Friday, August 28, 2015

Hellblazer Volume 8: Rake at the Gates of Hell by Garth Ennis

I'm going to address the elephant in the room before I begin to talk about the high points of this fourth Hellblazer collection written by Garth Ennis: the reason why the rating is only a solid 8 out of 10 stars--which is only a notch higher than the previous volume, Tainted Love. And that's all because of that regrettable story arc called Damnation's Flame that compelled me to remove two points from the collection as a whole. That left the worst aftertaste in my mouth. I don't want to waste anyone's time talking about its stupidity anymore; just know that it's the most singular flaw in an otherwise perfect wrap-up at the end with the amazing Rake at the Gates of Hell which is the titular story to watch out for in this volume.

The volume is comprised of issues #72-#84 but I only managed to individually review until #83 which is the last installment of Rake at the Gates of Hell. Between the mediocre hubbub that was Damnation's Flame and the masterpiece that was Rake, two standalone stories are squeezed in concerning the late Brendan, John's friend who is equally just as messed up as him, and Chas Chandler, John's unarguably most loyal mate whose friendship he almost completely lost since John broke up with Kit on bad terms. 


I think Ennis really shines with his standalone issues and I much preferred them to his major arcs. In fact, he had about seven of them now since he started his run and I only enjoyed two of them (Dangerous Habits and Rake). I think I would consider this as my third favorite volume because of Rake and I really wish that they didn't include that forgettable shite that was D.F. Fuck that shit.


So let's talk about Rake at the Gates of Hell. [SPOILERS AHEAD]


This introductory installment is written concisely but brutally in a manner so engrossing that I know Ennis is more than capable of delivering. There are some fucked-up scenes that chilled me to the bone. That opening one with Header talking about a wartime experience; that cringe-worthy racial assault against an African-American woman who was pushed down the stairs by an asshole police detective. The woman's son, who was being apprehended for planted drugs in his room, shoots the motherfucker in the arm and he falls down the window, bleeding profusely which he only deserved. On the more personal side of the narrative, John is currently shagging a black woman named Sarah who knows she's only there to warm his bed and is not happy about it, especially when John tried to help a woman named Helen, a former, uh, "bed-warmer" who is now a junkie prostitute obsessed with her pimp, Phil because he's been dosing her up senseless. John took pity on her but ended up slightly rejecting Sarah and she doesn't look like she would take kindly to that. I'm interested to see the kind of conflict this relationship will lead to. Sarah seemed nice enough. I hope to get to know her.


Meanwhile, Astra approached the First of the Fallen with a promise of retribution against John Constantine to which they will both reap many benefits from. She claimed to have found a way to undo the tangled-up contract that Constantine got him and the rest of his devil-brothers to participate in. This said contract disabled any of them from getting John's soul because that would result to a civil war among them so it was best for the three of them to keep John alive and to make sure his soul is untouched. But Astra, who had nothing more to do in Hell but plot and scheme for ways to destroy the man who damned her there, reassured the First of the Fallen that she had found a loophole. The issue ends with the Devil looking celebratory as fuck as he prepared to move his first piece in the chess game.

There is an ancient law that states that when a demon is bested three times by a mortal then this demon would receive eternal torment instead. John Constantine has tricked the First of the Fallen (Satan himself) about three actual times now. FotF, however, refuses to acknowledge the last con as an official one and begins to plot his next move to take down John. Although these two first met in Ireland when John was visiting his friend Brendan to ask for help, John and FotF go way back. They had an indirect contact when John was infected by Nergal with demon blood under orders of FotF himself so when John has sexual congress with the second Mary (Zed), he will taint her and she will become an unsuitable vessel to birth out a new Messiah for Heaven.

Their first real face-to-face encounter was not very pleasant. First Fallen was supposed to snag Brendan's soul which the poor sod sold in exchange for the world's finest collection of wines. John helps a brotha out by duping First into drinking holy water which rendered hin weak enough for John to beat him up and help Brendan pass over to Heaven when First's claim of his soul expired. Anger and hilariously shamed, First Fallen vowed to take John's soul the moment he dies of lung cancer. John tricked him the second time when he brokers his soul to not one but two other devils, Beelzebub and Azazel. The three now have legitimate claim but cannot risk going to war to fight one another in exchange of claiming one mortal's soul. So they had to cure John of cancer and let him live. This all went down in the Dangerous Habits arc, and man it was hilarious.

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).

Personally, the two most notable contributions that Ennis bequeathed the Hellblazer series is the iconic Dangerous Habits and the character of Kit Ryan whom John began a meaningful monogamous relationship with. She was a great breath of fresh hair that stands out from the previous women John only shacked up with and then nearly destroyed once the affair burned cold. Kit was sincere, beautiful, assertive and devoted to John in a way that does not diminish her person, and that's why I thought she was a great companion to John when it lasted. But it didn't, mostly because Kit does not want to have anything to do with the crazy, dark side of being with a man as haunted as John; and the moment she got a taste of that, she was left with no choice but to discontinue the relationship. I find it brave and wise of her to make such a decision. Most women would stick around for their man, believing they can fix or save him if they loved him hard enough. Not someone as sensible like Kit though.

She really, really loved John for who he is and not what he could become and that was something I will always adore her for. In this issue, they finally had one night together to talk about how both of them fucked up their break-up conversation since Kit has got quite a temper and John purposefully got her angry at him just to avoid a more mature conversation. And now they are having said talk and I can tell it was cathartic for both parties especially to me as a reader who has been a supporter of this couple from the very beginning. They were old friends; Kit was the ex of the late Brendan, one of John's mates and possibly the only one aside from Chas who had always understood what John is all about perfectly. Kit loved John not because of his charisma or infamy as a occultist but rather because she could see through that costume and acknowledge the insecure man underneath who does long for a stable, home life and she was eager enough to provide him that.

The last installment was almost as satisfying as the ending for Dangerous Habits. It had been a fast and unpredictable roller coaster that paid off with a satisfying and humane conclusion. John moves on from his heartbreak over losing Kit, he finally learns to forgive himself over his friends' often unhealthy attachment to him which gets them in trouble, and he saved a woman he cared about from utterly destroying her life into shambles. Those are the small victories that matter in life, and sure, having his ally Ellie kill the Devil was an amazing feat but John could hardly take credit for that so he focuses on the one thing he can feel triumphant about; and that is to live another day, wiser, more evolved and less afraid. 

