Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #21

The God of All Gods, the namesake of this issue, not only heightened the gloom and macabre, but also maintained the pacing and intrigue of the story as we finally get closer to the climax and resolution of the whole thing. We continue to follow the way the events unravel which apparently leads to the rise of the creature within the Fear Machine, the one called--gah, I can never seem to type it without always double-checking--Jallakuntilliokan, otherwise known as G.O.A.G, an abbreviation that I more than appreciate. For future references, let's just shorten the name of that motherfucker from here on since it's not a mouthful.

So after the revelation of this creature, John Constantine felt its presence in his consciousness and flips the fuck out and leaves his companions in a hurry. This is rather unfortunate because just as the Fellowship was established in the last issue, it was quickly disintegrating, especially when Simon, Geoff and Sergei were mysteriously abducted and placed inside a cage, awaiting judgment and execution from a certain fanatic asshole/hired help Webster who gleefully decorates the ceiling of the Fear Machine with decapitated heads. So, it's a good thing I never had high hopes of these three men surviving at all because (1) This is fucking Hellblazer; (2) They sealed their fates when they became associated with John Constantine; (3) It serves the plot long-term, I suppose.

As for John, he started talking to this politician about general corruption stuff of the UK government that has paranormal underpinnings plus the impending apocalyptic shite that they are about to get smacked against. And then John left with Chas and ended up being in the same fast-food joint as the missing Mercury. As the fucking fates would have it, no? And I am not complaining because I quite liked the fact that finding Mercury isn't this big rescue mission with fireworks and all that. I'm glad she managed to escape by herself and just happened to run into John. Besides, y'all should know by now I enjoy these two together and their quasi-father-daughter dynamics. They have the best chemistry yet. So this scene just made me squeal:

At this point I don't want either of them to go back to Marj because I never liked that...boring person of a character. I want John to just take Mercury away so they can have adventures together! But then again, this is Hellblazer and no one gets what they want and Marj is apparently still relevant here because she's Merc's mother and is currently shacking up with Zed in sapphic paradise so I guess I can  begrudgingly live with that. I think Zed has become more interesting this time around, and I certainly hope she gets page time with Constantine soon enough.

The rest of the story was okay, with lots of great artwork featuring heaps of gore, death and delirious psychic landscapes. At this point I'm just relieved that the Fear Machine story is coming to an end. My expectations are set. I'm expecting a few more deaths, some surly monologues from John, a few gratuitous shags courtesy of either Marj or Zed, and hopefully more of Mercury demonstrating her prowess. Three issues to go and I can't wait for what the next installments will reveal.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #20

"A traitor to a cause can still be loyal to love. Treachery has its price but love is its own reward." ~Dr. Philip Fulton

HOT DAMN! This has been a really thrilling issue to read. I'm so happy that Hellblazer is making the most of its formula again. When the Fear Machine storyline started, it struggled to find its footing and I had to go through those motions as well. There was just something off about the set-up sometimes that I can't help but disengage every now and then.

But here comes a whiplash of great suspense and action though so all is forgiven!

I want to talk about Dr. Philip Fulton first, a character I shockingly gave a shit about in his final moments for this issue. He was originally introduced as a villain, one of the scientists who had been keeping Mercury away so they can learn and utilize her psychic powers. He eventually develops genuine feelings for her though, and even aided her escape from the facility. Merc does not share his feelings which was understandable (I recall that her first contact with Fulton was when she had a premonition of his death so it's quite difficult to connect with a man you know will die brutally). Still, Fulton made the most of their moments together like they're in a play-date or something, even if he knew Merc was merely pretending to like him. As soon as she does run away from him, he does not even do anything to stop it. Unfortunately for him, he will be punished for his betrayal of...whatever fucking organization he works for.  Is it the Freemasons? They were the ones who were responsible for the horrific train incident from issue #17. They could also be Webster's employers. Who the bloody hell is Webster, you ask? The creepy shit who strangled Simon and stuffed him in the closet, that's who, and is apparently the muscle/hired killer of the Big Bad. But anyway, I'm not paying that much attention to the Big Bads for this storyline because I'm more interested in John and his, er, amusingly spur-in-the-moment Fellowship.

Speaking of which, John is now with Simon the journalist and Geoff the cop when they entered the premises of a certain Russian scientist named Sergei Antonov whom John had previously rescued from the bat-shit train of murderous rampage. How did he repay this, you ask? By bitch-slapping John with a lampshade, that how! Misunderstandings aside, John explained who they are why they came for him and then invited him to join their crusade. After all, each man has a clear purpose of the mission (Geoff's is personal, wanting to find the ones who drove his wife to kill herself; Simon's is a matter of integrity, wanting to uncover their identities and expose them to the public; and Sergei just wants peas--I'm sorry, he actually meant peace, forgive the thick Russian accent). I may be making fun of Sergei right now but he said something that I feel will have a thematic resonance later on:

"Fear is the whip that makes us slaves."

So, now led by John Constantine, the Fellowship (which I will now refer them as in the coming issues) will make sense of the chaos that the otherworldly threat that is the Fear Machine presents. I sure hope that none of them dies or at least die BECAUSE OF John, whether directly or indirectly. But then again, Constantine has a reputation of causing the deaths of people in contact with him so I won't have high hopes for a clean, happy ending when this storyline does conclude.

Let me just jump back to Fulton again. I mentioned that his death is imminent and such death comes in the form of Webster the hangman and eloquent speaker (seriously, for a brawn he is surely verbose and poetic in speech). I actually felt bad when Fulton was hanged over the bridge even if I already saw this incident in Merc's vision in the earlier issues. His feelings for Merc, and his choice to let her go, have effectively redeemed his character so that his death, no matter the pitiful reason that inspired it, was made poignant because it was painted to be a meaningful sacrifice.

The last four pages are the best parts of the issue because Webster has performed a devastating ritual (that includes butchering a little boy, goddammit, Hellblazer, why?!)  to summon this creature called Jallakuntilliokan that apparently is growing within the machine itself. Whoever it is, it's coming out and everyone (from Mercury to Marj and Zed somewhere in hippie paradise, and the Fellowship led by John) will witness the hell that it is about to unleash.


Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #19

"These days we all need a hand to hold--in the dead of night when the rain dashes itself in blind waves against the windows. When fear seeps, pooling in every vague depression--diluting and dissolving us, diminishing us--suspending us drifting in a submarine world. When you're drowning, any hand will do."

I was pretty outspoken in my reviews about how the first three issues of the Fear Machine storyline made me disinterested in general (in retrospect, I now realize those were set-ups for the main stage), and it was only until the fifth issue that I felt like the story finally found its voice. The slow-burn quality of this storyline has finally paid off, however, with the sixth and seventh installments. This issue entitled The Broken Man picks up the pacing yet again and it thankfully continues to improve with the next one after this as well. 

