Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #49

"How can you order a man to feel good? Or legislate for a woman's delight? For that's where their power lies--in making rules. We had taken their power from them just by dancing and that was our crime."
We get an unexpected Christmas special in the 49th issue of Hellblazer entitled Lord of the Dance which was interesting in a sense that this is probably THE VERY FIRST TIME I read something uplifting and sweet from the series. Sure, I suppose The Mourning of the Magician was positively moving but that issue was as depressing as fuck as well which was thankfully saved by the great message the ending has imparted. So I don't know what to say about this issue aside from the fact that I wish to express the gnawing suspicion that's been eating at me since the Dangerous Habits story arc ended. I think Garth Ennis as the new series writer is just beginning to flex his creative muscles at the moment which is why we have gotten serviceable plots in the meantime. Issues #47 and #48 had merely been light readings for me where I don't really bother analyzing much of the plot elements present because they weren't exactly appealing or memorable, let alone worthy of deeper reflections.

I was also more invested in Ennis' writing of John and Kit's relationship so everything that is happening around that character subplot has been mere background noise, I suppose, but then again I must say that their relationship is probably the only interesting thing that the writer is unfolding in his stories so far. This issue was a fluff piece that made me feel warm and nice inside. In this story, while John was deciding on what gift to get Kit, he encounters a ghost called Lord of Dance who turns out to be the ancient spirit of Winter Solstice before organized religion turned its festivities into a celebration of the birth of Christ and labeled it as Christmas. Touched by his tale of woe, John decided to show him that the meaning of the holiday--of living to the fullest during this time of the year--has not been lost, and that the Lord of Dance has simply stopped looking for it. It's an amusing take on Christmas because it tackled its pagan roots as well as the constricting conformity of a lot of organized religions. I was raised a devout Catholic and I used to be a stickler for religious rituals growing up, but these days I've learned to accept that I have a lot of agnostic inclinations which is why I stopped adhering to Catholicism and embraced my own freedom of personal worship as oppose to what is expected of me as a believer. I think this is why I enjoy supernatural and quasi-religious/occult-ish stories present in a series like Hellblazer, and why I relate to John Constantine as strongly as I do because I do get glimpses of myself when I compare it to his own brand of ambiguous yet open-minded belief system pertaining to having faith in a higher power or in the general forces of the universe.

So this issue made me feel giddy especially since it ended with Kit and John FINALLY hooking up. It was rather sweet too because I have never seen John so conflicted and nervous about a woman before. He genuinely wants her but not just out of lust but mostly because she gets him and he feels like he doesn't have to pretend around her or push her away so he can guard himself from whatever real or imagined pain he usually expects from people he cares about. I'm glad that it was Kit who made the first move too and that John has finally accepted something good and worthwhile at this time in his life. He has survived chasing down so many storms. He has literally been to hell and back. So hey, you deserve this, old Johnny boy. Go kiss the girl and celebrate the yuletide cheer with her! Still, I guess that's what's disconcerting about these last previous issue. I've been so used to the emotional abuse and schizophrenic madness and gore that Hellblazer inflicts and on me for every issue that when it finally does start treating me normally and making me feel like everything is safe and secure, I understandably lose my shit and feel like something is wrong. And this is probably what John Constantine feels right now after having Kit back into his life.

But let us enjoy the calm before the next storm, mate. There's more to life than looking for the next fight.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #48

As a continuation of the previous issue, Love Kills was a hoot with lots of great gore to feast on and the reason why I enjoyed the murder and rampage presented here is because the people who got butchered actually had it coming. Seriously, there have been so many deaths in Hellblazer and they mostly happened to nice people, either they were sacrificed for some evil ritual or a science experiment, or slayed by sheer accidental forces. This is why I take time to appreciate deaths that happen to wankers who truly must die horribly. This issue has given me that slice of righteous justice.

Once again, there is nothing much to say because the story is as straightforward as it gets, considering this is Garth Ennis and he goes right to the punch. If I discuss what happens here then there really won't be a point to read the story for yourself.

However, what I am enjoying about his run so far is the focal subplot about John Constantine and Kit's developing relationship. I'm enjoying Kit a lot. She's ballsy and yet sensitive enough to understand people's suffering around her, particularly that of a close friend's. She's outspoken and fun to be around with, and you can tell she'd fight for you and will stay loyal as long as you can return that same level of commitment and dedication, or as long as you just appreciate her presence in your life. Surprisingly enough, John has yet to screw it up. AND I PRAY TO ALL PAGAN GODS HE WON'T. Kit is exactly what he needs right now. Besides, I think a stable relationship will equalize and cancel out all the bad vibes in John's life and I think that's exactly why Ennis brings Kit to the fold. We get this compelling female character who has known John for eight years before and whom he got reunited with during one of the most tumultuous events in his life. Her timing is impeccable, really, and I'm excited to see how their dynamics play out in the long run.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #47

Garth Ennis officially takes the reigns for the Hellblazer series at this point, and he provides us a two-parter standalone story about a couple who owned a bar that represents the lifetime of love and marriage they shared together even upon the husband's death--and how some assholes don't have respect for such a kinship and proceeded to burn down said establishment for their own greedy purposes.

There's not much to say about this issue. I thought it was a perfectly nice story that follows the events in the Dangerous Habits arc. I didn't really care much about the plot itself even though I found the central old couple sort of sweet and endearing to read about, and the villains who sabotaged their long-time business to be absolute wankers who only give a shit about how to take advantage of anyone that comes across as a lucrative expenditure to them. Of course, John Constantine is not going to let these assholes get away from this and so gets involved pretty quickly, considering he knows the couple personally and has been a patron of their drinking establishment for years.