Bravo, Mr. Ennis. This has been a very spectacular story arc! I expect more great things from now on. But this is the last issue for my second wave of comics diet for Hellblazer. I'm coming back next year, probably earlier. I'm not sure yet, but maybe around May which is John's birthday month. In the meantime, as John said in the last installment of Rake

"Goodnight and God Bless. Now go fuck off to bed!"


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #83 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 6]

So, for the first order of business, the Devil gives back John Constantine's lung cancer. I mean, of course he did that. He taketh away, he giveth back and all that. So this issue opens with John puking on the floor as Satan reads him poetry from his murdered friend's journal. FotF is taking his sweet time tormenting John and who could blame him? 

He's evil incarnate and a mere mortal just happened to trick him thrice in a row; and the bastard also made him drink holy water once, and then flipped him off as soon as he cured said mortal of cancer. In his point of view which I can share with enough distance--John Constantine is the bad guy here. And isn't it just perfectly quaint that John is the Devil's very own demon that he must be rid of in any way possible? I think it's cute as fuck.

While John is bleeding to death, the Devil decided to tell him a story of How I Met Your Father (or, rather, How God And I Used to be Besties Until the Day We're Not). Basically, he said that he was created for the sole purpose of being the companion to the Creator as he goes about his business of creation and stuff. He was there to agree, to worship and to stroke God's pride and ego with flattering compliments and whatnot. 

One day, God told him he plans to create beings of free will and the Devil (who was Nameless then) disagreed with him for the first time. God was not pleased which was ironic because he was all for free will and yet the moment when his friend has a different opinion, he totally gives him the silent treatment. The Devil bemoans how God totes ignored him since then until he stumbled upon him on another fateful day and realized that Creator is straight-up crazy to create a paradox of giving humanity the choice between right and wrong when He knew people are arseholes and will often choose to do the wrong thing. And then he casts out the Devil out of Heaven for that awkward moment of understanding that passed between them and the Devil, in his own words, has been "falling ever since". So the storytelling time went on for a while and then we get this scene with some slashy subtext that I felt the need to screencap because it's just so goddamn cheesy I thought my fangirl mind was only dreaming it happened:



Srsly, Satan just tenderly touches John's face and says that since he has met John, he woke him up and turned his life around. He just couldn't walk away from Constantine after he felt such a powerful yet hateful and maybe even a little lustful connection with him. I'm gagging and squeeing all at once, by the way. It's a bit disgusting but hey, I'm not complaining.

And then as Satan questions his existence, John lights a cigarette (WHILST STILL CHOKING BLOOD) and comments that the Devil is in fact God's conscience. That was his purpose and function all along. John explains it better here in these panels:



And then some shouting match occurs, and Astra appears and John starts sobbing, begging Satan to take her away because his guilt over damning her soul to Hell is making things worse. Satan refuses and was about to drag him to inferno when Astra revealed herself to be ELLIE THE SUCCUBUS all along! My god, this character has been given a lot of proactive roles since she appeared in the stories and I freaking love it. Using the weapon she forged from the essence of the devils Satan killed earlier on, she wielded the knife and stabbed Satan in the back and through his heart. Satan dies, Ellis removes the cancer from John's lungs and now things are more uncertain regarding the duel between John and the Devil. It was a nice, unexpected wrap-up. A woman saves the day and that's pretty cool. And now John owes her a big one. I'm excited to see how their dynamics develop down the line. Ellie seems hardcore resourceful and clever to the boot and John could use a strong ally like that.

To end this issue, we get a wonderful closure and heart-to-heart between John and George:


He also had a nice moment with Helen who just recovered from the trauma and rape courtesy of her now-dead pimp. She's on her way to recovery and a new life and she was grateful that John was the reason for this miraculous second chance. She tells him he's very special and hugs him. John holds on tight--feeling the weight of the last six months of misery--and cries:


But John is still all bravado so instead of saying something sentimental back, he opted for a charming grins as he sees her off, telling her "Goodnight and God bless. Now fuck off to bed" good-humoredly. 

WOW. That had been a fast and unpredictable roller coaster that paid off with a satisfying and humane conclusion. John moves on from his heartbreak over losing Kit, he finally learns to forgive himself over his friends' often unhealthy attachment to him which gets them in trouble, and he saved a woman he cared about from utterly destroying her life into shambles. Those are the small victories that matter in life, and sure, having his ally Ellie kill the Devil was an amazing feat but John could hardly take credit for that so he focuses on the one thing he can feel triumphant about; and that is to live another day, wiser, more evolved and less afraid. Bravo, Mr. Ennis. This has been a very spectacular story arc! I expect more great things from now on.

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Hellblazer Volume 4: The Family Man by Jamie Delano

[It completely slipped my mind to review this volume collection last year so here we go]

Comprised of eleven issues, The Family Man has to be my most favorite volume of all the Hellblazer collections so far. The reason is because Delano's story arc concerning the serial killer who targets happy families and his cat-and-mouse game with John Constantine definitely remains as one of the most chilling and memorable things I have read in Hellblazer. I'm currently in Ennis' run, but nothing in Ennis' stories so far can compare as far as unsettling and disturbing goes. This story Delano crafted asked some hard questions about the moral repercussions and emotional decay that entails taking a life, and the writer had something philosophical albeit bleak to offer.

This isn't a perfect collection, however. Grant Morrison contributes two issues (#25-26) for this volume which was...not that great, and this is coming from someone who would defend a lot of Morrison's more complex and ambitious comics like Batman Incorporated which I think tends to be deeply misunderstood by Bat-fans themselves. Neil Gaiman also has a standalone issue (#27) which was as Gaimanesque as one could expect and I really, really hope he'd write for Hellblazer again down the pipeline. Another standalone issue includes the opening issue #23 which was a nonsensical yet delightfully quirky story about a man who has grown to love the fictional worlds he reads and collects that he was becoming less of a real person in his life.

