Monday, September 15, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #31

My passion and interest for Hellblazer has gotten stronger since the satisfying conclusion of Delano's The Family Man which I maintain is the most impressive story arc he has written so far in his run. But it wasn't always a smooth, pleasant ride because there were some issues in between that confused or annoyed the shit out of me, and in those sorts of stories I still tried to be objective in my reviews even when I'm absolutely critical of the work itself. Now I have a self-imposed deadline to meet, and I only have to two more weeks until I cut short my Hellblazer comics diet and once again return to my Batman one. My target is to finish until the Dangerous Habits story arc (which I am very much looking forward to). In the meantime, I finished reading three stand-alone stories until DH arc, and this is the first of that batch.

The Mourning of the Magician was a rather unexpected issue that dealt with John Constantine at his most personal, which of course has something to do with his estranged family (his sister Cheryl and niece Gemma), and his father who recently passed away, murdered by Samuel Morris, the serial killer known as the Family Man. Usually, Hellblazer has a way of making its titular hero disagreeable and often depressing, yet always comes out as a true anti-hero who manages to gain our sympathy because of his intriguing personality that never fails to make every situation he finds himself in relentlessly engrossing to read. This issue is something I would consider the most enlightening of what we have seen of John so far. In a way, the Family Man story arc had become the necessary catalyst for Constantine to reflect on his humble beginnings. It is said after all that one must know where he comes from before he could move forward. There is a heavy baggage we all carry, and John's share of the load has finally lightened once he began to deal with its contents more honestly. 

The poignancy of this issue will unmistakably move readers, that I can guarantee. For his form of bereavement, John makes amends with his father whom he shared a very tumultuous relationship with growing up. He hasn't seen the old man in years and it's quite sad that it was only through his demise that they were reunited. Once again indirectly responsible of the death of a loved one, I thought John would maintain his cowardly ways and just walk away from this. After all, that's the John we met when the series started--and we loathed him for it. But the beauty of being a human being is that we evolve constantly, and John has grown and changed in the course of the many  frightening experiences he faced where the true measure of his character has been tested and eventually refined.

I think The Mourning of the Magician is the perfect follow-up to the grim story arc that was the Family Man. In that story, we see John kill a man for the first time and it has left him questioning everything that was sacred to him, and everything he wanted to stand for. I don't think John ever considered himself a hero but I know he wants to be a good man who chooses the right things. Killing a man, though it was a bastard who deserves it and John did it out of self-preservation, was still a very significant moment because Constantine acknowledges that taking a life is no small potatoes. It will change you in a way you can never come back from. So understandably, I thought we'll get a darker John out of this, suffering from the burden of such an action. But no, Delano decided to provide us something bittersweet and uplifting here in this issue.

I'm pleased to see Gemma Masters here because she also has the gift. Watching her struggle to make sense of her abilities is great character drama especially once John comes to the picture and tries to help her sort it all out. Basically, the ghost of Thomas Constantine, John's old man and Gemma's granddad, has been haunting her. The shocking revelation as to why is the powerful driving force for The Mourning of the Magician. John asked Thomas' ghost to follow him instead of Gemma and the two had a one-sided chat where John reminisces about the old days when they would clash. John then admits to horrible thing he committed against his father which is ultimately a misunderstood adolescent's mistake and one we can forgive in the context of everything that has happened. At first I didn't want to spoil it here in the review but decided that maybe I should. 

What the hell, here it is:

The reason why Thomas' ghost still lingered even after his body was cremated was because of a curse that John performed on him in his teens where he sacrificed a cat and bound his father's soul there to make him sick. When his father became gravely ill, John realized what an awful mistake he made so he decided to preserve the cat's carcass using formalin. This meant that Thomas' soul is still bound to the said animal which is why he couldn't be put to rest unless the cat itself perishes. John explained all of this to his father's ghost whom we cannot see and cannot know how he's reacting to this revelation (which I think hardly matters; it's open to a reader's interpretation. Personally, I want to believe Thomas immediately forgives him because he's not exactly blameless. He did drill into John that it was his fault that his mother died). Speaking of which, where did John bury that sacrificial cat to make sure it was safely hidden away? I'm glad you asked.

He buried it on his mother's grave (naturally, where else?) which included this rather passive-aggressive and sickeningly humorous epitaph on the tombstone:

"...who died to bring us John". Seriously? That's how you want your child to be described as on his mother's epitaph? Man, Thomas sure was a jerk. So, as you can see, the resentment between father and son goes both ways. But by his point, I think it's only proper and cleansing to let bygones be bygones. John lights up the cat's carcass and hopefully sets his father's soul free as well. It was...moving. I teared up a bit. Great way to severe ties with your abusive and overbearing parent and still come out of it stronger than ever, in spite of such an overdue reconciliation.

This issue was utterly brilliant. Everything about it was just splendid! It certainly elevated John Constantine as a character because all those terrible experiences he had to endure suddenly became more meaningful now because at long last we see him evolve into the great man we have all wanted him to be and knew he could become.


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