The first thing I want to discuss is Mercury, a character I've had a penchant for since the beginning. She had been abducted by some scientists because she has psychic abilities and they use those powers within this invention they call the Fear Machine. Finally, we understand better how Mercury actually performs her tasks within its mainframe, and what they are specifically. From what I can understand, Merc is rooting out people's night terrors. They have a roster of patients in the facility that they would allow Merc to help and she would get inside their heads and extract their nightmares. This is not an absolute cure, however, because Merc explains that these terrors come back every now and then and she has to repeat the process for as many times as it takes. And she does it voluntarily, acknowledging that for once in her life she is finally doing good deeds with her gifts. It makes her all the more interesting too, especially the depth of compassion she has for the people who are plagued by such horrible things in their sleep. She may be afraid herself because she has no idea what the motives of the scientists were and how it will affect her, but she is bravely making the most of her circumstances, and doing something worthwhile for other people. For this, I just absolutely adore her. Still, she knows that she can't stay there forever so she started to plot her escape, employing the help of Dr. Philip Futon (who seems to be quite infatuated with her) most especially after she uncovers a deadly code shared among her captors that she may have no power over, even if she is a talented psychic.

On the flip side of that coin, her mother Marj is still getting on my nerves, most probably because a series of interesting things might be happening to her but she remains remotely uninteresting. For this issue, we see her canoodling with a certain character from the earlier issue who was supposedly dead. Can I just spoil it because it's been hovering since issue #16---it's no other than John's ill-fated former shag buddy Zed (otherwise known as Mary). She's some sort of a witch doctor now, and she and Marj are apparently getting sapphic. But I really couldn't give a shit.

Now moving on to John Constantine himself. He's been so focused since he got back from his sabbatical. Clean-shaven and sporting a dark leather coat, John looks the part of  man who means business, and he has been on the right track since. He also seemed to be gathering like-minded men who are following the same cause as he iw. For this issue, he got to talk with journalist Simon Hughes who could have died if John didn't got him out of that closet where he was tied up and near asphyxiation. It's a really horrid way of to kill someone (Simon is later revealed as a gay man which is why stuffing him in the closet has that level of hate crime to it that is hard to miss). Another precious gem for this issue is Neil Gaiman's Morpheus from The Sandman who makes a cameo appearance (I did mention that I first encountered John in Preludes and Nocturnes where he accompanied Morpheus in retrieving his sand pouch from a junkie ex-girlfriend). Those three panels made me really giddy. Right after that charming side mission, John goes back to his original goal at hand which is to find Merc and take care of the people who took her. With Simon tagging along, John meets up with police officer Geoff Talbot (from issue #18) whom they convince to join their crusade. While on the subway, this bum, who had been following John since the first page of the issue, walks up to him, reciting gibberish about being a broken man. And then he shoves a piece of paper into John's mouth and jumps off the train. He shouted "Jallakuntilliokan!" Good times.

Recovering from the shock of that sudden (and comical) physical assault, John takes out the paper and opens it up. Simon looks at it and trembles. He recognized the symbol and it was the design on the ring of the very man who strangled and stuffed him in the closet. The issue ends with that ominous revelation and I love it!

I'm getting pretty excited with the turn of events by now. The villains are now on focus and John is becoming insanely hotter and more irresistible when he shows this level of focus and dedication on the mission at hand. 

What more could I ask from Hellblazer?


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #18

"I've become the proverbial mad, bad and dangerous to know."

Now we are finally heading somewhere that's cohesive and substantial! Hellblazer has been such a chore to read for me lately, and I have to admit that since The Fear Machine storyline started, I was half-asleep reading through issues 14-16 only because I wasn't that interested with its premise. But that's about to change now, thankfully.

To recap: After defeating the demon who bested him in Newcastle, John Constantine went under the radar to ensure that he doesn't get falsely arrested for the murders of his former landlady and another friend. In doing so, he took shelter in a hippie community led by Eddy (who I think is some sort of modern shaman?) and met the mother and daughter Marj and Mercury who seemed to play the role of a surrogate family of his for the time being. I can't help but insist on that interpretation, given the weight of impact that issue #13 (the dream-sequence story I loved so much) had on me. 

In that dream, John's subconscious reveals that he longs for a quiet, stable life with a family but also readily negates that possibility because of the consequences that might happen that could stem from living a dangerous life which he chose when he embraced mysticism and the occult. 

This is why I feel that his relationships with Marj and Mercury are echoes of that desire, and when Merc was abducted by some scientists who appear to be building a machine with the use of psychics to fuel it (hence the 'Fear' machine, get it?), John forces himself out of his funk to rescue her and bring her back home safely to Marj. It does feel like John identifies with these women as an extension of a family he wish he could have, and that means that finding Mercury has now become a personal mission for him as well. I'm just happy to see John doing stuff again even if that means placing himself in screwed-up situations yet again (see last issue, #17). I stated before that I enjoy Mercury's character and her interactions with John and I maintain that she's still beguiling to read about, especially in this issue where we get to see her showcase the extent and effectiveness of her psychic abilities. Meanwhile, John continues to investigate and uncovers more vital clues that have now placed him in the right direction to find Merc. While in pursuit of a person of interest, he stumbles inside that person's lodgings and discovers an appalling sight (and the issue ends with a cliffhanger). Typical night for our John Constantine, I say.

In addition to that, I believe this issue is quite literal in scope too, if I may add. Entitled Hate Mail and Love Letters, the story started with mail correspondences with an unknown character (whose significance will be later revealed) and the letters exchanged between John and Marj. I still don't like Marj, okay? Can we just get that out of the way? She's so insufferably dull. Moving on. In line with that theme, we also get scenes of Mercury writing her experiences with the Fear Machine in a diary. I'm glad for that expository courtesy by Delano because, through Mercury's writings, I was able to understand better and get a clearer picture of what these scientists are up to and it's morally repugnant. After all, if you can fuse psychic power with scientific research and create some machine to infiltrate people's minds and cure them of their mental 'terrors' then why the fuck not? I'm highly suspicious at this point because this is Hellblazer and people are assholes and life on earth is hell so there is more to the Fear Machine than a simple altruistic invention. I almost don't want to know.

On a positive note, my ratings are improving again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #17

After three issues of non-action where we got to see John Constantine get cozy with hippies and runaways while also becoming a reluctant father figure to a mysterious young girl (whilst shagging the mother), this issue entitled Fellow Traveler moves the story along by also showcasing a well-executed macabre sequences of train passengers destroying each other in a frenzy of gore and delirium. Great stuff, but nothing out of the ordinary in the vein of stories that Hellblazer usually tell.