Aside from that, we get a very intimate look concerning John's relationship with his father in issue #31. The poignancy of this issue will unmistakably move readers, that I can guarantee. For his form of bereavement, John makes amends with his father whom he shared a very tumultuous relationship with growing up. He hasn't seen the old man in years and it's quite sad that it was only through his demise that they were reunited. Once again indirectly responsible of the death of a loved one, I thought John would maintain his cowardly ways and just walk away from this. After all, that's the John we met when the series started--and we loathed him for it. But the beauty of being a human being is that we evolve constantly, and John has grown and changed in the course of the many  frightening experiences he faced where the true measure of his character has been tested and eventually refined.

I think The Mourning of the Magician is the perfect follow-up to the grim story arc that was the Family Man. In that story, we see John kill a man for the first time and it has left him questioning everything that was sacred to him, and everything he wanted to stand for. I don't think John ever considered himself a hero but I know he wants to be a good man who chooses the right things. Killing a man, though it was a bastard who deserves it and John did it out of self-preservation, was still a very significant moment because Constantine acknowledges that taking a life is no small potatoes. It will change you in a way you can never come back from. So understandably, I thought we'll get a darker John out of this, suffering from the burden of such an action. But no, Delano decided to provide us something bittersweet and uplifting here in this issue.
 But I think I'm getting ahead of myself now. The true star of this volume, of course, is the transcendent main story arc that started with issue #24 and continued on from issues #28-30.

For The Family Man, it feels more personal than it should, most probably because serial killings are intimate in some level, especially when crimes against humanity like this can threaten what we know about the safety of social constructs versus the savage inclinations of the human nature. It would be just awesome for Hellblazer to tackle this and with a character like John Constantine who lives and makes decisions left and right with shades of gray. Basically, a serial killer is on the loose and he massacres happy families. That's how the issue begins, showing us a family having a normal day and then shit got real fast. After that, we shift the narrative focus on out titular hero. John's friend from the previous issue, the shop keeper/procurer of rare and priceless things/fictional-character-trying-to-be-a-real-person named Jerry O'Flynn gets taken and so John decides to squat in his mansion for a while. It's worth mentioning that John has great respect for O'Flynn because, judging from their interactions from the previous issue, there is a certain fondness they share for each other. So he feels the need to probe his friend's life just to amuse himself--and ends up discovering a repugnant secret. As it turns out, his friend has been supplying information to this customer who turns out to be a serial killer. I felt John's horror and sickening feelings as the truth creeps its way in. 

Of all the story arcs featured in Delano's run of Hellblazer so far, I think the Family Man had the most solid conclusion and most probably because it stayed true to its core; a grounded psychological drama that explored our main character's ongoing struggle towards forces beyond comprehension, let alone his control, and his conflict with a monster in human form: a serial killer who had committed heinous crimes that spanned for decades which could be interpreted as merely a tragic result of the most common (and often underestimated) suffering of all: a childhood under neglectful and emotionally absent parents.

The old argument of nature vs. nurture definitely plays a vital role in the narrative for this last issue of the Family Man arc entitledFatality. Here we get the climactic confrontation between Constantine and Morris and it was every bit as thrilling, dangerous and heart-pounding as I thought it would be. The collision was both meaningful and absurd, an ill-fated meeting between two men who have been consumed and tortured by their own inner demons for a long time--but only one of them survives the encounter. Understandably, it's John because he is the titular hero of this series, but the victory is not sweet or worth relishing at all. It was yet another rude awakening for Constantine as he eventually embraces the futility of it all. It's been hinting towards that end, actually, since the very first issue of this arc, that John is going to have to murder Samuel Morris (I mean, just look at the goddamn issue cover so me stating this is not a spoiler) because it was the only scenario that could possibly play out where John will get away with his life. But John, in spite of his often reckless and arrogant ways that cost some of his friends' lives, is inherently a good man who cannot imagine taking another human being's life with his own hands. This display of vulnerability makes him more relatable, to be honest.

The resolution of the entire arc was proverbially devastating. As a story and speaking about it objectively, it was predictable yet it did not make the finale act any less powerful and thought-provoking at all. Under the right conditions, anyone can kill another human being. There is a strength to it so brutal and brittle all at once--to be able to make that haste decision that it's either you or that person who must live. It made me think about how I will act in a similar situation and whether I will choose to kill or be killed. In context of all the events that have happened in John's life as I follow him diligently in this series, I think this could be considered a game-changer but one that is on a more intimate level where the pressure will solely rest on John's psyche, and it could determine his succeeding actions in the next cases he will take on. 


I'm glad that Delano approached this sort of story with sensitivity and a deep understanding of the weight it carries. He could have easily wrote a story where killing people is something badass and casual that heroes do, as most action-oriented comics would portray. He didn't completely discard the social and moral impact of such an act, thankfully, which only further elevated the Family Man story arc in my eyes. I think this would be the highest compliment I could give him for his run of Hellblazer because it is the first time that I've read something of his work in this series that does not always have to be a grand spectacle like his Fear Machine arc. He should write more stories like this, and put John in compromising situations that will force his character to grow and evolve.

In a nutshell, the four-issued The Family Man arc is extraordinary and definitely my most favorite of Delano's stories, and this volume is a guaranteed collectible.

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #82 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 5]

"You're a man who inspires maximum loyalty with the most minimum of effort, do you know that?" ~Kit Ryan to John Constantine

Measure of Dreams is the fifth installment of the impressive story arc Rake at the Gates of Hell. It touched upon the closure between John Constantine and Kit Ryan, a woman he loved like no other, after being apart for a year. Their initial break-up ended very badly so I know it was only a matter of time before these two fiercely individualistic and passionate people find their way back just so they can pick up the broken pieces and make the necessary amends. I find their relationship to be well-developed enough to have an emotional investment on, honestly.

Personally, the two most notable contributions that Ennis bequeathed the Hellblazer series is the iconic Dangerous Habits and the character of Kit Ryan whom John began a meaningful monogamous relationship with. She was a great breath of fresh hair that stands out from the previous women John only shacked up with and then nearly destroyed once the affair burned cold. Kit was sincere, beautiful, assertive and devoted to John in a way that does not diminish her person, and that's why I thought she was a great companion to John when it lasted. 