One thing I do keep tabs on since the previous issue is John's relationship with Kit, his late friend's ex, and the development of deeper feelings on either side. I just know that these two are going to become romantically linked sooner or later. However, unlike with Zed and Marj, I'm actually rooting for Kit to be a more permanent part of John's life. Look, I really enjoyed Zed as soon as she makes her first encounter with John. She was fascinating and intense but their eventual coupling was rushed and then abandoned at the first sign of trouble. As for Marj, I considered her an acceptable flavor of vanilla. She did not intrigue me as much as her daughter Mercury who had more chemistry with John, honestly (sadly, she's a minor and they have a more fatherly dynamic as oppose to romantic). It's interesting that John talked about these two men especially since Kit asked the last time he was ever involved with anyone. It's quite revealing the way John explained Zed and Marj's respective significance in his life before (and he was quick to use the past tense while talking about them too). He asserts that Zed was pretty special to him but she was hard to keep up with which was true enough, considering Zed belongs to a higher calling and I think their connection fares better without a romantic element. As for Marj, John acknowledges that she's a mother figure; a nature-type sort of woman who wants him to settle down, something John is not exactly ready for or made for. I agree on his points about both women, and I was very much curious how Kit would react to this but she didn't have any strong or telling response. But I am definitely convinced that she loves John since their friendship was consequential of the fact that John is chummy with Kit's ex, Brendan Finn.

I believe that the hesitation for them to be together in an intimate way is understandable, considering Brendan Finn's death is one of the major things that has brought them closer together again as people, but that reason may not be enough to sustain the companionship, let alone deepen it. Still, I like that they are enjoying the slow pace they are going for now, hanging out and trying to outdrink each other while John easily opens himself up to her and Kit is willing to listen and lend some wisdom about his problems at the moment. I can just feel how much they genuinely care about each other which is why they don't want to risk any kind of complication...for now.

So this issue was serviceable but what I find myself caring about more was John and Zed instead of the plot unraveling.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

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

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #46

 
"I'm John Constantine after all. I'm stupid in style."

This was a great epilogue to Garth Ennis' Dangerous Habits story arc. It's calld Falling Into Hell which is not exactly a happy title, is it?

John has survived his battle with lung cancer by forcing the hand of three devils, by being clever and strategic, to cure his ailment. Quite an amazing accomplishment for Constantine indeed. Nevertheless, I'm glad that John has acknowledged in this issue that what he did to save himself was dishonourable in a sense that he was willing to use his soul as a catalyst for the unholy trinity of Hell to wage a war among each other in order to decide which one can claim him. One would think that duping the devil and getting a second chance at life would call for celebration--but this is John we're talking about so it was to be expected that he'll be depressed about all of this.

Two important things happened in this closing issue. First is the appearance of Kit, the long-time girlfriend of the late Brendan Finn, John's friend whom we met in A Drop of the Hard Stuff previously. She hasn't been a part of Brendan's life since he pushed her away once his liver condition worsened. Based from the conversation John and Brendan had about her in said issue, she was a beguiling Irish beauty who understood and accepted the kind of working relationship her boyfriend then had with someone like John. She seemed to be open to their alternative lifestyles of the mystic and the occult which is why John remembered her very fondly. When they encountered each other again after so many years, John was so pleased to see her and they started reminiscing of the old times. It was nice for me to see John in good terms with an old friend, considering his questionable and grim history with a lot of them.

In fact, this issue's thematic message was the significance of such friendships for a man like John Constantine. The second important thing that happened here has something to do with the elderly cancer patient Matt whom John bonded with over the course of the Dangerous Habits story arc. John's concern for Matt was touching albeit self-deprecating. Once again, John feels like he had a hand on Matt's demise which is...foolish but then he justifies it to himself by saying that his own second chance at life was only earned because he cheated whilst his own friend whom he barely new but deeply cared for had to meet such a cruel end because of a terminal disease--and John should have just accepted that kind of ending for his own miserable life, instead of playing games with the devil to prove to the world that he's a clever bastard. God, at this point I'm just damn exhausted of John bitching about his bullshit choices--but I never had the kind of tough life he had so I tried to be more sympathetic than I already am--John is really pushing me, though.

Luckily, Kit was there to pick up the pieces though John cautions her into welcoming some pathetic bloke like him into her life. Kit asserts that she can handle it and holds him under the rain for a while as he grieves the loss of yet another friend. I loved that final panel of just the two of them there. John badly needs stability and Kit struck me as a strong person with a lot of compassion. I'm very interested to get to know her some more. I believe that, somewhere down the road, there might be a romantic possibility between the two of them that could form--and I wouldn't mind as long as it's written with more impact unlike the last two ambiguous relationships John had with women (Zed and Marj). I can tell that since they have known each other for almost a decade before through their connections with Brendan, then John and Kit's relationship could develop easily from there if Ennis does intend to make it romantic. I just want John to stop feeling sorry for himself and to be loved by a worthy woman. That's all.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Friday, September 26, 2014

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #45



THIS IS STRAIGHT-UP THE FUNNIEST SHIT I HAVE EVER READ IN Hellblazer, which is saying much because the last time this bloody series made me crack up was during issue #3, Go For It so it has been a fucking while. And would you believe it, just like with the third issue, this one centered around John Constantine's complicated relationship with the demon kind--but this time around, he interacted with the three big bosses: Satan, Beelzebub and Azazel. Appropriately entitled The Sting, this was an issue that amused me to no end. There were genuine laughs in between while reading this. I was so shocked that Ennis employed a comedic appeal to this story, considering his Dangerous Habits arc was as grim as it gets (though his prose writing is far more straightforward than Delano; their distinct styles are comparable only because I believe they are both in tune of the kind of stories they tell). I'm quite relieved that Ennis decided to make this ridiculously entertaining as possible. Also, just when I thought I couldn't fall more insanely in love with John Constantine, I FALL EVEN UNDENIABLY HARDER. Srsly, fuck Hellblazer and the giddy fangirl feelings it inspires as well as its uncanny ability to smash my heart into smithereens! Fuck this series!