I rather enjoyed the narrative for this story as well. Delano's stylistic language can get verbose in the wrong place sometimes (I can't exactly remember which issues were they but there were instances that I didn't appreciate the quality of the narrative in those because they feel too on-the-nose, description-wise) but I believe that the atmosphere and tonality of the story at hand demands Delano's kind of prose. The scenes for Fellow Traveler were gruesome with a touch of dark comedy here and there to even out the rough edges. I suppose the humor comes from the fact that John Constantine YET AGAIN finds himself in the most compromising situations and has to ONCE AGAIN withstand and survive the ordeal. It's funny because it's depressing as hell. We all have to find something amusing in Hellblazer, okay? I swear to the gods that sometimes it's the only way, if not the best way, to get through most of its issues. So, for this issue, John just found himself smacked in a nightmare train while ghouls and murderers feasted on one another all around him. I believe that's considered a Wednesday in this man's life, Jesus bloody Christ! With the kind of chaotic cacophony that the man has to deal with in a regular basis, can we really blame him for losing his mind every now and then, chain-smoking like a chimney, or learning to be crass and harsh when it comes to his decision-making and expression of views regarding humanity and the world in general? I dare anyone to walk a mile in John Constantine's shoes and make it out intact. Seriously. I DARE ANY OF YOU to see and feel the things he had and come out unscathed in spite of it.

I think that my admiration and respect for John grows every issue even if, at the same time, it distresses me and makes me very uncomfortable to see him make a wrong turn or forsake a loved one. It's certainly getting hard for us readers to get on a ride horse and judge him harshly for his actions when we have no goddamn clue what it's like to experience the horrors he has to face every day and still find something generous and resilient in his spirit to bear it all. John Constantine may not be likable. He may not be heroic or noble. But he is nevertheless a man with admirable qualities, scarce and often hidden as they may be (because John also has a tendency to downplay these things, most probably because he is uncomfortable of the positive attention he might garner, seeing as he seems to like cultivating a loathsome persona as part of his self-preservation tactics). The bottom line is that I LOVE JOHN CONSTANTINE. He may be damaged goods but it makes him curiously functional. One has ot be equals parts of brave and crazy to do the things he does and face the things in the darkest of darkness that neither you and I can ever handle.

We got to see Mercury less in this issue for now but her role in the story proves to be promising. I certainly hope she won't be another Zed. She seems like a second chance for John to redeem himself from that earlier fuck-up.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #16

"Now I know where I stand. I've taken sides, made a commitment. I'm going back to war--but this time I know what I'm fighting for."

Oh, John. Sometimes you say, do and feel things that greatly upset me; but only because I can see myself saying, doing and feeling the same things. That's what makes it almost impossible for me to keep reading Hellblazer so farIt's rather interesting, however, that I feel more connected to John now than I ever was before when I started reading. I feel like seeing John interact with other people in the last three two issues; how he tries to fit in and accept the eccentric way of life of the community he's been a part for weeks now, has helped soften the harshness of the earlier strokes he's been painted with.

Little by little (and oh-so-subtly), John is learning to grow from his mistakes since Newcastle. He's also starting to show how much he cares about people's feelings instead of tuning them out in fear of exposing his own vulnerability. If we follow that progressing characterization, then The Fear Machine storyline will be an enjoyable experience. I think the narrative itself merely serves to further John's character more than anything, particularly when it comes to his relationships with the mother and daughter Marj and Mercury.

This issue is the third instalment of said storyline, and finally there's an actual plot to follow and look forward to. The latter one is still something I can't confidently say is happening for me right now but then again I'm getting the sense that Mercury will be a central figure for the next issues and that is an encouraging thought because I really like her. I think she's just so engaging and mesmerizing every time she's in the pages so my sympathy for her continues to deepen. Her interactions with John are just endearing because the surrogate father-daughter dynamic is very much alive between them, most especially now that John has shagged the mother. As for Marj, I don't think I care much about her and every time she has a conversation with John, I would either roll my eyes in annoyance or sigh deeply out of dread (or boredom). There's not a degree of excitement in their sexual congress either. With Zed, I felt a spark at least. With Marj, I feel like John wants comfort sex and Marj is giving him pity sex so it all evens out, apparently.

I did like that panel at the beginning where Marj and John were sleeping after their shag and Mercury was on the top bunk (THE ENTIRE TIME of shagging as we found out last issue) and then she creeps down and tries to get in bed with the two of them, particularly next to John. There was a timely interruption courtesy of the plot, so we never got to see John's reaction in case he wakes up and realizes that Merc has made herself comfortable beside him under the sheets next to her mother. That would have been hilarious, I bet. I know for a fact John would ask her gently to get out of bed (or at least to move to her mother's side if she gets insistent on lying in bed with them). But just imagining the conversation itself is already making me giggle. As for Merc's decision to do that: she struck me as lonely and in need of affection, and seeing her mother and this man she is quite fond of sleeping in a bed, looking very warm and inviting--why wouldn't she try to be a part of that? There's no malice in her part when she tried to get under the sheets with John (though yeah, he's naked). For Merc, she has a right to John because she found him first but such a justification lacked any kind of sexual overtone. It's a child's logic which is all the more poignant for me to read.

The quote I used at the beginning of this review was optimistic. The sabbatical has come to an end and harsher realities have to be dealt with, now that another girl's life is at stake. John looks primed and ready for another round of battle He exudes calm, determination and confidence, something I haven't seen him in a while. I'm excited! I can't wait to see what he plans to do next. Also, more of Mercury, please. She's such a delight to read, and I definitely want more of her and John together.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #15

What a schizophrenic issue this has been for John Constantine and the readers themselves. As the continuation of The Fear Machine storyline, Shepherd's Warning is decidedly blunt with its core narrative and yet weirdly evasive at the same time especially when it comes to the real significance of the story I'm currently following at this point. I gotta be honest: I don't care enough to know what's going to happen next, and my only connection to Hellblazer right now is our ruggedly handsome and inconsistently aggravating titular hero, and even that remaining source of interest is becoming muddled with confusion and annoyance at best.

I'm not really sure how I would even review Hellblazer now when the story it's currently hinged on is nothing that excites or intrigues me but I do try everything to keep myself invested in what I'm reading which has proven sadly strenuous. I truly hate it when reading feels obligatory and books that make me feel this way are often the ones I never bother to pick up anymore. Hellblazer continues to cruise that fine line but I'm not giving it up, of course, seeing as I've made a commitment and  I do believe that some promising events are starting to take shape in this issue that could unfold in the next ones.

I would like to discuss the details of that but I fear that even I can't comprehend yet what I just saw, especially when John Constantine himself acts as an unreliable narrator (which is something we can't blame him for, seeing as he was drugged and was therefore hallucinating). What's more fun than reading the delusion sequence of a drug-addled passively cynical occultist-on-the-run? As it turns out, everything else because this is such a painful state of mind to find John Constantine in, a man who is an inherently resourceful survivalist who basically lives his life as a constant middle finger aimed at the powers-that-be, but ironically keeps finding himself around (hell, maybe even unknowingly seeks out) people and situations that test the limits of his self-preservation instincts.

Story of John Constantine's life, I guess.