But it didn't, mostly because Kit does not want to have anything to do with the crazy, dark side of being with a man as haunted as John; and the moment she got a taste of that, she was left with no choice but to discontinue the relationship. I find it brave and wise of her to make such a decision. Most women would stick around for their man, believing they can fix or save him if they loved him hard enough. Not someone as sensible like Kit though.

She really, really loved John for who he is and not what he could become and that was something I will always adore her for. In this issue, they finally had one night together to talk about how both of them fucked up their break-up conversation since Kit has got quite a temper and John purposefully got her angry at him just to avoid a more mature conversation. And now they are having said talk and I can tell it was cathartic for both parties especially to me as a reader who has been a supporter of this couple from the very beginning. They were old friends; Kit was the ex of the late Brendan, one of John's mates and possibly the only one aside from Chas who had always understood what John is all about perfectly. Kit loved John not because of his charisma or infamy as a occultist but rather because she could see through that costume and acknowledge the insecure man underneath who does long for a stable, home life and she was eager enough to provide him that. 

The most notable moment for this issue had to be when John apologizes and begs Kit to take him back and she gently refuses---and then he goes off on her, and then she yells at him to grow the fuck up or something--and then they make up and apologize together again. It's just so amusing how much they challenge each other and through such tension and strong will, they are even able to improve each other's perspective about general things. In the end, though, this relationship had run its course. Both knew it but only Kit was fully able to say it out loud and begged John to let her move on. Finally, John realized that she had a life to live he can never be a part of and he had debts to pay she should never become a sacrifice for. They spent the entire night making love for the last time. In the morning, Kit packs up her bags to go back to Belfast and John tries to reach out to her from the bed but they end up waving each other goodbye instead. This lasted about a good eighty-percent of the issue. 

The rest of it was about the racial riots surrounding the secondary character George and John finally finding out what happened to Nigel (poor guy got murdered and once again belongs to the long list of friends who got caught up in a crossfire between John and whatever monster is out to get him--and didn't make it out alive). John goes to the balcony to grieve in one panel and then the very last frame shows the Devil himself standing next to John, claiming that the havoc in the streets between the African-British youth and the police might have been connected to his appearance on earth, and that such a fatal commotion is exactly his kind of town.

I'm going to start reading the last installment of this arc as soon as I post this.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #80 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 3]

Goddamn. There is not a single boring page for this third installment at all. All my awestruck apologies to Ennis for being harsh on him lately because Rake at the Gates of Hell is now proving to be a spectacular storyline that ties up previously scattered threads from the earlier stories. This particular serving is absolutely delicious. It's tough on the gums and made it hard for me to swallow but it was a hearty meal all in all.

The scenes featured for this issue were greatly paced, further enticing me to keep reading. The Devil is on Earth and beware whoever crosses his path and tries to block it. He is determined to get his mighty hands on John Constantine. 

Meanwhile, John is preoccupied with the personal matter regarding Helen who was found by his pimp and was beat up so freaking badly by her chauvinist dirtbag pimp it would make any self-respecting feminist enraged. Aside from that, John also feels responsible for George, the lateDez's brother who murdered that dickhead from the Fear and Loathing arc (Charles whatshisface) for being the racist neo-Nazi punk bastard that he was as payback for all the shitty hate crimes he committed, the most unforgiving of which was the murder of Dez himself. George and his other mates get caught up in a brutal civilian-police face-off in the middle of this issue which thankfully I did not have to see unfold brutally. Perhaps in the upcoming issue after this? I cringe at the thought.

Sarah, John's current squeeze, is righteously pissed at him after what happened to Helen and the fact that her own sister almost got killed because John involved them in his mess. She proceeds to give him the bollocking of his life which struck a lot of sensitive nerves. She doesn't know the wholes story of the epic dramatic tragedy that was John's life but she knows enough to point out his flaws and reckless impulsive habits without breaking a stride. I understand her side of things although I do maintain that she still has no idea the daily insufferable kind that a man like Constantine faces especially now that the Devil himself is on his heels.

Speaking of the fucker himself: FotF is surely taking his sweet time picking off John's friends to get to Gabriel's heart. First, he almost savagely ends the Lord of Dance who made a vow to help John back in his birthday issue, then First acquires information from Rick who committed suicide and found himself in Hell and finally he got to Nigel and takes the archangel's heart. He confronts Gabriel who begged him to spare him but First Fallen ignores it all and squeezes his heart out. The issue ends with John staring at the empty box where the heart is supposed to be, viciously fucked in the spot.

Holy shit, what's in store for the last two issues?!
RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #79 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 2]

There is an ancient law that states that when a demon is bested three times by a mortal then this demon would receive eternal torment instead. John Constantine has tricked the First of the Fallen (Satan himself) about three actual times now. FotF, however, refuses to acknowledge the last con as an official one and begins to plot his next move to take down John. Although these two first met in Ireland when John was visiting his friend Brendan to ask for help, John and FotF go way back. 

They had an indirect contact when John was infected by Nergal with demon blood under orders of FotF himself so when John has sexual congress with the second Mary (Zed), he will taint her and she will become an unsuitable vessel to birth out a new Messiah for Heaven.

Their first real face-to-face encounter was not very pleasant. First Fallen was supposed to snag Brendan's soul which the poor sod sold in exchange for the world's finest collection of wines. John helps a brotha out by duping First into drinking holy water which rendered hin weak enough for John to beat him up and help Brendan pass over to Heaven when First's claim of his soul expired. Anger and hilariously shamed, First Fallen vowed to take John's soul the moment he dies of lung cancer. John tricked him the second time when he brokers his soul to not one but two other devils, Beelzebub and Azazel. The three now have legitimate claim but cannot risk going to war to fight one another in exchange of claiming one mortal's soul. So they had to cure John of cancer and let him live. This all went down in the Dangerous Habits arc, and man it was hilarious. 

