Monday, September 29, 2014

Vol. 5: Dangerous Habits by Jamie Delano/Garth Ennis

"Walking away is what I do best. Walking away without a glance over my shoulder at the misery and bloodshed I've left behind me. I escaped when I shouldn't have. I cheated. I laughed in the face of the Devil when all the other people can do is succumb. Because that's what it is to be me. To be John Constantine."

There are a lot of reasons to read and recommend Hellblazer. If your desire is to read a compelling serialized paranormal comic book series then this will more than satisfy such cravings. If you enjoy complex anti-heroes and their existential struggles against their inner demons, then John Constantine will never disappoint you. I started reading Hellblazer because of those reasons (and because I was just instantly curious to find out more about who John is after reading his brief cameo in The Sandman volume 1 and watching that Keannu Reeves film adaptation which most of the fans did not receive positively). I'm also a sucker for supernaturally-driven storylines especially when they are told impressively, and the drama and mystery elements within are well-balanced with the great characterizations. Again, Hellblazer has more than provided these requirements.

After reading and reviewing the first fifty-issues so far (the first wave of my Hellblazer comics diet sadly has come to an end for this year), I can honestly say that this volume collection is the finest the series has produced yet. Composed of thirteen issues (#34-46), Dangerous Habits was a collaborative work of original series creator Jamie Delano and new writer Garth Ennis. The latter writer has written the six-part Dangerous Habits story arc which dealt with John Constantine's battle against the most human yet grievous of ills: contracting lung cancer. This is all because of his indulgent smoking vice. In addition to that, this cancerous ailment is also the symbolic accumulation of all the bad habits he had acquired in his lifetime now finally catching up to him. It was an impressive concept in itself and a kind of story that suits someone of Constantine's character quite perfectly well. Ennis' story arc was invigorating; his prose was straightforward and genuinely comical even during the gravest of moments in the story. I enjoyed his prose because it wasn't as verbose as Delano's. He doesn't lend himself to poetic language as much as the other writer which actually helped in telling his story which was able to stand by itself as a simple yet layered narrative concerning our titular hero's struggle to save himself from the impending doom of his mortality. That's not to say that Ennis didn't get flowery every now and then; but his style has more control and less showmanship which was refreshing since it allowed readers to focus on the story more than the linguistic style it was employed with.

I might sound like I dislike Delano's style but I would like to point out that the most genuinely poignant and disturbing moments in his Hellblazer issues are the ones where his prose has a tendency to get lost in itself due to several metaphors and imagery but are woven in the tapestry with a surprisingly effortless approach. Delano's verbosity and his penchant for incorporating figurative language in every narrative and dialogue for an issue can be confusing when the story he's telling lacks plot strength in the first place (cough, Fear Machine story arc, cough). But his style best complements stories like the ones found in this volume. As much as I enjoyed the scope of Ennis' Dangerous Habits story arc, it was Delano and his stories like Dead-Boy's Heart, Undiscovered Country, The Hanged Man and The Magus that made this volume an unforgettable collection I'm proud to own. While Ennis told a story that was more grounded in reality while merely using a paranormal twist to drive in the consequences of our lead character's choices and mistakes, Delano chose to explore some more the mystical appeal of this series by giving us The Hanged Man and The Magus which are stories so out of this world and yet chilling in its presentation and familiarity despite having more magical elements.

I believe it's a wise decision to collect Delano's stories (issues #34-39) alongside that of Ennis' (issues#40-46). Delano's standalones and two-parters served as vital stories that established  and added more dimensions to Ennis' six-part arc afterwards. Their distinct styles as writers hardly ever clashed because they both managed to retain the essence of Hellblazer as a whole, and expound on their respective insights concernig John Constantine as the integral character himself. This is also the volume of the series that is the most personal for readers because we get to read John as he undergoes his journey of self-knowledge and impossible choices. Dangerous Habits has been very enlightening and it further sealed my love for this series and its beloved and forever fascinating anti-hero.

[Unofficially, I would recommend this to everyone I know. In fact, they can just read the first nine issues (Original Sins, first volume), Newcastle issue #11, The Family Man story arc (#24, #28-30) and #31 The Mourning of the Magician before they can dive straight to Dangerous Habits, fifth volume. I'm not even going to include The Fear Machine story arc in the mix because that was rubbish with only a few redemptive issues at the end.]

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

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