As much as I claimed not to like the direction of the series at this point, I could still find worthwhile gems along the way, such as John's surprisingly great chemistry with the child-woman Mercury who seems to me feels like a surrogate daughter he wish he had. Mercury makes a comment about the fact that John, in the heat of the moment, calls her his "little girl" which is something quite endearing and a little sad (when we remember his dream from issue #14 about his mutant two-headed seal offspring). In addition to that, John finally shags the mother, Marj, in this issue. It's a relationship that never appealed to me (even in the later parts for Dangerous Habits). I actually would prefer to read more about John and Merc's interactions. I just feel like they had a more complex interplay, and I certainly feel that John should be hanging around someone of the opposite sex who isn't a possible shag-buddy. And Merc is exactly that and she provides him with a center (based from what I've read about so far). She also shows him a more humane sort of compassion towards John than her mother does, and I say this because I think Marj is sexually attracted to John from the get-go and desires no more than just a physical closeness. It feels really empty when the intimacy can only be sexual and I feel that John always required more. Meanwhile, I feel as if John and Merc connected as easily as they had because they have a lot in common; both are sensitive souls trying to make sense of the chaos in their lives. That's why I enjoy reading them together because Merc could easily be a reflection of who he is trying to suppress using some sort of falsehood of machismo; a younger, less sardonic female counterpart who can understand the self-inflicted damage he had been casually prone to, and perhaps even learn to deal with through Merc's aid.

That's not to say John hasn't been trying. There are a few instances he tries to be personable, tries to engage and interact earnestly with the other members of the community. And it's rather heartbreaking because we come to know John as someone who purposefully hardened himself; who wore his sense of anarchy and arrogance on the outside to drive away anyone that will try to harm him and, in consequence, even the ones who might even love him. 

Well, okay, that's enough of my indulgent Constantine psychoanalysis for now. I'll save that up for the next issues and hopefully they'll be more thrilling to read.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #14

This issue opens with John Constantine once again having vivid and symbolic nightmares. We covered this already and I'm frankly more interested in the stuff happening in his head than what is around him. However, Touching the Earth strategically places our titular hero in direct interactions with people (and for once no one gets killed or dies horribly--yet). It's truly queer to watch unfold, honestly, considering the social awkwardness on John's part is so palpable it's slightly humorous. Actually, reading this issue has made me either smile of chuckle to myself because I've enjoyed seeing John in a lighter shade where he's not harming his friends, getting chased down by demons and ghosts or brooding about his failures and regrets. That's all fun, sure, but it's just so refreshing to see John acting like a normal human being for once even if he's anything but stable and well-adjusted.

I was also quite pleased to see Marj and Mercury here (I encountered them in Dangerous Habits volume) and to also understand the difference between John's treatment of either of them. Mercury is a young girl though I agree with John that it's simply hard to tell if she's only a child of ten or twelve years or already a teenager. She was the one who finds John while he tries to escape the cops (apparently, he's now a fugitive because of what happened in his old flat where his landlady and a friend were brutally murdered which was, once again, something John is indirectly responsible of). Merc was clearly fascinated with him and brings him to her community. Said community is composed of runaways, activists and your usual pariahs led by a man named Eddy whose real identity seems to be shrouded in complete mystery. Meanwhile, John has no problem cozying up with these people. He does, after all, need to stay low-key until the murder charges against blow over. So far I think it's great to see John in such a unremarkable scenario and with strangers who are easily just as aimless and laid-back as he currently is. Sometimes, though, I forget that this comic is written in the eighties therefore a few commentaries about UK politics and atmosphere would slip in every now and then. This issue gave us conversations explaining the living conditions of these people and why they are a traveling community in the first place. Now I don't really care much for this but it is still rather nice for Delano to contextualize the times that Constantine is a part of, and how such factors can become significant, depending whether or not the writer himself would consider it relevant (just like in Go For It issue #4 which was one of my favorite satires in Hellblazer so far).

Still, my feelings for this issue are rather lukewarm. There is no excitement here or any grand turning point for the story. It's just John acting like a normal bloke, hanging out with some people just to get away from the usual drama and chaos of his life. So this is like some sort of a self-imposed sabbatical and I like that he's doing this especially because I enjoy his interactions with Mercury (and Marj, to a lesser extent, even though I feel like he has a much richer interplay with Merc).


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Volume 2: The Devil You Know by Jamie Delano

Unlike the first collected edition which was composed of nine issues, this second volume has only five (issues #10-13 and Annual #1).  The Devil You Know didn't have the same atmosphere as its predecessor volume did but that's most probably due to the length of the collection itself which was shorter and did not have that much action-oriented content.

As I write this overall review, I look back at my individual analysis of each issue starting from #10 and I realized that the only two issues that stood out for me were #11 where the game-changing events of Newcastle were revealed and the dream-sequence narrative of #13 (which got an impressive perfect scoring for me due to my personal bias towards dream-sequence narratives in general here in comics (which I don't normally come across) and in film. I did have a soft spot for the Annual issue which had fifty-three pages of interesting backstory and exposition about John Constantine's lineage that is strongly linked to mysticism and magic. Other than that, this second volume was serviceable, supposedly collecting issues that have the thematic resonance of what the volume's title implies. I would like to point out, however, why issues #14-16 could not be included. Their content could still fit with The Devil You Know. I just finished reading them and they were not at all included in any volume of the Hellblazer trade paperbacks.

Weirdly enough, the next volume of the series Rare Cuts is composed of issues that are not in chronological order at all (reprint of #11 and then #25-26, #35, #56, #84). What is up with that? This worries me. I suppose this only means that I won't be reviewing any collected editions after this and strictly do individual reviews then. Somehow, I'm just puzzled as to why the trade paperbacks for Hellblazer did not collect the issues chronologically, which meant that if I ever want to buy hard copies, I'm going to have to look for old individual issues that were excluded (and where the hell would I find those these days?). But fuck it, I digress. Back to the review. This was a rather short volume with limited stories but the content (particularly #11, #13 and the Annual) are fascinating and thrilling, providing us yet again with searing characterizations and disturbing imagery and epiphanies about the life and times of our anti-hero John Constantine and his paranormal misadventures. At this point you don't need to force yourself to like John as a character or even as a person of complex desires and selfish motivations. It would not at all deter from your overall enjoyment of Hellblazer stories. Personally, I love him and dislike him in several occasions but nothing that truly makes me outright hate him. I maintain that he's still my favorite thing about the series (that and because I'm beginning to feel certain feelings of affection and attachment towards him, but that's my issue. Y'all should know by now that I dig the damaged ones!)


Monday, August 18, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano Annual #1

This was a rather creative annual issue with fifty-three pages worth of exposition and action that focus on the mysticism and old magic that have surrounded John Constantine's lineage, particularly in his ancestral roots. It turns out that he's a direct descendant of a king named Kon-Sten-Tyn, a replacement of the fallen and broken king Arthur Pendragon, and was actually the true Once and Future King after all (or so Kon-Sten-Tyn claims, which can be easily accepted, considering the lengths he had gone through to ensure the stretch of his immortality). We got a delightful ensemble of characters for this issue entitled The Bloody Saint including the surprising yet welcomed appearance of Eve (who was still a crone here, it was only in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman that she got beautified).