We get the second act of the duel between John and First Fallen occured in Guys and Dolls which felt anticlimactic but we were introduced to key players such as Ellie, the succubus, and the reluctant and freshly fallen Gabriel, former archangel whose John stole the heart of so he can command Gab to protect him during whatever unholy hell First will unleash. This arc Rakes at the Gates of Hell has been very engrossing and I'm only at the second part. It's beguiling in a reminiscent Dangerous Habits sort of way which is a blessed break from the bloody shite that was Damnation's Flame (I really have to stop repeatedly mentioning that piece of crap).

For this issue, there are some gruesome and violent scenes concerning about Helen the former lover of John who is now a junkie prostitute and an ungrateful bitch who tried to stab John with scissors just after he rescued her nasty ass. She would rather get high with her massive prick of a pimp. John has too many things to worry about than the conflicts of disgusting mortals but these subplots don't feel like fillers at all. Somehow, I feel like they will play out into expanded larger roles particularly the intimate strifes about his African-British friends and the corrupt, racist police officers. But for now John distances himself from that and meets up with Gabriel so the former angel can hold up his end of the blackmail.

Elsewhere, First confronts Azazel and Beelzebub and tells them what Astra just found out; a delightful loophole in the supposedly binding conrtact concerning the claiming of John Constantine's soul. As it turns out, First has no obligation to uphold the two devils' claims on John because they are not at all brothers and therefore they are lesser than First Fallen who is only matched by the Morningstar Lucifer himself (who is busy spinning-off in his own title written by Neil Gaiman). So First quickly obliterates both devils and rushes to Earth to claim John's soul once and for all. He promises a reward for Astra for all her help. As soon as she was alone, she collects the essence of one of the recently obliterated devils and forges a sword, shouting that her reward is Hell itself which means she means to betray the First of the Fallen all along.

This has been really freaking awesome. I'm happy Ennis picked up the pace at last!


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #78 [Rake at the Gates of Hell part 1]

Nothing spells out "ROYALLY FUCKED AND BALLS DEEP INTO HELL'S INFERNO PUSSY" in John Constantine's world than when his recent arch-enemy (the Devil, otherwise known as the First of the Fallen) forms an unexpected yet fitting alliance with the little girl whose innocent soul John irresponsibly damned to hell back in the infamous Newcastle arc. Astra, little girl in question suffering eternally in Hell, is pissed like every female who has ever been scorned, only a thousand times worse in this scenario.

The long reach that is Constantine's macabre past finally wraps a tight hold on his throat and is prepared to give him a little shake as John convulses mid-asphyxiation. On the bright side, this five-part story arc is set up to be the next Ennis hit after Dangerous Habits. That pleases me greatly because YO, IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME! 

Guiltily enough, I live for moments like this whenever I read Hellblazer. I like every story  to be a painful rude awakening because I got me a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome from Jamie Delano's earlier run. That's the only tonality that I keep coming back to for Hellblazer, and Ennis hasn't been meeting this quota at all. But I think he's on his way to turn this around if he sticks to his strengths and doesn't lose himself in useless, pretentious satirical mumbo jumbo like the shite piece that was Damnation's Flame.

This introductory installment for Rakes at the Gates of Hell is written concisely but brutally in a manner so engrossing that I know Ennis is more than capable of delivering. There are some fucked-up scenes that chilled me to the bone. That opening one with Header talking about a wartime experience; that cringe-worthy racial assault against an African-American woman who was pushed down the stairs by an asshole police detective. The woman's son, who was being apprehended for planted drugs in his room, shoots the motherfucker in the arm and he falls down the window, bleeding profusely which he only deserved. On the more personal side of the narrative, John is currently shagging a black woman named Sarah who knows she's only there to warm his bed and is not happy about it, especially when John tried to help a woman named Helen, a former, uh, "bed-warmer" who is now a junkie prostitute obsessed with her pimp, Phil because he's been dosing her up senseless. John took pity on her but ended up slightly rejecting Sarah and she doesn't look like she would take kindly to that. I'm interested to see the kind of conflict this relationship will lead to. Sarah seemed nice enough. I hope to get to know her.

While holding Helen as she slept in his arms, John vowed to take better care of his mates and to make it right with everyone he had wronged. That is a timely proclamation, Johnny boy, and perfectly segues to what I will discuss below.

Meanwhile, Astra approached the First of the Fallen with a promise of retribution against John Constantine to which they will both reap many benefits from. She claimed to have found a way to undo the tangled-up contract that Constantine got him and the rest of his devil-brothers to participate in. This said contract disabled any of them from getting John's soul because that would result to a civil war among them so it was best for the three of them to keep John alive and to make sure his soul is untouched. But Astra, who had nothing more to do in Hell but plot and scheme for ways to destroy the man who damned her there, reassured the First of the Fallen that she had found a loophole. The issue ends with the Devil looking celebratory as fuck as he prepared to move his first piece in the chess game.

This is a promising story arc from what I can discern from this first installment and I'm definitely hooked. I'm so thrilled to see Astra again and the role she will be playing in the entirety of this storyline. I know that the succubus Ellie is going to be making her appearance too, as well as Gabriel who recently fell because John needed an archangel in his arsenal. Things are looking good so far and I hope all the build-up from past issues will have a rewarding pay-off.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #77

In this issue of Hellblazer, Chas Chandler makes his overdue appearance after his rough and seemingly final disagreement with John which coincided with John's break-up with Kit. Hell, the casual obliteration of their friendship was hinged on the fact that John acted like a complete asshole bitch when Chas tried to have a heart-to-heart with him because he's his best mate. 

In consequence, Chas beats him up severely. He even dunks John's head into a toilet. Because, tough love and tough shit, Johnny boy. Frankly, the violence was a little extreme and I'm not sure John deserved it. And I think Chas knows it so this centerpiece about him reflects his guilt over abandoning John like that. But a guy can only take so much and Chas unfortunately reached the limit after John stupidly disrespected him because he was arrogant enough to believe Chas will readily forgive him. That is not the case and no one should think of their friends as receptive pushovers who will always put up with our shit. So good on, Chas, and I hope you learned your lesson, Johnny.