*beat* I LOVE THIS FUCKING SERIES

Why is this so funny, you ask? Well, John Constantine is dying of lung cancer (sad), he says goodbye to his sister and best friend (sadder) and loses another friend but not after he did him a huge favor by saving his soul from the devil's clutches (saddest shit ever but quite touching and uplifting). So...so far, everything is serious (that's why this issue was so refreshing to get to). So while our titular hero is figuring out a way to escape his fate that's he's never going to willingly accept is inevitable, John encounters the pompous archangel Gabriel and had a few choice words with him, gets chummy with a cancer patient waiting for his own death, and dupes Satan into drinking holy water. And yes, the last statement is as funny as it sounds but Satan is understandably NOT goddamn pleased. When we ended the previous issue, John Constantine just slit his wrists and waits for his plan to take place. He was literally bleeding to death while Satan gleefully watches, hoping to snatch John's soul once he perishes in the mortal plane.

But hold on a bloody minute, two other devils (Beelzebub and Azazel) wanted John's soul as well and they have legally binding contracts (as it turns out, John just sold his soul to both of them). Satan's claim is that of insult because John costed him a soul (his friend's Brendan) and got him to unknowingly drink holy water like an idiot. His hurt pride is what motivates him to punish John and make him suffer in Hell while the other two know that John is a prized possession. Basically, it's a riot because both three can claim him but will not give up their own claim. John, though miserably bleeding on the floor, is enjoying the show. He knows that demons will always be selfish and these three have the largest egos of the bunch.

The dialogue is smart and hilarious all throughout especially the arguments among the three baddies and the occasional snarky and unhelpful remarks from John (who isn't bleeding quicker enough so he slits his wrists again just to mock the devils so they can hurry up and make a decision already). In the end, the three knew that none of them will concede and eventually God Himself will get involved and John's soul will ultimately belong to neither of them. Stupid John Constantine and his fool-proof plans! With a begrudging reluctance, the three devils decided that the only way to avoid an all-out war occurring in Hell (they would literally wage a war to get this man's soul, for crying out loud!) is to KEEP JOHN CONSTANTINE ALIVE. That way, no one gets to claim his soul and everything will be just dandy.

The only victor of this resolution is John himself. Not only does he get to live but Satan also guarantees to CURE HIS CANCER. But, Satan asserts, he will make it AS PAINFUL AS FUCKING POSSIBLE. So he LITERALLY SHOVES HIS HANDS INSIDE JOHN AND STARTS SCOOPING THE BLACK TAR OF HIS LUNGS. And then HE BURNS JOHN'S BODY HORRIBLY and replaces it with a new one. And the first thing John does after his resurrection? HE LIGHTS A FAG. Right in front of Satan and the two devils who had just cured him of the cancer that would have killed him. Way to rub it in their faces, you beautiful jerk! Satan then tells John that by the time he does die, he will inflict all kinds of pain and torture on his damned soul--but John brushes him off, saying that Satan HAS TO KEEP HIM ALIVE FROM NOW ON or the entire conflict of contracts will start again among the three and there's going to be an unholy war. Again, John is really rubbing it in. Not only did he manage to get a second chance at life, he is possibly never allowed to die due to security purposes, AND HE GETS TO PLAY THE DEVIL FOR A FOOL!

And yet John Constantine still thinks the spoils of his victory aren't enough. Before he leaves the seething imbeciles to contemplate how badly they screwed up, John smiles at them and gives them the middle finger.  BECAUSE WHY NOT YOU BASTARDS I'M JOHN "FUCK YOU" CONSTANTINE!

One last issue to go before I end Dangerous Habits!

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #44


When I started my review for Garth Ennis' Dangerous Habits story arc, I asserted that John Constantine is undergoing the stages of grief while waiting his impending death due to lung cancer. In The Beginning of the End issue #41, we see him in his Denial stage where he felt as if life owed him a more meaningful death than cancer, considering that he thought that he had lived a special life. In A Drop of the Hard Stuff issue #42, he started spending time with a friend he hasn't seen in years and lashes out when the Devil came to claim his friend's soul. He did display Anger in this issue but only to the extent that it was the only emotion he has that doesn't make him powerless so he embraces it. In Friends in High Places issue #43, John tries to get out of his looming mortality through Bargaining, setting up meetings with a minor demon and an archangel who both refused to do anything about his situation. Now we come to the Depression stage of the story and yet, to be quite honest, the transition towards Acceptance is quick by the middle of the story because this is also the issue where John dares to do the unthinkable which is also his last resort.
"Can you see me now, all you friends I've lost and betrayed? Do you wish me well, then, or are you praying I'll be with you soon? Will you relish every scream when my blood starts hitting the floor, or will you turn away, afraid to look, the moment you've been waiting for too awful to look at, even for my sins? Sit back and enjoy the show."
I love this issue because it reminded me of the John Constantine I was introduced to when the series began. I've described John once as a man of action even if his decisions usually have detrimental results to the lives of his friends. Though I was impressed of his resourcefulness and ability to adapt into any given situation, I also resented him because he was selfish in such a way that he's using people around him without even owning up to the deception. The weirdest thing about this narcissistic display is that he always feels remorse and guilt afterwards which makes me as a reader wonder why he would commit such a vile act in the first place if he's going to start feeling bad about it anyway. And that's the thin line that separates John Constantine from the real assholes who see humanity as expendable--and why we relate to his struggles in a way that keeps Hellblazer interesting and emotionally moving at times.