Speaking of The Sandman: I did mention before that it was in Preludes and Nocturnes where I first met John. But a few volumes later, I got acquainted with one his predecessors, Johanna Constantine in Fables and Reflections, and she had the gift for the paranormal and the occult as well, so it wasn't really that difficult for me to believe that Constantine comes from a long line of mystics and conjurers. He himself takes pride in his patronage of the dark arts after all. I don't want to discuss every page for this annual because that would be unfair for anyone who wants to experience the story for him/herself but I will say that it's a pretty solid one. It's less about John himself after the Newcastle ordeal (we get to see brief scenes of him wandering about in Ravenscar Correctional Facility, losing his damn mind due to guilty conscience), considering this was truly more about his ancestor Kon-Sten-Teyn who has re-defined assholery and self-entitlement like a motherfucker, tormenting the old wizard Merlin who used to be his mentor and friend, and well, does a series of unforgivable, selfish acts that makes John look harmless with his own set of narcissistic impulses and decisions. I am in no way denying that what we have come to know and understand about John so far is false. He can be a jerk by choice. He can be unintentionally harmful to the people around him, especially if you're his loved one. But I'm just saying that this annual issue does a good job providing us with a backstory from centuries ago which explained that perhaps such destructive habits are cultivated by all Constantines before John, and that it most probably runs in the blood because Kon-Sten-Teyn, the father of that douchery, has indirectly cursed his family tree, spreading the sickness of his corrupted soul to generations upon generations after him.

Like I said, I won't expound too much. The paragraph above is really all I can say, lest I spoil your enjoyment of reading this for yourself. But it's a very comparable scenario, the actions of the ancestor with that of his current descendant; yet I believe that John is not the piece of shit we are starting to think he is, or he believes he is; not when you contrast him with Kon-Sten-Teyn who was just so...hateful. It ties back to that dream-sequence narrative we get in issue #13 where we do see a vulnerable and tender side to John. He is not completely driven by his lust for power or blinded by his disregard for other people in the name of self-importance. There is still a goodness to him that is unmistakable when we do see him in his weakest and humane of moments. John does care but is unable to show the extent of his concern in appropriate and universally acceptable ways because he is Kon-Sten-Teyn's hair--and that comes with the steep price of the frequent assholery and condescending cynicism.

But it's obvious that the Hellblazer series has painted him as an anti-hero of questionable morals and actions, so it shouldn't surprise us when we find ourselves liking him the least as we read on. Personally, I think John Constantine is a worthy titular character because he forces us to look at the darkness in our own reflections. He is able to make us very uncomfortable only because he exposes the bad things that we are all capable of, and the kind of repercussions and ramifications that entail; ones which we can hardly face ourselves when we are dealt with cards that are not always in our favor. But there is also a saving grace when he finds a way to overcome them. It allows us to hope that, if met with the same fate, we'd be capable of rising from the desolate pits and come out just as strong.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #13

I've always been a sucker for dream-sequence narrative especially in film. I also keep a dream journal myself where I take time untangling and making sense of my dreamings. I strongly believe that the comics medium should also be a very gratifying way of expressing that level of visual craft. Still, I did not expect to get it from Hellblazer just yet, to be honest, but this issue proves to have been very fascinating for me during reading it and even after I turned the last page.

Right off-the-bat, I think I will finally use my perfect rating for On the Beach, and then proceed to justify in this review why it deserved it.

BE WARNED THAT THIS WILL BE FILLED WITH SPOILERS because the symbols in John Constantine's dream must be disclosed and interpreted.

This is the first time I actually paid more attention to the artwork and illustrations. I'm quite aware that the style for comics back then (mid-eighties) do not always appeal to me for some reason and Hellblazer has a tendency to alienate me in that aspect which is strange because I tend to always notice the art first before the story, most especially on how it brings out the quality of the narrative. Unfortunately, since reading this series, I've only been caught up with Delano's prose and I often do not care much about looking at the artwork long enough to appreciate it. You may have noticed that I don't talk about it at all when I review Hellblazer which I know would seem like I'm doing it a disservice but I just think that there was nothing special worth discussing before in the previous ones (save perhaps a couple of great panel layouts here and there but that's normally it) so I opted not to include a visual examination in my reviews. Now I'm actually glad I did hold back from doing that because now I'm presented with an issue that is dying for such an analysis and I will joyously comply here. You can be rest assured of that.

So the issue opens with John Constantine walking around, licking ice cream and having basically a normal day at the beach. He monologues about his childhood while looking at the families spending quality time together. He then finds himself in a corner of the beach somewhere where there are large boulders and he decided that it would be the best place to stay in, maintaining a low-key presence the entire time as he even listened in to a couple's conversation a few yards away. There was nothing that would indicate that he was in a dream just yet. Even I didn't think it was less real, considering this is John we're talking about and our hero always seems to find himself caught up in the threshold of what is readily tangible and what is beyond the scope of human understanding.

The scenario becomes immediately ominous in the later pages where some sort of chemical power plant a few miles away from the beach exploded and started to kill both aviary and aquatic life around it. The families looked on in abject horror and disbelief as the world around them started crumbling. The couple earlier on got separated, with the man running away and leaving his girlfriend behind. John tries to chat her up, presumably to comfort her, but she dismisses him, probably assuming he was just being a sleaze. So John gives up and was then asked by one of the mothers to find her husband and to do it quickly because her children are allergic to feathers (and there are dead birds across the stretch of the shore). While in that quest, John was apprehended by masked men who seem to be working on finding a solution to the ecological disaster at hand. They forbade him to go further.

John returns to the mother who decided that the best course of action is to drown herself with the children so they could 'adapt' to the new environment. She takes her children's hands and they swim together in the ocean, and the mother looked creepily content with that choice. You don't see John stopping her at all. Instead he was fixated on the girl from earlier. We find out that it's only the two of them left at the beach. He fetches some sort of mutated starfish from the water and presents it to her as a way of courtship. By this time I know that this is not actually real anymore--and maybe the entire thing since the chemical power plant explosion is a nightmare.

Things got uncomfortable when John and this unnamed bikini-clad girl (whose boyfriend never did come back to her) started to live together in a small hut. Their bodies are deteriorating, probably because of the chemicals around them. But they have sex anyway and then John watches in solemn anticipation as the girl's belly gets bigger. Soon, he was assisting her in giving birth to their cursed offspring; which turned out to be a two-headed baby seal. John was instantly affectionate towards it like any father would be, but then said baby seal started to run away from him. He chased it down the beach and realized that the seal only wanted to go home to the sea, but then a group of carnivorous skeletal birds started to eat it. John tries to stop them but failed. He then proclaimed that it was his last child, his last hope for immortality. Distraught and feeling abandoned, John stands there as the hurricane of skeletal birds began to consume his body until all that was left of him were bones. He walked into the ocean, contemplating the extinction of human race as he allowed the water to carry him to a darker horizon ahead.

