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.


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