At his core, John is a decent and compassionate man who has learned to guard his heart by employing a carefully-crafted cynical approach in all the things in his life--including he people he claims to love. He does selfish things and regrets them later which is what every flawed human being does on a daily basis, and in the expanse of the series he has learned and evolved from such mistakes, and I was happy to join him along that journey.

That shrewdness and self-reliance that defined John Constantine from the start became all the more admirable now because, by this point, he also carried with him all the changes that have made him a better person from the kind of man he used to be when we read him in the first issue. In My Way issue #44, we see John saying his goodbyes with the people who mean the most to him and, more often than not, they were also the people whom he treated either kindly or dismissively. There was his sister Cheryl, his best friend Chas and even his new friend Matt (the cancer patient he made an instant connection with during this story arc). Though John has a plan in place, the odds of him surviving the ordeal are still slim so he decided that it's only necessary to make peace with this people because it's a closure that they all need. I almost teared up with that letter he left Chas (which was made all the more poignant because of the last lines where John stated that at least he and Chas parted in good ways--which is not what happened before he gave Chas that letter. They had a small argument right before John walked out of his cab and Chas realized too late that it was the last conversation they had until he read that letter). John's goodbye to Cheryl felt long overdue. He was never a big part of her life and her daughter's. They were estranged for a while, but it was cathartic because it was also his way of assuring Cheryl that both of them are ultimately forgiven for all the things and actions that were left unsaid and undone.



The issue ends with a thrilling cliffhanger. John Constantine, at the end of his straw, does the impossible and it was only by the next issue that it became clear to the readers what exactly he just committed. It was a rather good one too.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #43

Gabriel: For all your bluster and your arrogance, you are doomed because hell has laid claim to your soul. And it is to hell that you shall go.

Constantine: Yeah? Well, maybe I'm not the only one...I hope your dad doesn't know the sort of people you hang out with. I don't think he'd approve.

John makes the worst enemies. Last issue, all he wanted to do was to save his friend from eternal damnation so he ended up playing Satan for a fool in the most demeaning way possible (seriously, it was straight-up HILARIOUS too!) and now the King of Hell has placed a bull's eye on his back. But hey, there's a silver lining; it's yet another incentive not to die from a terminal illness, right? With John's track record of bad deeds outweighing his good, his soul is bound to be sent to Hell which would suck ass because John's not exactly a popular guy among demons in a good way, if you know what I'm saying. So what is our titular, wretched hero to do in this situation? I've made remarks once that Constantine is a self-preservationist type and he always has tricks up his sleeves. I guess this is why I don't feel disheartened as he goes through the motions. The sheer capacity of his will to fight another day has never failed me before and I am not about to give up on Johnny meself.

I'm still reading this series for a good reason--and it's because John Constantine is ME to a certain extent and in the most unpleasant way possible that he has made me examine the choices I made in my life. And I'd like to think I became a better person once I was brave enough to overcome my bullshit baggage--so call me an optimist but I want to see John survive all of this as if it's some sort of affirmation that what I've been through also mattered in the long run.

ANYWAY. We're at the Bargaining stage of the story. First, John meets up with a female woman named Ellie whom he seems chummy with. He gets quick updates about the situation in Hell where Satan definitely wants to make him his bitch. Ellie, unfortunately, cannot aid him in his quest for a cure but she suggests that John should see the "Snob" and the immediate furious reaction from John was outstanding! I have never seen him so worked up! By this point, I was rather curious to know who this Snob person is. It turns out he's one of the archangels, Gabriel. In the few adaptations of this angel, he's always been portrayed as a douchebag and Hellblazer presented him as some prejudiced aristocrat who belongs in a very high-esteemed society, and he couldn't be bothered with us average folks. John was forced to meet him and they had a rather...delightful conversation.

Gabriel, true to his moniker, does not have any compassion to spare and refuses flat-out to help John from his quandary. They had a heated argument but it was mostly John calling him out of his arrogance and narrow-mindedness. Really, Constantine? First the Devil and now an archangel? But I was on John's side all the way because Gabriel is a dismissive arsehole who considers himself above humanity--and isn't pride the first sin and what got Lucifer banished from Heaven in the first place? So better be careful, Gabs.

My favorite moment in this issue has to be when John visited his new acquaintance, Matt, the ageing cancer patient he met in #41. The friendship was easy because there were no false pretenses. I like that John has at least someone to talk to and it's someone who gets exactly what's he's going through. At this point, John still has plenty of drive to live and Matt shared a story that I think only encouraged him to find a solution fast.

The issue ends in a rather unexpected cliffhanger. John was left to contemplate his next course of action but that plan wasn't revealed just yet. But, based from his visceral reaction after coming up with it, I get the impression that it's definitely the last resort, something borne of madness that just might work.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #42

"I'm pissed and happy and I'm with my mate. Thank bloody Christ!"
I enjoyed this issue for so many reasons. Entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff, I was expecting that we'll be reading the Anger aspect of John Constantine's continued downward spiral along the stages dealing with his eventual demise because of terminal lung cancer (of all things). We get hints of that, sure, but overall I felt that this was a rather uplifting issue which is saying much because Hellblazer is one depressing broody fest after another (not that I'm complaining. I'm a masochist that way). I think what helped this issue is the appearance of one of John's long-time friends, Brendan Finn who was instantly endearing because of the way he and John just got along so organically even after so many years of non-conversation and other undisclosed baggage.

"Hold on a sec," you'd say, "History has indicated time and time again what a shitty friend John Constantine is. After all, he got a lot of his so-called friends killed. What makes this expendable friendship any different?"