This was a nice standalone because as critical and prissy as I am about Ennis' meandering and predictably formulaic story arc for this series, his standalones are definitely his strongest suit. This particular one about one of Chas' memorable experience with John was an absolute delight at that. It's mostly about flashbacks blending with the present time where Chas was talking to some of his friends at the bar after watching a sports game. He opened up about a friend he had gotten into a fight with almost seven months ago and tried to justify/understand why he even ended up being friends with such a self-centered wanker in the first place. Well, you and me both, Chas.

As it turns out, Chas liked John well enough in spite of knowing what he does for a living and the many ways he often got caught up in the occult business which is partly responsible for the slow and gradual decay of his marriage and home life. Instead of blaming John and staying the fuck away like any smart person, Chas proceeded to stick around the charismatic yet harbinger of ill-will that is Constantine. In one scenario that he recalled, he talked about joining John as he tried to free the soul of a girl who has been raped by her father on numerous occasions. John promised her that she will no longer be submitted to such atrocious torture and this set her soul at peace and she went to heaven. The vengeful ghost of incestuous daddy creep was not happy about that so he tried to make John pay. Chas could only watch in horror and bewilderment as John and the ghost duke it out and disappear, possibly in Hell together. John returned moments later, unscathed by the flames of inferno because he struck a "deal" but never expounded on the details. That should have been a red flag for Chas and he should have run to the other direction.

So...John totally makes a habit of infernal bargains left and right as if this doesn't cost a piece of soul (which we all know absolutely does but it's motherfucking Constantine so we just let it slide). And yes, Chas let that slide and went on with his blissfully ignorant, glass half-full friendship with a man he certainly doesn't fully comprehend--yet learned to love and cherish as his best mate anyway. Oh, Chas. Life would have been so much simpler for everyone in the world if we all loved people who are healthy, safe and good for our well-being, ain't it? But, really, where would be the fun in that? 

At the end of his enlightening tale, Chas was already alone inside the empty bar when John stepped in and profusely apologized for his behavior regarding his break-up with Kit and that incident with the teens he almost murdered using magic. Chas, worn down by his immense loyalty and love for John--even knowing that John might again find a way to disappoint and hurt him again in the future--forgave him and accepted the cruel fate laid before him as the one and only person that John could count on. His other connections and several alliances with other people may fall apart, his girlfriends may leave him heartbroken and beyond repair, but John knew he can make it through as long as Chas Chandler had his back. It's touching and disturbing all at once.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hellblazer Volume 7: Tainted Love by Garth Ennis

I think I want to read more of Garth Ennis' work because I think he's a pretty cool comics writer but unfortunately his Hellblazer stuff was not that impressive. For his second collected edition, Volume 6: Bloodlines, I would characterize my reading experience as comfortable and mildly entertaining. This volume, thankfully enough, is an improvement, but only slighter.

Volume 7: Tainted Love was more character-driven in scope and characterization, dealing with the break-up and aftermath of John and Kit's relationship while also exploring the wretched downwards spiral John had to go through in order to once again reinvent himself in the process. 

Composed of issues #62-71, Tainted Love was also a mixed bag like Bloodlines but decidedly far more riveting to read because I cared enough about John and Kit as a couple and as characters themselves. There is only one story arc here called Fear and Loathing which was pretty great because it had some tough issues like racial hate crimes which I felt were dealt with tastefully enough. We also got to see John making an ass of himself during his post break-up, hobo-ing it up and substituting alcohol with lighting fluid. The King of the Vampires makes a second appearance to taunt John, only to get utterly destroyed by his lack of hindsight concerning hubris. I also really enjoyed that Kit-centered issue because she's really awesome and I'm glad to get to know her a little better by being provided some overdue personal backstory.

My favorite issue was #71, of course. For that issue named The Finest Hour, we see John in an awful state of unkempt personal appearance and worsening alcohol dependence lose consciousness near a skeletal remains of a man whose final moments were shared through a dream sequence. The man turned out to be a flight pilot during the second World War whose youth and optimism did not prevent him from his untimely and unfair death when he unceremoniously crashed-landed in some plain. John woke up from seeing his memories and felt absolutely ashamed and humbled. There he was, miserable and beyond redemption, or so he thinks, while there are countless others like that late pilot who hasn't even lived a full life as he had. Sure, John's life is a stormy shitfest of regrets, blood and broken vows but at least he lives. And that's what John should do now, no matter the rock bottoms that he will collapse into again and again.

John cleans himself up, shaves at last and puts on his familiar trench coat. He buries the remains of the man and thanks him for reminding him of the constant cycle of victory and defeat that defines humanity, and that John Constantine's road, though a lonely path, is only something he has the strength and determination to walk through. It's poignant that the dead had gave the living a purpose. This issue was such a comforting story about self-reliance and acceptance of the past. It left me smiling sadly as I stared into the last two pages of the said pilot's alternate ending to his life. After John buries the remains, we see the pilot successfully flying his little plane back into the sunny horizon. It was a symbolic confirmation that John was able to help the poor guy carry over onto the next step after death, and into his brand of paradise where even the sky has no limits. And, maybe, John can do the same. 


That being said, at this point in the series with Ennis, I'm growing weary of his repetitive storytelling choices. Some days I wish Delano was still writing the series although I much appreciate the lightness of Ennis' approach. The only problem is the depth becomes only skin-deep for his stories. Delano might be a goddamn motherfucker who hurts me emotionally and mentally with his gritty and highly tense stories, but he always has a meaningful and resonant message at the core of it all. With Ennis, there's always something missing. It's almost like he's prepared a perfectly acceptable main course, but forgets a key ingredient that makes all the difference in my appreciation for his stories. He leaves me feeling incomplete after finishing a story of his, particularly in his major arc.

Like I said in another review, my overall reaction to Ennis as a Hellblazer writer is that of mild amusement; I'm not thoroughly excited when I read his issues nor am I completely bored. I'm in a safe place where there are no risks or disappointments. Not everything I have to say about Ennis is negative, of course. I truly must credit him for creating the character of Kit Ryan. She's the only female character in the series so far whom I felt was justly characterized. She was well-developed and sympathetic, and she wasn't simply there to suit a chauvinistic purpose for the plot (which is Delano's problem with the female characters he had written in his run; a few of them were really flat *coughs-Marj-coughs*). His development and characterization of Kit were something I can commend him with, that's for sure. Overall, Tainted Love had been enjoyable enough but not his strongest work.



