Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #81 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 4]

I found the overall brutality for this story arc to be noteworthy. Usually, a grand excess of violence without proper context would annoy me but Ennis does a great service to this story by supplying such gruesome scenes so I don't really mind the varying layers of debauchery I had to peel away to get to the very heart of the narrative. It's a vital component that adds to the suspense and horror, especially with the previous installment. 

Now I only have two more reviews to post before August ends so I'm simply cleaning house a this point. However, I'm also glad that it would seem like I would be ending my second wave of Hellblazer comics diet for 2015 with a great story arc such as this one. I was beginning to worry there for a while because Ennis' stories in general for me don't often deliver especially the major storylines. But thankfully the tables have turned here in Rakes at the Gates of Hell.

After the First of the Fallen acquires the heart of the fallen archangel Gabriel which he steals from the telepath Nigel, things are bound to escalate to a full-on shitfest scale. This consequently forces John to hide inside a church after frantically scribbling a series of every conceivable protection spells and wards all over the place. A priest finds him unconscious in the shadows, possibly just praying to God that the Devil doesn't find him. The priest named Kellaway tries to be nice to John and have an actual conversation but John is too drunk, too terrified, too pissed and too isolated in his misery that he vents out on the poor guy. To say that he is having a crisis of faith will have to mean he had faith on an Almighty God in the first place. His cynical views about the Bible and Catholicism in general were stuff I myself proclaimed in the past and I understood where it comes from now, more so after hearing them from John.

Much like myself, John is a man of faith but not necessarily of God. He wants to believe but even when he does, he can't commit. John has a light in him that often gets swallowed up because of his bad habit of chasing after the darkness and the many thrills, magic and mystery it promises to give him access to. Raised as a Catholic and yet attracted to the occult and some paganism on the side, John Constantine is a character I always see myself in when it comes to my complicated relationship with religious institutions in general and my inclinations to search for a more freeing spiritual belief that isn't based on centuries-old oppressive patriarchy. 

Jamie Delano never shied away in characterizing and exploring the paradoxes in John's faith system in his stories before.  Meanwhile, I think that this is really the first time in his run that Ennis finally examined that aspect of his character that always hits home for me. 

Interestingly enough, this story isn't just about John's duel with the Devil. There is a nuanced and troubling story involving the secondary characters of African-British decent and their violent conflicts with the police. It's a subplot that is riveting and chilling on its own, focusing on a character named George who is running away from law enforcement that doesn't give a shit about his civil rights and therefore would gladly be rid of him. And he fights back and his struggle may have some sort of parallel to John's but his own cavalry is unique on its own and I don't want to compare it to John's experience at hand because they are fundamentally very, very different. The situation for this arc reminds me of The Master and Margarita novel which makes use of the Devil and the concept of Hell to highlight important socio-political strifes in Russia. The devil character in that book is both literal and symbolic and equally functions at both. I don't think Ennis himself is attempting for the same effect but it has come off to me that way nevertheless and that's really awesome. Ennis can write satire if he doesn't force it down our throats like that regrettable Damnation's Flame (I swear to Loki this is the last time I'm mentioning that story arc again).

I am really having such a great time with Rake at the Gates of Hell even though it's getting very dark and depressing on many levels at this point. This time at least Ennis is providing me more opportunities to talk about this comics in length unlike with the last ones. 

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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