Now that's a valid query yet judging Brendan Finn as an expendable friend is highly inaccurate. There is a recognizable bond between these two men that was unlike any other, considering almost every friend from John's past that we have encountered in the previous issues has some resentment kept buried within that often comes out at an opportune moment. This was not the case with Brendan Finn. He seems to genuinely adore John and so welcomes him back into his life without a second thought. I have never met Finn before until this issue but Ennis has established that he has an affinity with John that's mostly founded on the fact that they both practice 'sorcery'--and perhaps it's also because they're self-indulgent bastards with parallel vices; John's a chain smoker who can offend a chimney, and Brendan's a drunkard. On the superficial surface, these things are inconsequential reasons to stay friends with someone but I think that's what makes their relationship work. There is unspoken compassion in an instant, an understanding that they're both so fucked-up that it should be no surprise they get on well. Friendships often come rarely for people of their trade and lifestyle choice.

It was made all the more poignant when John finally reveals the purpose of his visit: he wanted Brendan to cure his cancer. Brendan, as it turns out, wanted the same thing from John. He himself has problems with his liver. It's pretty hilarious if you distance yourself from the story; these irresponsible, reckless men facing the price of their hedonistic lives is a trope for situational comedy. And it is funny, they both admit that, and so both decided to spend the rest of the night getting drunk, singing songs and having a blast.

The sadness would creep in, sure, but at this point neither the readers or these characters care to acknowledge it. What matters is that for tonight, they don't have to face their fears alone, as long as they have each other.

By this time, readers might think, "Strewth, here we go again! Another one of John's buddies having a tragic end," and they'd be wrong--in a way. For the first time in forty-plus issues, John Constantine dared himself to do something he never had the courage to do before. When Satan visits to take away Brendan's soul because a bargain has been struck between them a long time ago, John displays one final act of cunning and dupes Satan which made him incapacitated long enough for the agreed contract not to be acted upon. That meant that Brendan Finn's soul was no longer bound to Hell. John didn't make a big deal of this small victory which was endearing for me because it goes to show that it wasn't anything premeditated or done to impress the readers--it was truly a selfless act in the heat of the moment. John was just relieved that he was able to give Brendan a piece of compensation in his demise; sparing him from eternal damnation should do the trick. That panel shot of him looking at Brendan's face as he passed away serenely was so touching. In the context of all the dead friends who blamed him for their suffering, this was a redemptive moment for John; and he couldn't even take the time to appreciate it because there are more pressing matters.

Invigorated from that final meeting with a dear friend (and equally dreadful because he also managed to piss Satan off AND THERE IS NO WAY HE COULD DIE AND GO TO HELL NOW), John sets out his sights to the bargaining stage of his death...

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #41

"I'm the one who steps from the shadows, all trenchcoat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I've got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I'll drive your demons away. I'll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they're down, and then I'll be gone back into the darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone... who would want to walk with me?"

Reading John Constantine has been an emotional rollercoaster where one always has the power to walk away from the inevitable crash that's coming--and yet, for some reason, one also feels compelled to stay for the ride and hope there is something that can be salvaged. My connection to this character has gotten stronger each issue that it feels as if I've known and loved him in a previous life and I merely forgot about it. And then I'm constantly reminded why I was better off forgetting in the first place every time I turn a page in an issue.

It's the most exhausting and schizophrenic relationship I ever had with a fictional character; on one hand I know that I should hate him but on the other hand I just keep finding a way to forgive him anyway. Fuck. This.

MOVING ON. This issue marks the first part of the official Dangerous Habits story arc and it's called The Beginning of the End which is exactly what it says on the tin. This is one of those landmark storylines that even that Keannu Reeves movie adaptation added as a subplot. What was that, you ask, in case you never bothered to see the film or just forgot about it because the entire film was shite anyway?

Nothing much. Dangerous Habits just happens to reveal that JOHN CONSTANTINE IS DYING OF LUNG CANCER, WHAT THE FUCK?! The tragi-comic irony about this twist was not lost to our titular hero. It's the first thing he complained about right-off-the-bat. He really thought his death would at least be just as special as the life he lived. Heh. I'd feel the same way if I was living his life. Actually, he and I do share this unique sense of self-entitlement that often makes us believe we are destined for something...not boring.

What a tedious way to die, is what John thinks. Cancer!? Shit, son.

Written by Garth Ennis, the issue starts and ends with a less verbose prose than his predecessor's. No metaphors and literary symbolism scattered. The narrative is much more straightforward and I like it. I didn't mind Delano's poetic sentence construction. That element had made a lot of his stories vibrant and hard to put down. But Ennis' style is cleaner, proficient and yet still very distinct in voice and delivery. The plot of this issue serves to illuminate the readers what is the current conflict John has to face this time and that would be his impending mortality. Understandably surly, John Constantine contemplates the last month's events which included his reunion with his dead twin (the most fantastic story Delano has written after The Family Man story arc, personally), which I thought provided him a much needed spiritual closure. But things have not become easier for John at all; this is Hellblazer after all and Constantine is the king of complications.

After finding out that he's dying due to an ailment that doesn't fit a master of the dark arts (sodding cancer, can you imagine? I guess he shouldn't have smoked--thirty bloody sticks a day? WHAT?), John is quite possibly going through the stages of grief for his inevitable demise, and he's at the Denial and Isolation stage. Halfway through the issue, we see him trying to make sense of his situation, visiting clinics and acquainting himself with chemotherapy patients, all the while refusing to accept that this is how it's all going to end. It's...sad. And yet, as a fully-pledged Constantine fan, I myself know he will find a way out of this (well, the series also lasted until 300 issues so it's obvious that he wouldn't die in this story arc). But I try to be in the moment as much as I could and it's really not that hard because Ennis was great in capturing John's tumultuous psyche at the moment, perfectly spelling out how alone John truly is which is why he even befriended a sick, dying old man with the same affliction as has. He's taking whatever comfort he can get and for the first time I did get the sense that he might be too tired to come up with new tricks to outsmart his own fate.

