellblazer. I'm coming back next year, probably earlier. I'm not sure yet, but maybe around May which is John's birthday month. In the meantime, as John said in the last installment of Rake

"Goodnight and God Bless. Now go fuck off to bed!"


RECOMMENDED: 8/10