Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano #35

This is actually the second time I read this issue. When I bought my copy of Hellblazer volume 5: Dangerous Habits, I managed to read this and the previous one but stopped because I know I must read the series chronologically next time. Now that I have, and I came back to this issue and re-read it, it's really surprising how much my perspective about this story has changed now that I have something to contextualize it with (which is John's development throughout the issues since the first one).

In this creepily entitled Dead-Boy's Heart issue, we finally get a harrowing glimpse of John's childhood which for me is long overdue.

As a very curious child, John demonstrates what a potent and imaginative mind he has, creating ghouls and monsters to hunt down during his many solitary games, which I believe is also his young mind's way to make up for his parents' absence and older sister's lukewarm treatment of him. John fancies himself as a Peter Pan, dreaming of going to Neverland because he didn't belong anywhere else. He is preoccupied with other dark fantasies such as the legendary Bogeyman in his neighborhood whom all the other boys think is some kind of monster in human form. As adult readers, it's easy to see and dismiss such things as nothing but hearsay, particularly when we understand that young John is so lonely, and even considered as an outsider by his peers. His only meaningful relationships are with Cheryl, his big sister, who, in a typical teenager fashion, never had the patience to understand her younger sibling; and his Aunt Dolly, a kind woman whose husband enjoys doing perverse things to her at night (which John can hear from the walls in his bedroom but have yet to exactly comprehend what is going on).

I really enjoyed this issue because it reminded me of my own childhood. I was just as fanciful and withdrawn as John, making up my own tales and not really engaging with other kids. The main difference is that I have a happy childhood nevertheless, so my modes of play are just that. With John, his fantasies and games are tinged with sadness because you get the sense that they are a means of escape from the harsh life he has as a youg boy with a dead mother and a father who blames him for it (Thomas Constantine is said to be in prison at this point in John's life, robbing him of another parental role model). So anyway, John was dared by the neighborhood kids to meet the Bogeyman (who appears to be some drunkard who is prone to angry outbursts). John evades this man and ends up in his yard where he found a skeleton in the ground. In its ribcage was an odd specimen that looks like a rock but one that John asserts is a boy's heart that turned into stone.

Personally, it could just be a rock, but how would I know what a mummified heart looks like? Logic would dictate that, and John seems to be a smart boy, but then again he enjoys the allure of danger and intrigue so it's no surprise that he really believed that he's holding a dead boy's heart.

When I first read this story, I was creeped out as to how fucked-up this boy's mind works. I was also struck at how alone he feels, and so he decides to come up with his own explanations and reasoning about certain things that he sees around him that do not always make sense. Now re-reading this again with the knowledge of the man John Constantine has become, I can also tell that this young boy enjoys being different because he finds a certain degree of strength and independence to it. I don't feel sorry for him because he's lonely--I feel sorry for this little boy because he's very much aware of his loneliness and yet he chooses to allow himself to be defined by it--which carries on to his adult years, as far as I could tell.

The symbolic meaning of his defiant clutch on the 'dead-boy's heart' that he found is not lost to me. Aside from the easy interpretation that this is a child who believes in the wonder and horrors of the most mundane things, it also speaks volumes of his eagerness to believe that he's special enough to acquire such an artifact and that perhaps makes him feel less vulnerable. It's a funny thing what our darkest fantasies can do to us, and here we see that manifests in John's dead-boy's heart. At the end of the issue, young John decides to return the dead-boy's heart especially since he now thinks it's cursed. In doing so, he trespasses yet again to the Bogeyman's house, throws the dead-boy's heart into the roof and then believes that the impact might have landed on the Bogeyman--and killed him. At this point, I can only shake my head in amusement and disbelief. I don't know why John immediately thinks the worst, even as a child. He's seriously convinced that he killed the Bogeyman. It's ridiculous--and very pitiful especially when you contextualize it with John's self-destructive ways as an adult.

Perhaps this is his most dangerous habit; his eagerness to believe that he's capable of inflicting damage on other people. Maybe this is the knowledge that burdens and haunts him every time he makes new acquaintances. And you know what? It's not exactly far-fetched. People do die around John Constantine; but I'd like to think that it's a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy that acts on itself. John believes it so hard that his decisions and the events that are influenced by it are now conspiring to support it. That does happen, trust me. Whatever energy you put out in the universe will come back to you, amplified. That has happened to me. And it's happening to John a lot because he's such a cynical bastard, and this issue shows us that he started pretty early with that mindset.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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