Helplessness is John's enemy now. Nevertheless I know he can turn it around. A large part of him will never stop believing in him. Call me a sucker, but John is, ultimately, my hero.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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."
RECOMMENDED: 10/10

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #39

"Everything would be all right if you'd just let us love you."
Oh my FUCKING BLOODY GODS. This...WOW. I just---shit. So. Right. Okay.

I don't want to stutter my way into this review because that would be the highest form of injustice for this exquisitely narrated, visually breathtaking and unexpectedly climactic story that was issue #39, The Hanged Man. Some needless personal disclosure first (while I try to gather my bearings because discussing this issue won't be painless): I love tarot cards and I've been studying how to read fortunes in them for quite some time now. I also believe that reading your life in these cards is not so much about predicting a fixed future as much as it is more about knowing the possibilities that could occur in our lives right now, depending on the choices we make that could influence the outcome. That's basically the power and magic of tarot cards. They're supposed to reveal certain key moments and issues we are undergoing that could affect everything UNLESS we assert our autonomy and do something to change or improve our odds. With that said, reading The Hanged Man was an adventure for me because I suppose, just like John Constantine, I have a fascination for mysticism (I always consider it a big deal to know someone's zodiac sign during first meetings), which is also why I decided to read Hellblazer in the first place, and why I share so much affinity with John which by now truly goes beyond us merely sharing the Taurus zodiac sign, and this issue further sealed that.

Another thing: In issue #36, The Undiscovered Country, Marj herself had been doing some tarot card reading concerning perhaps of John himself and there are some...interesting interpretations that she formed. You can read them by clicking the link and scrolling down to the last part of that review.


For this wonderful issue, these are three major cards that Zed revealed which played huge roles in the state of John Constantine's life right now: the first card is WHO HE IS (The Hanged Man); the second is WHAT'S BETWEEN (The Tower); and the third is WHO HE WANTS TO BE (The Magician). As someone who understands each meaning of the cards and can contextualize them in reflection of John and his circumstances, they did not shock me. I was intrigued, however, of how Delano will turn these cards into literary ingredients for a satisfying story--and it did not disappoint. The important thing to remember is that Delano has to build up many aspects in John's character evolution for each issue, no matter how seemingly insignificant an issue was as long as we got some new dimension to John. If he failed to do that, then this issue wouldn't have worked or resonated. Fortunately for us, he was able to design each previous issue with great care and a long-term game plan; and that's why The Hanged Man was brilliant because it was the accumulation of all the things that happened in John's life so far and how and why these three cards below symbolize that journey.




Before we get to that, let's talk about the condition that had plagued John so heavily throughout the story since the very first time we met him and up until this point: GUILT. Guilt over the little girl in Newcastle whose soul he unwittingly sacrificed to a demon; guilt over the friends who served as accomplices to such a despicable act, as their lives were all claimed one by one; guilt over losing his lover Zed when he chose to taint her in order to save a great number of lives in exchange; guilt over his helplessness and abrasiveness; guilt over his inaction which allowed a malicious murderer to massacre more families; guilt over committing murder himself; guilt over punishing his father because of the pain of the man's rejection; guilt over the dead-boy's heart he stole and believed to be the reason for the Bogeyman's death. Recalling all of these important events we have read throughout the thirty-eight issues so far truly painted a broader picture of why John Constantine is suffering. This overpowering and constant presence of guilt in his life has affected his overall countenance and destroyed his relationships. And now here we are in this issue and who he is represented by The Hanged Man, a card that speaks of a state of temporary pause in life where sacrifices had been made and this is a mourning stage. Time is suspended and John is losing the power over his own choices. 
A notable dialogue happens at the beginning of the issue while he was having a rather intimate conversation with Marj, he reveals one aspect of his childhood pertaining to the Golden Boy whom he had been seeing every once in a while whenever a darkness overcomes his present:
"I was never sure. I used to see him sometimes when I was a kid. Usually when I was feeling hard-done-by. Sort of imaginary friend, I suppose, only he'd never be my friend--no matter how much I wanted him to be...All I wanted was to be close to him. Somehow I knew that if only I could soak up a little of his strength, his clean-ness, it would make my father love me....He looked at me and smiled. I loved him. But I hated him as well. The contrast was too great. I felt like shit--I wanted to smear his perfection. And he looked right into me and knew it. His smie became a cold, reflective sneer. He moved his arm and banished me--forever."
Marj then asserts that everything would be okay if John would just allow people to love him. It was a noble suggestion and there was even a lump in my throat when I read that. But John has a complex personal history and there is so much more to his problems and struggle that not even love can completely abolish. There's some deeper forces that he had to fight first. So we will come back to the importance of the symbol of the Golden Boy later on. Meanwhile, John leaves Marj and goes to Zed who read his cards for him. The second card, the blockage that's preventing him to getting where he wants to be, is The Tower. It symbolizes change in disruptive form, one that will turn his life upside-down. A radical upheaval is happening to John and he has to able to take it in a stride if he hopes to survive it. It's a revolutionary event that he must accept if he does hope to become what the third card embodies. Ah, The Magician. What a beautiful card. It is a card that denotes control over one's own destiny; a card of self-love; it symbolizes a ripe opportunity to pursue vital goals and overcome adversity alongside it. Drawing this card would make someone feel invincible, revitalized and unbreakable. It's no surpise that John covets it. And the first step of achieving it is to pass through the challenge The Tower poses. Zed encourages him to heed the cards' promise:
"Look inward, John. There's a place in you where two half-truths intersect to make a whole. Reconcile the opposites of horror and love--and thus encompass chaos with magic"
John goes out to seek the literal representation of a tower: an abandoned church on the hillside. What he discovers there is something so heartbreaking that I teared up. I don't want to give too much spoilers because I just want anyone who reads my Hellblazer reviews to experience the story for themselves and hence be encouraged to pick up the issue and read it. The Hanged Man is the most heartfelt and climactic of the series yet. The story resonated inside my own crevices and it also helped me understand myself better as someone who related a lot to John's issues. We're not always powerless even during the darkest moments that seem to persistently hover in our lives. We change all the time and the best part of our humanity is that we can always choose who we become.

