Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #40

"He had the look, the neighbors said. Old before his time. Eyes that read you like a book and know your secret crime....where others cry to show their hurt, he'd never shed a tear. He'd just smile at them and draw inside with thoughts he'd never tell. The priest was sure he was meant for God--if he hadn't come from hell...For he never failed our trust or made a move in error. His whole life has been the proof that love defeats all terror."
I'm at the point in my life right now where I project a lot of my personal issues on specific fictional characters, most especially when they themselves speak true to the painfully uncomfortable yet undeniably real problems, idiosyncrasies and angst that I have as a person.

The most recent two characters who have moved me in such a way were Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire series and the Eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith in the TV show Doctor Who. It's worth noting that, yes, they have all been male (which must say something, I guess?)--and John Constantine now joins that list easily.

By the time I started reading the fifth volume collection, Dangerous Habits, I knew that denying my strong emotional connection with this character that has grown since I began my Hellblazer comics diet is futile. True enough, there here have been many spikes and sharp edges in my relationship with him which mostly came from the fact that I instinctively know why he makes the kind of decisions that are at times infuriating. It's because I've made such choices in the past, and Constantine's coping mechanisms also reflected my own right down to the present. Still, I thought that the connection wouldn't go any deeper--until I read the previous issue The Hanged Man. That was when it changed everything as to how much heavily invested I am about this comic book series. That's when I realized that Hellblazer's titular character has become a consummate self-examination of my FEARS--and that it compels me to keep reading. I've been a self-loathing narcissist for as long as I could remember and though I've curtailed most of my darkest inclinations, there are times they overwhelm me with their constant presence during my most private moments, which is why reading John's own do hurt me at a visceral level. It's frightening yet fascinating to see your reflection in the pages looking back, beckoning you to take a closer look at your life right now and the choices you have made to get to this far. That was how The Hanged Man issue affected me.

I did not discuss the ultimate revelation about John's character arc which was heavily featured in the previous issue but I certainly have to now so I cannot stress enough how my review is going to be a SPOILER TO THE HIGHEST DEGREE. Don't go further if you plan on reading the series for yourself.

This issue entitled The Magus is a continuation of the previous issue in essence. John Constantine, as foreshadowed by Mercury in issue #36, turns out to have a twin--and that he actually killed his brother in the womb. We got a heartbreaking flashback sequence in The Hanged Man where it was also further revealed that his brother was the healthy baby while he was the sickly one and yet, for some inexplicable reason, he was the one who lived. It was fairly established that Thomas, John's father, blames him for his wife's death during childbirth but there was a deeper reason after all because he reacted quite badly when he saw the infant John for the first time, believing him to be some kind of curse due to his death-like appearance. John never knew about this growing up but it may also explain why he was drawn to the dark arts (aside from the fact that it's in his bloodline) since it's been historically believed that twins are mystical in their own way.. Still, his dead twin has become a psychological manifestation of his latent guilt in the form of a Golden Boy apparition, a perfect specimen whom John first encountered as a kid. He recalled that he had been so envious of its "clean-ness" and thought that it could also be the son whom his father would have loved. This apparition haunted him for years though, especially during trying times when he supposedly feels "unclean" and most confused. After Zed read his fate using tarot cards, John decided to explore a cave where he encountered a vision of his twin brother in the womb and dared to connect with him in some sort of telepathic semblance. This time, John tried to save him. It was a symbolic gesture of embracing the two halves of his person as well. With this, I felt like John would achieve completion at last.
"Sometimes gazing too much on the light just dazzles and obscures the truth. Sometimes the darkness is more honest."
And that brings us to The Magus issue. I indicated that it was the most fucked-up surreal shit I have ever read and it was. For the first few pages I did not understand what was going on until I realized that what I'm reading was an ALTERNATE REALITY where the one who became John Constantine was the healthy twin brother. Everything just turned topsy-turvy and disconcerting for me as I read this. In this story this golden-boy epitome John Constantine was loved by his father even though the mother still died giving birth to him alongside his sickly twin brother), most probably because Thomas felt his 'specialness' and so the mother's death was a worthy sacrifice. This John is a natural leader called the Magus who inspired devotion from people who share his principles. It's creepy to see that his life is exactly the same life our own John had; he met the same people (Zed, Mercury, Marj, Errol, etc.) and had the same experiences (such as the Newcastle event and I assume he even encountered the Family Man and the Fear Machine). The only difference is that this John handled things differently, probably with more confidence and dignity. When we encountered him in this issue, he was already an elderly man, a pillar of a community for occultists and other radical groups of individuals who see him as a mentor. Marj, Mercury and Zed have been his most loyal friends who served his every need and followed his every command. Things don't look idyllic though.
"That's the trouble with us Constantines. We're all self-obsessed with that embattled romance of ideals which we call Ravenscar. It flickers at the heart of all our crazy magic lives."
Something feels out of place, and this John Constantine knows it. He had accomplished a lot of great things in his lifetime and yet somehow he felt like he was merely compensating for the sin he has committed in the womb. And that's because this John was burdened with the knowledge that he killed his twin and that has driven most of his altruism, as if he was trying to make up for that horrible tragedy. I think the creepiest and saddest part of this issue was that this John all throughout his life was also haunted by the apparition of a Sickly Boy, the ghost of the twin he murdered. Just like our John with the Golden Boy. HOW FUCKED UP IS THIS PARALLEL? Here is the official summary from the DC wikia:
"In meditation, the Magus engulfs himself in the life that his sickly shadow might have lived. The monsters, the lost friends, the failures--all of these are his responsibility. The Magus is surprised to meet his sickly shadow there. This John Constantine explains that he has been waiting nearly forty years for the Magus to arrive. The Magus assumes that his shadow has come to take revenge for having its life cut short, but John makes it clear that they are both at fault. They are brothers; twins. Each killed the other in the womb, and both have been haunted by guilt of the other's loss."
After their fateful meeting, this happens:
"They are now in a kind of nexus. It is a place where each of the infinite strands of time are played out. Numerous Constantines have come to this place and battled for existence. But it isn't the Magus who is right, and it isn't John who is the injured one. They are two halves of the same problem. They agree that somehow uniting their two opposites is the best outcome. They take each other's hands and spin around, toward the light of a new existence."
I'm quoting these summaries because they perfectly tell the story better than I would have had. But yes, that's how surreal this issue was--but it was Delano's finest and most brilliant story yet! It was certainly one that rang true to me, given that I myself am aware of the conflicting sides of my person. I didn't need to have a dead twin to feel this way about myself lots of time in the past where it was as if I'm two different people all at once and I'm torn between which half to claim. But John Constantine taught me in this issue that I should CLAIM IT ALL.

The issue ends with this beautiful quote from Zed after she picks a tarot card of The Magician from where John supposedly disappeared after he walked into a cave from the last issue.
"It's not a stable universe. You need more than one life's experience before you can begin to see the subtle complexities in the patterns of growth and decay. And probably you'd live and die a thousand times to get to be a magus."

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