RECOMMENDED: 7.5/10

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #76

I think Ennis means well whenever he writes break issues like this one. I would never consider them as meaningless fillers squeezed between major story arcs because I think these standalones really showcase the emotional depth and insight that he is very capable of in his writing. I maintain that he should write more stories like this as a guest writer as oppose to heard writer because, quite frankly, Dangerous Habits was the only excellent contribution he had for Hellblazer. That's not a harsh assessment at all. I just think Ennis tends to either write John Constantine stories as either slightly superfluous or too extreme. He can also be gratingly predictable his resolutions.

Like I said in another review, my overall reaction to Ennis as a Hellblazer writer is that of mild amusement; I'm not thoroughly excited when I read his issues nor am I completely bored. I'm in a safe place where there are no risks or disappointments (that was until issue #75 which was absolute bollocks). Not everything I have to say about Ennis is negative, of course. I truly must credit him for creating the character of Kit Ryan. She's the only female character in the series so far whom I felt was justly characterized. She was well-developed and sympathetic, and she wasn't simply there to suit a chauvinistic purpose for the plot (which is Delano's problem with the female characters he had written in his run; a few of them were really flat *coughs-Marj-coughs*).

This standalone issue is a follow-up to that bonus story from #75 which was a flashback scene concerning John's friendship with the then-couple Brendan and Kit. For this issue, John is visited by the ghost of Brendan who passed away in Dangerous Habits arc previously. Much like Constantine's 40th birthday issue, this was a simple tale about recounting the past and listing hopes for the future. It was honest enough to consider a strong and decent narrative even if the pacing was slow and uneventful in some places. This has become a pattern for Ennis' standalone. They serve as a checkpoint to measure the current status of John's psyche after going through a stressful ordeal. It's also a period of relaxation for readers that allows them to explore the other facets of John's complex layers. In that sense, stories like this are necessary.

There's not much to say, though because at this point in the series with Ennis, I'm growing weary of his repetitive stylistic and storytelling choices. Some days I wish Delano was still writing the series although I much appreciate the lightness of Ennis' approach. The only problem is the depth becomes only skin-deep for his stories. Delano might be a goddamn motherfucker who hurts me emotionally and mentally with his gritty and highly tense stories, but he always has a meaningful and resonant message at the core of it all. With Ennis, there's always something missing. It's almost like he's prepared a perfectly acceptable main course, but forgets a key ingredient that makes all the difference in my appreciation for his stories. He leaves me feeling incomplete after finishing a story of his, particularly in his major arc. For standalones like this one, I can understand. I don't know what to say anymore because I feel like I keep repeating my criticisms and compliments about him as a writer so I'm just going to stop here and say no more of it.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #75

This has been such a pointlessly complicated story arc that had no satisfying pay-off to properly conclude it, or inspired any long-term emotional investment from me whatsoever. Hell, even the official synopsis from DC Wikia (which is my numero uno source of reference for Hellblazer issues) doesn't say that much either. That's how much of a non-event this last installment of Damnation's Flame was. 

In fact, everything about it felt like a non-event in spite of the wordy dialogue and the supposedly brutal and compelling scenes of conflict. I also feel like there are layers of anti-American sentiment if not leftist propaganda in the writing itself, and the depictions of known real-life people such as JFK and American Indians felt like were only done for shock value as opposed to a meaningful mouthpiece which I think was Ennis' goal all along. Look, I am not a very politics-inclined person myself, but I know enough of the writing approach for such a topical scenario to critically judge and take a part a literary piece when it aims to be political in scope. 

Damnation's Flame is probably the worst story arc from Garth Ennis I've read. Comparably even worse than Jamie Delano's Fear Machine which is mostly about the late sixties hippies movement + feminist power structure in the form of the Three Faces of Eve. At least Fear Machine wasn't pretending to be something it's not. Damnation's Flame, however, took itself too seriously that its overall message was diluted. And to tell you the truth, I didn't see any purpose to its message at all but white noise. 

It just left a bad aftertaste in my mouth and it's one of those kinds of stories that make me wish I could forget ever reading it. Just look at how it was summarized in DC Wikia:

"The Indian spirits abandon John after they realize he is 'Just another white man.' Cedella tells John before she leaves him and JFK that to escape all he needs to do is wake up. John follows JFK to the White House to confront the current administration, but when this turns out to be Abe Lincoln, John bails on JFK. Abe tears off both of JFK's arms, and as the brains fall out of his head, he finds that he can no longer remember the words to patriotic songs. John wakes up just before some vagrants are going to set him on fire and escapes. Cedella tells her brother to throw himself from the Empire State building."


Basically, this concluding piece of the arc failed to do a lot of things and its main flaw has to be the dismissively quick wrap-ups on the character arc readers were supposed to care about especially concerning John's escape from the witchwalk and the assholes who try to burn him back in the real world. That had such a promising build-up and then nothing truly significant happened afterwards once John came back. Well, his signature trench coat was stolen so he has to wear this ridiculous black fur one that made him look like a pimp (albeit a sexy one). Next is the unfair treatment of Papa Midnite and his story about his sister Cedalla. Once his sister came back from Hell, she just orders him to kill himself and that was it. I was so excited to see Papa Midnite come back to the series but after he just served a very superficial purpose to a stupidly convoluted plot, he gets disposed.

The worst offender of all, however, is the fact that it lacked Ennis' formulaic "bad-guy-gets-his-due" in the most satisfying manner ever. There really were no discernible important "bad guys" for this story. I don't consider Papa Midnite as one at all, neither is fictional Abe Lincoln. The victims are just as worse as their attackers, that's all I got from this arc. Fuck this bloody shite, I'm done talking about it.

Did I mention that this issue has 41 pages? There is a bonus story concerning a flashback on how to Brendan, Kit and John met and became close pals. That piece was a saving grace but unfortunately not enough to make me rate this higher or recommend it.


