Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #34

"I thought I loved you, John--but I don't know who you are. You seem lost, deep inside yourself. I'd like to be close, like we were before. But you keep trying to freak me out--to drive me away." ~Marj

No truer words have ever reflected how I exactly feel for John Constantine now that I have reached the thirty-fourth issue which is also the first issue for the Dangerous Habits story arc. It's also the very first Hellblazer collected volume that I bought and now own. Now the quotation above came from Marj, a character I have never liked (and never will at this point) but whose litany took the words right out of my mouth. I really did love John through hell and back; I forgave him for his terrible mistakes, and hoped that he'll come out stronger from his pain, which was mostly made of self-inflicted wounds and scars. The previous issue, Sunday is Different gave me conflicted feelings while reading it. On one hand, seeing John actually enjoying himself for the first time was nice. It seemed as if he had finally learned to appreciate the good things in life.

On the other hand, his past has a long reach and by the last pages of the issue, it looked as if the past is once again clawing ferociously at John, pulling him back, even punishig him. And then we get to this issue which, for me, has a title with the creepiest implication so far: The Bogeyman.

I mentioned before that I project a lot of myself in John because I believe we have overlapping personality quirks--as well as the same kind of insecurities. I also claimed that John tends to build a wall to protect himself from invasion which also makes him severely lonely because he can't seem to figure out anymore how to let anyone in, no matter how much they want to love him and be his friend. In this issue, we skip ahead from what happened from Sunday is Different where John has found himself seeking for some sort of comfort from whatever ails him, and so met up with Marj and Mercury, the mother and daughter whom he established a relationship with from the Fear Machine story arc. As I've said, I never liked Marj but she seemed important enough to John not only because they slept together but also because she was the only woman in the world right now who is willing to be more than his shag buddy--Marj is also a maternal figure John never had in his life and he desperately clings to her in this issue, much to Mercury's disgust.

While reading and reviewing Fear Machine issues before, I expressed how much I adored Mercury as a character, particularly her relationship with John who more or less is an accidental surrogate father. She and John had a great dynamic which is why it shocked me that she immediately resents him upon his arrival, and tries to turn him away, calling him a coward when he refused to confine in her with whatever is eating at him. I think this change in her demeanor and treatment of him is merely consequential of her maturity as a young woman. When she met John for the first time, she was prepubescent, possessing a psychic power she can only vaguely understand. After the events in Fear Machine where she joined her mother and Zed (John's other lover who now functions as a shaman of some sort) in a sacred ritual where they got rid of the dragon produced by the said machine and one that was supposed to devour the world, Mercury has now recognized the steel underneath her youth. With the shift in balance between the sexes, I believe Mercury has learned to recognize that she is strong and powerful on her own and that she may have no need for patriarchal restrictions. That's one interpretation that's plausible, especially since John at this point is damaged and reeking of something that Mercury considers poisonous and therefore he must be avoided at all cost. She's also very protective of her mother, knowing that Marj is inherently caring and will take in John even though it might ultimately harm her.

The other interpretation is that Mercury can no longer suppress how much she desires John for herself. Marj seemed quick to jump into this conclusion which was understandable because she can also see that her daughter has grown up, and her childish feelings for John might have become something more now. Mercury, of course, remains unaware of it, in spite of the sheer strength of her psychic powers--or perhaps these powers are the very reason why she has began to detest John. He was no longer the dashing man she idolized as a young girl. She could see that he is suffering and everything and everyone he will touch have the potential to be destroyed. I think this scares Mercury, and outweighs whatever affections she may have for John whose real nature is still open for debate. Personally, I think she does want John--but unlike Marj, her desire is not simply sexual or visceral. The contrast between how the mother and daughter relate to John respectively is definitely sharp; Marj is the typical motherly figure who cannot understand what John is going through but will always be willing to soothe the pain away in however way she can. Meanwhile, Merc knows John right down to his core; she understands him in a level that discomforts her and hence her unique insight to John's inner workings also serves as a barricade that prevents her from loving him in the painfully unconditional way Marj does.

But this is just one of the many reasons why I love Mercury in the first place. Her relationship with John is constantly intriguing and enjoyable to see unfold in the pages. Besides, for all her compassion and hospitality, Marj's connection with John is superficial. He seeks her warmth and she selflessly gives it--but it's only a temporary arrangement that will never heal him within. Not to mention Marj exasperates me with how dull she can be. She has no distinguishable personality of her own aside from being subservient. On the other hand, Mercury's callous treatment of John is often invasive yet something that could help John far better. She understands him because her psychic abilities had allowed her to see through his pretenses and right into the core of his hurt. And this is why John will never allow himself to love her as well. She's complicated and inconvenient and John generally does not deal well with those qualities in another human being. That's not to say the relationship will not evolve; I know it will once they start speaking their minds more freely around each other. As much as I like them together (ergo, maybe I slightly ship them), I think a sexual aspect to their relationship will just...cheapen it, in a sense. Besides, I do think that, in a latent sense, John sees Mercury as a daughter, or maybe now she's more like his kid sister who's too smart for her own good.

Okay. So I didn't mean to make my review of this issue filled with analyses on these three characters. I don't think I even have to discuss whatever happened in this issue point by point, plot-wise (there's not much, really. John and Marj had sex again while Merc chooses to remove herself from their presence physically, but she remained connected to them mentally which is more than awkward for her--it was downright distressing, considering she was also feeling John's pain very vividly). I believe that these three people's relationship with each other is one of the more complex and interesting aspects written in Delano's run. The Fear Machine story arc had an uneven plot and the redemptive quality of that story had to be John's connection with Marj and Mercury (and, to a lesser extent, with Zed). I also maintain that Marj and Mercury also serves as John's wish fulfilment to have a family of his own, and the power struggle among them only highlights this. However, I also<.i can't disregard that it is still possible that the dynamics could change once Mercury begins to own up to her feelings for John--though I'm not sure that would be considered central to her character. I think Delano didn't intend for Mercury and John to have a deeper relationship than they're supposed to--it's just consequential of how amazingly handled Merc's character was and how it meshes well with John's.

I promise I'll try to be kinder to Marj at this point because her presence is still essential in a way that she keeps the tension in the air whenever she's alongside her daughter and John. Other than that, she's still pretty dull.

As an introductory issue for a story arc, The Bogeyman was unsettling yet also quickly establishes the tone and setting of the story arc it's about to expand later on with great ease. There are a lot of ominous scenes and dialogues here that will intrigue readers, particularly John mentioning the phrase, "dead-boy's heart" which, coincidentally, is the name of the next issue.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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