On that personal note, I will end my review here and leave you with this haunting passage from John:
All these years I never knew. I built a dark fortress to defend and hide my guilty life and crouched inside alone--a shadow separated from the light that cast it. That terror, that sickly dread. It wasn't death I trembled waiting for--but this inevitable bolt of revelation to split me open and bring me tumbling down.
RECOMMENDED: 10/10

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #38

This is the continuance of the previous issue and this one is appropriately entitled Boy's Games. As usual, it wouldn't be Hellblazer without the sickening gore and the visual gruesomeness of this issue was handled pretty well, supposedly to symbolize the machismo that surrounds violence. Archibald Acland is a cautionary tale on his own, a man whose bloodlust is the foundation of his power and the cruelty he inflicts on his own son Martin is for him a sign of authority which is pitiful because it's one of the most convoluted and primitive beliefs ever. Archibald wants to assert his relevance on his own progency, perhaps subconsciously unable to deal that his legacy will be at the mercy of a boy he perceives to be a weakling all because Martin does not share his penchant for malice and brute strength. 

I keep shaking my head while reading this issue, and it's mostly because I feel terribly bad for both father and son.

Don't get me wrong: I despised this Archibald Acland with a lot of deserved vehemence, but I also acknowledge that his short-lived character arc is suppose to reflect what a great majority of men desperately cling onto, especially the ones who can't adapt to the changes of the world, culture and society around them. Archibald sees the world becoming different from the one he grew up and he felt like he was being left behind. Martin was symbolic of his fading glory and inevitable mortality. It's interesting to note that John and Mercury had a conversation about this in issue #36 The Undiscovered Country where Merc defines herself as the future and John is a man trapped in the long reach of his past--the parallel is disconcerting.

It's just one of the things I noticed in the collected issues for Dangerous Habits. Mothers and fathers and their children are being highlighted here, as well as the false and double-edged convenient truths and lies that we are all enslaved with; and it's quite true when they say that people learn to love their chains. Archibal Acland is the best example of that, and, to a lesser extent, our own titular hero is falling prey to it. The only stark contrast is that John can still overcome it because he is not as alone as he may believe, and there is an inherent goodness to him that he often neglects to recognize.

Meanwhile, men like Archibald Acland are becoming obsolete as the world evolves and the values and idealogical landscapes are moving forward along with it. Acland's fate by the last pages was an acceptable conclusion to his horrid and detestable existence. I'm just glad that his wife and son were able to escape him. Now Martin is traveling with the rest of the camper-van family which I actually like a lot. Mercury is friendless, and it'd be good for her to have someone her age to hang around with.

One of my favorite moments was when she was taking care of a traumatized Martin after she saved him from the butchery initiation that was going on among his father and the other butchers. She looked at herself in the reflection of the van's window and realized that she was doing what Marj has done for John when he came over--and it freaked her the hell out. For all her quips about Marj being so subservient, she fails to realize that women are nurturing creatures and she is every bit as a martyr like her mother. But the distinction lies in the actions they can make and Mercury ultimately has more agency and autonomy than Marj who is the quintessential suffering mother who would do anything for her children including giving up her individuality. I still think Merc has a different path to tread than her mother's, and it's about time she starts figuring it out.

There's no much John Constantine here because the focus was on Mercury which did not bother me because I adore her to pieces. The next issue, well, is going to be one of the best we will yet to see for the Dangerous Habits collection.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #37

In this issue entitled Man's Work, Delano introduces new characters and zeroes in on our lovely Mercury. Apparently, she along with John and Marj are officially a camper-van family who travel together without any definite destinations. Through the course of the mind-boggling clusterfuck that is John Constantine's strange life, this arrangement is probably the closest thing to normalcy he will ever achieve. 

But before that amusing development, the story opens with the Acland family with a butcher named Archibald and his subservient wife and son whose name is Martin. Archibald Acland, to put it in the most eloquent terms, is fucking gross. He's overbearing, sadistic and loves the killing. For his teenage son's birthday, he decided to force-feed him several pig parts because Martin seems to be a vegetarian which is something consequential, given the gleeful menace his father displays every time he slaughters animals not just for food but for the power and pleasure this cruelty gives him. This will all be shown in the later pages. It's enough to turn me off from meat and these days I actually hate the taste of pork so reading those animal snuff pages was such a pain in the ass.

In the meantime, Archibald takes his son to the farm so he could turn the boy into a man in the best way a bastard like him knows how: by forcing his son to watch as he tortures and slays pigs--and then tries to make him do the same. But on their way to that promising father-and-son quality bonding, Mercury stumbled upon Martin and befriends him, recognizing the torment he's in. She brings over to show to Marj and John as if she just picked up a stray puppy. Yeah, that's Merc for you. It's notable that this is how she met John as well and Mercury seems to have a habit of taking in lost souls and trying to appease their inner turmoils in any way she can. But daddy Archibald yanks Martin away and gets them out of there quickly.

Mercury is still concerned about the guy because her psychic abilities are telling her that he's in some trouble of some kind. And then her mother pointed out that Martin is quite good-looking so perhaps Mercury is also attracted to him. That subplot is something I don't mind happening, seeing as John is definitely the father figure in her life as awkward as that is, because I still maintain that Mercury fancies John but is just not comfortable enough to express especially since he's her mother's lover. So I think she may choose to project those feelings with Martin instead.