NOT RECOMMENDED: 5/10

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #74

In the third installment of Damnation's Flame, I continue to be amused and John meets a version of the President of the United States who is no other than John F. Kennedy. He needs John's help. Said assassinated president had to hold the back of his head where he was shot the entire time as he appeared in this issue, in fear that his brains will fall out if he didn't. Makes sense. Also, ewww.

Back in actual New York, Papa Midnite watches the many ways John's spirit is suffering through the witchwalk, with the help of his contact with his sister Cedalla, most particularly via her skull (which he keeps as a trinket). Like he's watching some trashy reality television, Papa guffaws and sneers; all that's missing is a bucket of popcorn.

The issue is composed of scenes between John and JFK talking about politics and conspiracies; some typical cold-war/communism paranoia/capitalist propaganda bullshit that went by me faster than a subway bullet train. I don't care about any of this. Visually, Dillon's panels are intriguing to look at especially the changes in scenery but the substance of the dialogue exchange and the narrative itself is unbearably talky and dissonant. 

The most exciting part of the issue (and that's not saying much) is when John meets Cedalla's trapped soul for the first time. She communicates with him and seeks out his help, much like JFK just did. Once more, John makes a promise I'm not sure is in his best interest to keep. Apparently, Midnite straight-up murdered Cedalla and condemned her innocent soul to hell just so he can have hell itself on speed-dial through channeling her spirit. John agrees to help free her and get back on Midnite. And then there was still the matter of helping JFK depose of the leader of this hellish America. Wow, so many items on the laundry list, Johnny boy, where do you even begin?

The issue ends when Cedalla takes John to meet American Indian spirits. BECAUSE OF COURSE WHY NOT WE MIGHT AS WELL GO THERE. I don't know how long Ennis can keep up this whole thing and I'm frankly not that interested anymore.


RECOMMENDED: 6/10

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #73


I honestly don't know how John Constantine has made it this far. For one thing, he just spent six months hobo-ing it up as a coping mechanism from his failed romantic relationship, and then he was almost eaten by the king of vampires. Prior to that, he just discovered he killed his twin brother in the womb, and then was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer which he escaped by pissing of the Devil himself. Before that, he condemned a little girl's soul to hell and spent some grueling time at a mental hospital. He also got some friends killed either directly or indirectly.

Honestly, Constantine's ability to bounce back from one hell to another is impressive in scale and consistency so I'm not so worried about the predicament he has gotten himself tangled in for this story arc called Damnation's Flame. As the second installment, it was a perfectly acceptable follow-up with enough interesting narrative decisions to be amused about. And that's mostly my general reaction with Garth Ennis' stories. I don't get excited or bored...just amused.

I do feel like I should comment on Steve Dillon's artwork, however, since he had been Ennis' partner in several arcs already. His style is more polished than the others who drew for Hellblazer, I think it's also a tiny bit minimalist. This issue is really the first time I saw him draw particularly striking landscapes which is nice. Also, I like the fact that he draws John so prettily. Loving the new hairdo on Constantine. His signature trench coat also looks cleaner than before. 

So this installment was fun. John traveled to New York just to get away from everything back home and found himself voodoeed by no other than Papa Midnite, all thanks to his sister Cedella's help. John was "witchwalked" away in some hellish version of New York whilst his body in the present world is catatonic. He was arrested by the cops there and thrown among questionable characters who may or may not rape him soon if he doesn't snap out of it. Seriously, them bastards were filthy. They stole his precious trench coat and peed on his face. Still, comparing that to the witchwalk his spirit is currently experiencing is relatively small-fry. In that world, John encounters a black guy who happily walked him through this magnificently disgusting version of New York.

Naked corpses hanging on posts are used as street signs, the Statue of Liberty (or a real girl?) is being raped fifty times a day, and--to top it all off--the guy brings Constantine to his friends and they try to cannibalize him. At this point in the arc, I just want John saved from the witchwalk nightmare and the actual tangible one that's about to happen to his body in the real world. For now, I'm finding solace in the knowledge that Ennis will punish the bad guys horribly because that's how his formula works and never fails. I think I may have developed a preference for it too. There's just something about reading evil assholes getting tortured in varied creative ways that I find reassuring in the grand scheme of things. It makes me hopeful about justice.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hellblazer by Garth Ennis issue #72

This issue was nostalgic in a sense that it was a callback to the very first Delano issue of the entire series where John Constantine first made an appearance in his own solo title. Here, readers get to see John traveling to American once more, specifically to New York City. I thought this was a clever device to establish that this is some kind of a "rebirth" for John who just got out of a relationship but has changed since the very first issue we met him. He continues to change once again.

We get another multiple-part arc entitled Damnation's Flame. Now, nothing much happens in this issue, really, at least nothing that captivated me instantly. The only noteworthy thing that this premise has done is to introduce Papa Midnite into the fold again which made me very giddy because I really loved NBC's version of the character and he hasn't been shown again since Delano's arc about the hunger demon so it pleases me to no end that Ennis decided to pick him up again.

From what I can gather, John hardly remembers some stuff about his last experiences in New York about Gary and the hunger demon, and teaming up with Midnite to perform the savage ritual of imprisoning said demon inside his own friend. Can't say I blame him for having selective amnesia all of a sudden but that's probably because he spent literally the last six months in London, just wandering the streets in a drunken haze. That has to be some kind of record. Anyway, John has fully recovered from whatever poison and intoxication he allowed himself to surrender to. He's in another country, trying to take it easy as he talks to the people at the pub he frequents in. One of Midnite's goons recognized him even though John didn't, and he immediately reported this to Midnite who was intrigued and eager to take advantage of the opportunity to do something damaging for John. 

Yeah, Constantine couldn't just catch a fucking break. He was just minding his own business, trying to get to know the locale better when Midnite decided to, I believe, perform some voodoo spell on him which trapped John in some twisted version of New York City. People and animals alike are being filthy and gory and stuff. One moment John was having a normal conversation; the next a part of his body is turned into a skeleton, the bartender is decaying before him, and some skinned cat starts threatening him. Afraid and absolutely getting too old for this bollocks, John runs away and discovers himself in a waking nightmare of red landscapes and frightening skyscrapers. And that's how this issue ends....because life is shite when you're John Constantine.

I don't know what to make of this yet so I'll just patiently wait for the next installments.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10