Thankfully, he wakes up. He looked more annoyed than frightened about the dream and we realize that it's only because his sleep had been populated by such nightmares lately, especially after Newcastle. But the events in Newcastle just had a closure so why is Constantine's psyche not giving him a proper break? It's really not that difficult to make sense of John's nightmare for this issue. The apocalyptic backdrop, his failure to save innocent lives, his desire for a compatible mate and even his secret hope of parenthood to me felt typical for someone of John's character and pathology. John's life is filled with chaos both in a paranormal and intimate sense. Being an occultist has made him vulnerable to potent and malicious forces that seem to demand his blood more than anything. This would affect anyone's social relationships and we have seen him doom a lot of his close ties to death or torment. We have also seen him chase after women quite narcissistically, often getting entangled with them for the ability of these women to dull his hungers that run deeper than for the occasional shag and lukewarm companionship. On top of that, John wanted a semblance of family. We know he was estranged from his sister Cheryl, and he doesn't seem to have that many fond memories about his parents either. The manifestation of this longing is the two-headed baby seal.

But why a mutated anthropomorphised offspring, you ask? Well, John knows he couldn't possibly have a normal family and it was also an indication of his guilt for all the women he 'spoiled' in the past (the most recent of which was Zed whom he allowed to get killed by an angel during a botched immaculate conception). In his subconscious, John knows he had to be punished severely for the reckless endangerment he subjected in the women he supposedly care about, hence a mutated offspring whom he also had to lose quite viciously to unknown forces that he faces daily, given his line of work.

I think this issue worked well in contextualizing John's complex characterization with the events unfolding in his life, both in the personal and the supernatural level. The dream-sequence narrative was enigmatic as it was disturbing and eerie to read. My bias about such literary device mainly influenced my perfect rating. This issue spoke to me and made John Constantine insufferably more irresistible. I simply consider it both a terrifying and pleasurable experience to be exposed to the inner workings of his damaged goods.


Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #12

"For the first time since Newcastle, when I poisoned myself with a stupid lust for power, I'm conscious of standing on the brink of the future--rather than the tail of the past. We have to turn inwards. Enter the siege perilous-- and wrestle. It's not those grotesque, tired institutions of heaven and hell that are the problem-- it's the devils we know."

The Devil You Know, this issue's namesake, comes from a phrase that had always amused me, and I often apply it in my own personal life when it comes to decisions that have, well, ambiguous contexts. To expound on that cheery note, I think I should admit by now that I just realized why I enjoy reading John Constantine's tales the way I have (even if they are about his less admirable moments). I suppose I do recognize my faults in nature whenever I contextualize my  experiences with his own. 

Over the course of the thirteen issues I have finished reading so far, I've also learned to put myself in his shoes and knew--uncomfortably so--that I would have chosen the same things (even if my motivations differ strongly from his). Could it be because we're both Taurus natives? (We find out about his birthday in the ninth issue which was on May 10. I was born on April 24. Since this Hellblazer leans on mysticism, I felt the need to bring up zodiac signs here). Whatever the logic behind my connection with this character is my own shit to deal with, I guess. So let's move on to the review.

This issue is the conclusion to the Newcastle case from the previous one. I'm quite happy that Delano and co. don't drag the stories for long and they usually come in two issues while others are standalone ones. It is arguable, however, when it comes to Newscastle since this plotline has been mentioned since the very first issue but was only finally discussed by the eleventh and twelfth issues. Newcastle is a significant game-changer event in Hellblazer because it showed us a past where John is arrogant and impulsive and it ended up costing the life of a little girl and, to a lesser extent, his friends who were involved in the botched ritual. This mistake has haunted him since we met him when Hellblazer started and it's only in this issue that John Constantine can finally put his demon (literal and metaphorical) to rest.

I've already been very indulgent with spoilers from the last issue so I think it's only appropriate that I don't talk about the events of this issue in detail anymore because I really encourage anyone who might be following my Hellblazer reviews to read the issues themselves if they can find the time and copies online. But overall, this has been a fantastic way to end the storyline of Newcastle. You can actually feel John Constantine himself feeling invigorated about life and living in general. Sure, there was another loss along the way but he can contend himself with the reality that all the scars he had collected since should be worn with pride and dignity this time.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #11

I can't be sure if Jamie Delano intentionally writes John Constantine as a character you don't instantly like and rarely sympathize with, but I'm rather enjoying that approach because such a flawed mechanism of a character has been advantageous to the stories Hellblazer has told us so far. It's worth noting that Delano did not just decide to write our titular protagonist this way without some backstory to affirm the characterization so far. So, finally, we get the issue that explains it all--yet it's also a story that manages to leave us some disconcerting realizations of our own regarding John Constantine as the central character of the series.

During the first nine issues, there have been mentions of 'Newcastle' here and there and from what we can understand, it seems to hint some sort of mysterious and tragic event that happened in John's past which ultimately claimed the lives of his friends who were a part of it. It certainly has a I Know What You Did Last Summer vibe to it (that is if you grew up in the nineties like me and that's your go-to pop culture reference pertaining to this kind of horror trope). I have stated previously that this issue is the very first Hellblazer story I ever encountered and it's also coincidentally one of the significant issues in the series because it revealed an arc that will play out for the upcoming issues.

This won't be a spoiler-free review. After all, it would be impossible to review this issue without discussing several points that I want to inspect closely, all in direct considerations of John's role in this bloody mess and how his characterization in the current timeline was actually validated through it, and in consequence of what happened in Newcastle. So here we are in issue #11, otherwise known as "Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come".

First of all, what the hell is 'Newcastle'? It's a place in north of England. Nothing ominous to it, really, except of what happened in its location, specifically in The Casanova Club, a nightclub where John Constantine and his band Mucous Membrane (have I not mentioned he's a punk musician too?) has performed in once. The owner failed to pay the band so the MM returned the next day to collect the money. However, based on John's monologues, he also secretly decided to come back to the dreary place because of his suspicions concerning the owner Alex Logue and his daughter Astra. And he wasn't wrong.

He was joined by characters we have seen in the previous issues like Gary Lester (issues #1-2), Ritchie Simpson (issue #7) and the ghosts who have been haunting John like Benjamin Cox (a teenage occult expert) and Anne-Marie (who later became a nun). The only two characters that newly appeared for this issue alone were Frank North, a biker, and Judith, a tantric magician/ocassional fuck-buddy of John. Together they broke in to the place and uncovered a foul massacre in the basement. John quickly finds the little girl Astra and hypnotizes her to understand what happened. As it turns out, Astra was indeed being sexually abused by her father and he would often force her to participate in orgies with his other elder friends and the hookers who frequent the club. Unknowingly, due to the extreme pain and suffering, Astra had somehow conjured a demon named Norfulthing who manifested itself in earthly plane and butchered her father and the rest of consorts. 