This issue had great gruesome visuals. It was unsettling to read the horror that the birthday boy Martin has to witness. Talk about being scarred by a loved one. This boy will have years of therapy ahead of him. The issue ends with Archibald about to show his son how to properly gut a pig using his signature ceremonious sadism which is just lovely, thank you very much, Hellblazer. You just have to go there, don't you? Gods.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hellblazer by Jamie Delano issue #36

"Jealous--that's what Marj said she was. Is it true? Can she be jealous of that grunting, sweaty and weary need? No, these are stil his thoughts she's infected with...aren't they?"

Oh my god, I think I need to address the elephant in the room, seeing as I quoted Mercury in Delano's third-person point of view above. At this rate, I do believe we might just witness Mercury's sexual awakening if she ever dwells deeper on her feelings for John Constantine. Mercury has matured beyond her years, and the only man in her life whom she learned to care about (and feels a strong connection with no matter how much she denies this now) is no other than John.

And I can see that she loathes this because she wants to hate him--and yet the longing is just as sharp as her disgust of him.

In this issue called The Undiscovered Country, I finally got what I wanted the most, which would be the long-awaited interactions between Mercury and John--and boy, they're composed of a handful of dialogues that I just ate up. There are so many quotable moments here because their arguments have layers. The power struggle between them is so delicious. We have this weathered man who has seen the most horrific things in his line of work, and a young girl whose mind-bending abilities has provided her with a unique perspective on most things. However, both do have glaring faults of their own. John asserts that Mercury is still young and even if she has seen some things that most people will never comprehend, she doesn't have her own experiences to properly contextualize them and that is her blind spot. One of their interesting exchange is this:
John: You need a broader experience to understand what makes people who they are--how the patterns of the past inform the future. 
Mercury: No, I don't. Patterns are the bloody trouble. They're what's messed you up, aren't they? You're not doing anything new. You're stuck in a loop, repeating all the worn-out lines and moves, like someone in a TV soap
I could quote the rest of their conversation all the way through because there was no dull moment during their argument. It's so refreshing, and vital even, to have someone challenge John for once and make him re-think his actions. And I'm glad it's Mercury because she is such a well-nuanced character of her own right who will clash with someone of John's nature.

I think I'm going to go ahead and quote the next line of their conversation again because the dialogue is just so good:
John: You're too bloody clever for your own good. You want to save the world but you don't know what it is. You don't know the half of it, Merc, you should--
Mercury: ...see the things you've seen? Oh, give it a rest. I'd seen all of that shit I needed to before I was ten. The world's fill of people with glass heads, John! 
John:But...
Mercury: Don't you get it? No enigmatic charm. No air of mystery. No fascinating secret depths. I can see right through all of that to the frightened child inside anytime I want. I can see everything.

And then John (who we see on the scene is growing fearful of what this child-woman with psychic powers can do) makes the fatal mistake of saying that she can't always see everything. And we get Merc brutally disagreeing when she announced the demons she had seen in his soul:
Mercury: I can see the baby who killed his brother and his mother--and nursed his guilt into a monster he couldn't kill. I can see the youth who doomed his friends by leading them too close to the edge of his madness. And I can see the man who killed his father with a careless word--then tried to drown his guilt in the spilled blood of revenge."
HOLY BEEJUS MERCURY HAS GOT HIM PEGGED. And John's weak-hearted quip that he never had a brother doesn't even hide how terrifying that must be, hearing some young girl read him that way. I'm telling you, while perusing these pages, my heart is caught at the back of my throat and I feel like I can choke on it.
Mercury: Who is the enemy, John? Who is the Bogeyman? What you really want to kill? Who scares you the most? 
John: You do, you bloody little witch! You terrify me! 
Mercury: Not me, John. It's what I represent that cripples you--the future. 
John: Jesus, girl, what bred you? What mutated your genes--pesticides...atom tests..? 
Mercury: You did, John--you and your kind. Now you have to live with me--if you can. And that's it, isn't it? Now that you've all pushed it to the very brink, you want to give up. You're too afraid to jump and too afraid to stay. You've got hell right behind you and freedom in front. You're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Wow. Just wow. I think what's very shocking to John here is that this surrogate daughter of his has grown up before his very eyes and she's forcing him to own up to his crap and stop being so afraid. But I did like that Merc does understand the effect of her mighty words so she tries to reassure him that she's only angry because she cares. And that's just it. Merc is pushing John like this because she wants to fix him.

When John tries to walk away from their bitter spat, she makes him stay and tells him that:
"Death is just a painless moment between lives
And she shows him what she means by that. AND I AM NOT GOING TO GIVE ANY MORE SPOILERS BECAUSE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT WAS UNBELIEVABLE AND SCARY. Basically, Merc made John compliant enough so she could enter his subconscious and they unlocked doors in his possible future and John is forced to see what might happen to him if his stagnant posturing will continue. Talk about a Dickensian twist!

I'd like to end this review with Marj's tarot reading because her interpretations of it (at least I assume that the boxes containing it are her thoughts) AMAZINGLY AND ACCURATELY SUMMARIZE JOHN CONSTANTINE:
Creative male force blocked by greed for secret knowledge
Wants to be a paternal wise man and teacher--but subconsciously craves pure unsymbolic sex.
He's excited by the promise of the future--but blocked by obsession and suppression of love.
Living in a hopeful vision, passing time waiting for the rule of pattern to exert itself.
Reaching for the freedom to experience all of life's extremes, an outsider hung up trying to find the courage to break the devil's block
This issue has exhausted me mentally. I have never read anything in Hellblazer yet that is so affecting like this one. Dammit, this story arc is proving to be the most inquisitive and stressful from Delano's run yet!

RECOMMENDED: 9/10