Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #42

"I'm pissed and happy and I'm with my mate. Thank bloody Christ!"
I enjoyed this issue for so many reasons. Entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff, I was expecting that we'll be reading the Anger aspect of John Constantine's continued downward spiral along the stages dealing with his eventual demise because of terminal lung cancer (of all things). We get hints of that, sure, but overall I felt that this was a rather uplifting issue which is saying much because Hellblazer is one depressing broody fest after another (not that I'm complaining. I'm a masochist that way). I think what helped this issue is the appearance of one of John's long-time friends, Brendan Finn who was instantly endearing because of the way he and John just got along so organically even after so many years of non-conversation and other undisclosed baggage.

"Hold on a sec," you'd say, "History has indicated time and time again what a shitty friend John Constantine is. After all, he got a lot of his so-called friends killed. What makes this expendable friendship any different?"

Now that's a valid query yet judging Brendan Finn as an expendable friend is highly inaccurate. There is a recognizable bond between these two men that was unlike any other, considering almost every friend from John's past that we have encountered in the previous issues has some resentment kept buried within that often comes out at an opportune moment. This was not the case with Brendan Finn. He seems to genuinely adore John and so welcomes him back into his life without a second thought. I have never met Finn before until this issue but Ennis has established that he has an affinity with John that's mostly founded on the fact that they both practice 'sorcery'--and perhaps it's also because they're self-indulgent bastards with parallel vices; John's a chain smoker who can offend a chimney, and Brendan's a drunkard. On the superficial surface, these things are inconsequential reasons to stay friends with someone but I think that's what makes their relationship work. There is unspoken compassion in an instant, an understanding that they're both so fucked-up that it should be no surprise they get on well. Friendships often come rarely for people of their trade and lifestyle choice.

It was made all the more poignant when John finally reveals the purpose of his visit: he wanted Brendan to cure his cancer. Brendan, as it turns out, wanted the same thing from John. He himself has problems with his liver. It's pretty hilarious if you distance yourself from the story; these irresponsible, reckless men facing the price of their hedonistic lives is a trope for situational comedy. And it is funny, they both admit that, and so both decided to spend the rest of the night getting drunk, singing songs and having a blast.

The sadness would creep in, sure, but at this point neither the readers or these characters care to acknowledge it. What matters is that for tonight, they don't have to face their fears alone, as long as they have each other.

By this time, readers might think, "Strewth, here we go again! Another one of John's buddies having a tragic end," and they'd be wrong--in a way. For the first time in forty-plus issues, John Constantine dared himself to do something he never had the courage to do before. When Satan visits to take away Brendan's soul because a bargain has been struck between them a long time ago, John displays one final act of cunning and dupes Satan which made him incapacitated long enough for the agreed contract not to be acted upon. That meant that Brendan Finn's soul was no longer bound to Hell. John didn't make a big deal of this small victory which was endearing for me because it goes to show that it wasn't anything premeditated or done to impress the readers--it was truly a selfless act in the heat of the moment. John was just relieved that he was able to give Brendan a piece of compensation in his demise; sparing him from eternal damnation should do the trick. That panel shot of him looking at Brendan's face as he passed away serenely was so touching. In the context of all the dead friends who blamed him for their suffering, this was a redemptive moment for John; and he couldn't even take the time to appreciate it because there are more pressing matters.

Invigorated from that final meeting with a dear friend (and equally dreadful because he also managed to piss Satan off AND THERE IS NO WAY HE COULD DIE AND GO TO HELL NOW), John sets out his sights to the bargaining stage of his death...


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