Things got even more horrific when they realized that Norfulthing was still lurking around and ends up raping Ben before Frank rescues the poor boy and shoots the demon in the face. John asked Judith (with help from Gary Lester) to summon a demon to fight Norfulthing. Unfortunately, due to reckless arrogance or plain ignorance, John was unable to name the demon properly and bind it. THIS IS IMPORTANT. THIS IS A SCREW-UP THAT YOU CAN'T JUST GET AWAY WITH IT. 

So after this unnamed demon seduces Anne-Marie by disguising himself as John (it is mentioned that Anne-Marie is infatuated with John), he pours acid into her face and made her jump out of a window, rendering Astra vulnerable so this new demon possesses her body and kills Norfulthing. When John tries to exorcise it, the unnamed demon claims that because he didn't name him properly, he has no power whatsoever to command him. To further spite Constantine, this demon decided to take Astra's body and soul with him to Hell. John immediately volunteers himself as replacement but the unnamed demon taunts him and shows him a glimpse of what he will have to endure next to Astra.

Meanwhile, his friends try to desperately close the portal where the unnamed demon had come from. John drags Astra with him as he runs to get out of the strip of Hell he was transported to along with the child. He manages to jump out just in time as the portal closes. For a brief moment he thought he succeeded in saving the little girl but then Judith hysterically pointed out that all that John was holding onto by then was a piece of her arm and that the rest of her had been locked in, delivered to the clutches of the unnamed demon. John was devastated but they all agreed never to speak of the incident again.

Still, each of these occultists were punished by their own guilt one way or the other. John committed himself into a mental facility for two years. Ben never recovered from the rape and became a pronounced stutterer. Badly scarred, Anne-Marie became a nun and never spoke to John ever again. Judith joined a cult which consumed her eventually. Gary Lester became a heroin addict and was killed off when John sacrificed his body as a vessel for a hunger demon to live in (as seen in issue #2). Ritchie Simpson became an underground hacker until he finally met his end from issue #7. Only Frank was relatively unharmed until he joined Ben, Anne-Marie and Judith in a Swamp Thing issue to fight an oncoming apocalypse but none of them survived. It's often funny how karma settles the score.

So that's basically what happened in Newcastle. It's the backstory we needed to get a better understanding of why John Constantine's overall countenance since we met him is sour, dismissive and often depressed. Do I think that such a formative event justifies how he acted in the succeeding events, starting from the second issue with Gary Lester until the ninth issue where he became indirectly responsible for Zed's death (after having sexual intercourse with her, soiling her vessel that she was unable to receive divine copulation from an angel who viciously kills her in the end)? NO. ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY NOT. I don't excuse his heinous and selfish decisions to sacrifice these people he supposedly cared about. I also consider it mercy-killing when he unplugged the computers where Ritchie Simpson's consciousness was entrapped in, all because he couldn't tell his friend that he had burned his body. I may sound vehement at this point but it's only because I am torn with my love for Constantine in the later issues and my feelings for him now after I read the earlier issues.

Cowardly, blinded by grief and overpowered by fear, John is at his worst when we met him for the first time in Hellblazer, and we have yet to see him at his best. It's really not a mystery that we don't approve of John's actions in the context of his spiritual brokenness, most especially when it cost so many lives, particularly of the people he is intimately associated with. But at least the event in Newcastle has clarified some of the darkness, and allowed us to understand better what ticked him off and undid the seams in the first place. I enjoyed the highs and lows that Delano has constructed in just eleven issues of this series. I'm simultaneously intrigued, repulsed and saddened by how John Constantine is characterized so far.

Strangely enough, I think Hellblazer truly becomes groundbreaking when we are offered with morally ambiguous and grim stories such as this one. It becomes quite uncomfortable yet ultimately satisfying when we read a protagonist that keeps challenging our compassion and open-mindedness the way John has. I think we are definitely on the right track--especially now that John knows who the fucking unnamed demon was and it's no other than NERGAL, LEADER OF DAMNATION ARMY who appeared officially in issue #4. Let the mind games begin!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #10

"Remember Newcastle--these two words touch me as precisely as a dentist's steel probing the exposed pulp of a molar nerve."

When the ninth issue ended, the continuation supposedly went on in Swamp Thing issue #37 which I decided to skip. This issue opened with a short summary of what transpired in there and I got a pretty good idea nevertheless (that, and I researched the actual content for that issue right after I finished reading this one). 

Amusingly enough, this title is named Sex and Death and the first few pages starts with John Constantine being expelled as a sperm, monologuing quite comfortably about it as if this occurrence is natural (the readers' confusion will beg to differ, however). As it turns out, Constantine is in the astral realm after he lent his physical form to Swamp Thing so said creature can mate with (and impregnate) girlfriend Abigail Arcane. Yes, that's what happened in Swamp Thing #37 as part of some elaborate plan I don't think is worth discussing in the context of Hellblazer. It's one of those crossover sidestories you don't need to bother yourself with since it doesn't actually affect anything concerning the Hellblazer series. 

So while Constantine is suspended in the astral plane, he decides to find out if his plan about stopping Zed's immaculate conception worked (if you read my review of the last issue, I revealed there that John and Zed had one last shag which was also strategic because John just had spontaneous demon blood transfusion from Nergal so if the recent intercourse with a mortal man won't do the trick, then the additional demonic fluid should, amirite?). There was no doubt in my mind that it would work so when an angel tries to copulate with Zed's vessel to fulfill the prophesy, he ends up rejecting her; and in such a murderous way at that (where the rest of the Resurrection Crusaders were punished heavily for their transgression of gifting the angel a tainted woman). So everyone in that short-lived religious cult (no one gave a shit about while reading) is dead and Nergal and his Damnation Army are in a festive mood with the heavenly carnage around them.

But Nergal found out about John and Swamp Thing's sordid arrangement and was very upset about that. From what I understand, his precious demon blood which he shared with John earlier on in the story was now being used by Swamp Thing for his own mating purposes. That's not cool, apparently. A chase after John via hellhounds ensued so our hero was forced to come back to his body--while Swamp Thing and his girl Abigail are still shagging. That was a humorous moment. Abigail was grossed out when she found out it was already Constantine who was thrusting inside her (which I could not wrap my head around, by the way. I know she loves Swamp Thing, given her immediate repulsion upon discovering that she was shagging John now all of a sudden--but if it was me, I'd bang John Constantine like it's my last meal before death penalty or something. But hey, that's just me. I've always had a thing for damaged goods, you see). BUT I DIGRESS.

After he comforts Abigail, Swamp Thing turns to John and leaves his friend an enigmatic message from Nergal: "Remember Newscastle," he says. The moment those words were uttered, a change has come over John Constantine and it's a dark thirst for venegance that has haunted him for a long time since those fateful events occurred. Personally, I got the chills and the excitement already once I saw these words written in the page. The next issue is the first issue of Hellblazer I ever read and it stayed with me. I'm definitely looking forward in discussing that issue. Be warned that my review won't be spoiler-free at all!


Volume 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano

This is the very first volume that will span one of the longest running series for Vertigo, and I can honestly say that John Constantine was not an easy man to love at all. Fortunately enough for this comics, he curiously remains a readily compelling titular character for the Hellblazer series. A man of action, deep thought and snarky humor, Constantine can win us over if he'd just bother trying yet he also manages to effortlessly cruise the pages of this book with an enigmatic charm that manages to be both unnerving and personable. Jamie Delano's writing of this volume features a hefty prose with balanced verbosity and showmanship that often works best when it lends itself to symbolism, subtlety and satire (as seen in issues A Feast of FriendsGo for It and Ghost in the Machine, which are all personal favorites of mine).

Collecting the first nine issues, Hellblazer: Original Sins was teeming with lots of creative and innovative potentials for a top-notch paranormal series that I came to expect from Hellblazer. However, there are two insufferable issues here and there (notably When Johnny Comes Marching Home whose heavy-handed yet ultimately diluted writing was alienating, diminishing my enjoyment for the events in the issue; and Extreme Prejudice which had a serviceable plot progression but barely enough tasteful commentary that I expected could have been a worthy follow-up to the delightfully satirical Go For It). Still, this first volume of Hellblazer had given us a lead character whose mistakes, inclination to cowardice and often very callous decision-making became very detrimental not only to his person but also to the people who surround him or are in direct contact with him. It's in the nine issues of Original Sins that we see what a miserable life John Constantine chooses to live and how sometimes it's because of his reckless choices that got him to that state in the first place.

Though we could just enjoy the material solely for its metaphors, commentary and sardonic comedy, the driving force for Hellblazer: Original Sins that we should pay close attention to in order to fully appreciate the magnetism and scale of this series is this remarkably flawed and petulant hero caught at the center of it. We have to watch him fail time and time again until we just want to smack some sense into him ourselves. But then he would surprise us anyway whenever he would find some strength of will somewhere to pick himself up; and do it just as stubbornly and ferociously as we have come to know him of--and later on probably love him for. John Constantine's journey in this volume has been filled with mental anguish and guilt. His baggage is a tremendous pain in the ass and every time we are allowed to glimpse inside his damaged psyche, we are not prepared for the quantity of heartbreak he had been carrying all this time. We don't feel completely sorry for him, however, because most of the losses have been self-inflicted; we can sense the arrogance and hot-blooded impulse underneath that false laid-back attitude he projects--and we know these qualities had endangered him and the people he loved along the way. It's through this paradox that I think we learn to see ourselves reflected in an unsettling yet very honest way.

In reviewing the nine issues, I was dully focused on John Constantine's growth as a character, taking note of his responses to the circumstances unfolding around him. And I find that I can understand the dark places he's coming from and keep coming back to. His story so far is one that echoes our own shortcomings and self-doubts; that nagging sense of paranoia that often makes us believe that all the things we touch will just turn into shit. That is the overall frame of mind that Constantine is currently operating in. But he wouldn't have survived decades of this chaotic life of his if he didn't know how to persevere. I sincerely hope that the next handful of issues for the second volume will continue to further discuss the conflicts not just in the ongoing plot but also within our lead character. Granted, John Constantine is the most interesting aspect of Hellblazer for now. I can't wait until we start talking about Newscastle (a game-changer featured in issue #11). 

In a nutshell, Hellblazer: Original Sins is a fantastic introduction to John Constantine as a character and the world and monsters--real, imagined and personal--that he must face.


Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #9

It occurred to me that anyone who will read Hellblazer for the first time, most naturally by starting it chronologically, might find most of John Constantine's characterizations as reflected by his choices and actions to be rather distasteful and hard to swallow. Our titular 'hero' is not a shining example of the term itself and there are trying times that make us question any sympathy we may have been feeling for him while we read the first eight issues of the series. I'm personally just as torn even though I have known John first in his later adventures and loved him there instantly. Everything has been messy and distorted since the second issue started and although we like John every now and then, he also proves to be difficult to root for, especially whenever we see him not only fail the people he cares about but also himself. Story of the man's life right there.

The cowardice and self-pity that John continues to show us can be wildly disheartening even to a loyal fan, but I believe that this is an integral part of his personality and characterization for the earlier issues; it's his flaws, doubts, fears and often questionable actions that help us not only to know him better as character but also to perhaps identify our shortcomings with his own. I certainly had which is why Hellblazer feels personal to me every time I read it. Just like John, we all experience a sense of foreboding in our lives when we simply lack the faith and courage to overcome the misfortunes before us. There is a point we get to where we hit rock bottom and become very convinced that we will never survive it. To demonstrate just how hopeless his situations are, this issue Shot to Hell takes us to Gotham City (a perfect place for much needed brooding and enlightenment) where John wanders around the filth-laden streets, drinks himself to near stupor as he fights with ghosts in a bar and was then thrown out of there, and is spooked by his own shadow (or conscience, if you like) taking unnatural physical forms as it chases him down. To make things truly cosmically yet depressingly comedic, it turns out that today is also John's birthday. Whoopee-doo.

What I love about this issue the most comes when John Constantine sits in a sofa in a dark, dank apartment while an ongoing demolition (complete with an illustration of  a large wrecking ball swinging around since the very first time John appears in the pages, something I took has symbolic meaning) can be seen in the corner. In a very Dickensian fashion, John gets another ghostly visit, but this time it was his former, younger self (or at least a version of his person who is confident and at the top of his game). I enjoyed how seemingly disgusted his alter ego was with the way he had been behaving since he messed up things in Newcastle. I love the contrast between these two personas as well, especially when I know that this self-assured version of John Constantine is just beneath the surface of pain and suffering that his present self is wallowing in. It has come out to bitch-slap him and get him back in shape. It just goes to show that there remains an empowered John Constantine in their somewhere, who does accept the ills and inconveniences of his career choice with a devil-may-care attitude and a ready middle-finger to the powers-may-be.

Finally, after that self-intervention, John travels back to the Resurrection Crusaders' lair to see Zed. It wasn't a rescue mission, however. John seems to know for a fact that the woman is beyond saving. Strangely enough, they started professing love to each other (which did come off random because it's only been a few days since they became entangled, and yet it was still heartbreakingly sincere, considering the circumstances) and then they had one last shag for old times' sake (which we later found out was exactly what John intended all along. He still has Negral's demon blood coursing through him and an intercourse with Zed would taint her, apparently). He leaves her after that, taking comfort in knowing that losing another woman like that will at least neutralize the war between demons and the religious fanatics for a while. John has learned to count small victories by now.

The last scene was humorous yet confusing. Swamp Thing appears by using John's box of smokes as a physical manifestation (which, of course, promptly pisses off John). Swamp Thing would have beaten him to bits but then John proposes his plan which he guaranteed would be something they'd both like. And then the issue ends mysteriously enough with a note that the story will continue in a Swamp Thing issue I'm not even sure I should pick up or not. It seemed like a supplement I could get away not reading so I'll proceed with the general review of the first volume of Hellblazer (issues #1-9) next.