I'm happy to say that this day's post includes a review of three standalone issues which were pretty enjoyable and well-written. After the stellar conclusion of the previous five-parter major story arc, Critical Mass, third writer for the Hellblazer series Paul Jenkins has finally started to grow on me. The tenth volume of this series collects issues #97-107 and it startes with three standalones which I will be discussing individually below. I only have one issue to read and review before I end my third wave. Yes, it's comparably more short-lived than the previous two back in 2014 and 2015, but I have other stuff to read, but I do intend to end this wave with the 100th issue and post the review on the day of John Constantine's birth, May 10th.
In Critical Mass (#92-96), John dupes the demon Buer into what should have been a simple quid pro quo transaction where John had to give up his soul in exchange of a child's. John had this elaborate scheme which essentially had him tearing himself into two entities. He purged himself of his soul so his physical body can take over Alistair Crowley's essence whilst him--as a soul--can hijack the process. It's pretty damn clever. Buer had no choice but to offer to the First of the Fallen a version of Constantine who has all the guilt, the petty mistakes, Nergal's demon blood, and the broken heart (due to ex-girlfriend Kit Ryan from Garth Ennis run) while a new version of Constantine gets to keep his life and start over in both a literal and symbolic sense. The three issues below mark the beginning of this new John Constantine, and so far I think I'm enjoying that he doesn't have to necessarily always carry the burden of his sins on his shoulders. Here we get someone who actually has friends again, and is helping people not because he was forced to do it, or because he has a debt to settle. Jenkins gets to explore and expand on a new characterization at that.
"With the demon blood gone, there's a physical difference in me, I can feel it. My tolerance for alcohol now resides in Hell--along with the shadow of my former self."
Issue # 97, The Nature of the Beast, is my most highly-rated issue for Jenkins' run so far, and that's because it was an insightful look on John Constantine's struggle to re-define himself after he literally discarded the man he used to be, condemned in Hell as a replacement so he could be reborn. He started walking through the woods in the middle of the night for no explanation other than be fancied a stroll that would hopefully enlighten him as soon as the sun sets. Along the path, he met an old gypsy psychic who offered to read John's cards. Tailoring the two stories for John's benefit, the psychic told him about the Fox and the Butterfly.
The fox was clever and sly, and ended up deceiving every animal in the forest so they all stayed away from him. One day a vicious hound started chasing him but no animal helped the fox. Left to fend off by himself, the fox devised a way to dupe the hound which he successfully executed. This was definitely a representation of all the times John was able to trick the Devil himself. The next story was a message of hope. An exhausted traveler named Peredur had been moving from one place to another until he found a beautiful garden with a mysterious stranger. He wanted to stay there forever because he can't be sure what awaits for him out there if he keeps on traveling. He specifies that he is afraid of making the choice of choosing one path over the other. The stranger showed him the enchanted tree where one half was evergreen and the other was burning. He then showed him the butterflies who always went for the evergreen even though the temptation of flame is there. As a parting lesson, the stranger tells Peredur:
That is the choice of path that matters, not the path itself."
It's the same thing that this old gypsy psychic is telling John, and John listens so he doesn't take out the third card which was the future of who he will become next. Might as well, because it doesn't look promising at all:
Issue #98, Walking the Dog was a fun one. Readers were introduced to uet another one of John's mates from his punk band days named Straff who has epilepsy and is living with his grandmother Betty. John has crashed to their place but was still seeing Rich and his family as well. There was something weird and ominous about the place, though, because the animals have been wilder and even vindictive than usual. That was when John remembered this prick named Kevin Marsh lived there before, and he apparently murdered his dog. So now John has to exorcise an animal's spirit who cannot find peace. It's really amusing and even touching near the end. I also like the fact that John is very sociable now, and keeps in touch with old friends who definitely want him around too.
Speaking of old friends, Issue #9 Punkin' is frankly rather disheartening. It started out with a POV flashback of a woman named Sadie who used to attend Mucous Membrane (John's punk band) and their concerts, and she was totally crushing on John at that, and wanted to leave her steady boyfriend Terry so she could hook up with him. But they got into a horrific car accident which disfigured her face. Years later in the present, John, Rich and Straff decided to go on a road trip with a couple of friends and they invited Sadie and Terry along. John allowed them passage to the magical place of Abaton which Jenkins first revealed during Critical Mass. I still have no idea what this place was supposed to be except Robin Hood was enchanted by a minx to live there, and it is ruled by a prissy vegetable/wannabe Swamp Thing named Jack who was peeved that John even brought humans in his realm. He couldn't say no to Constantine though so begrudgingly allowed them to stay so long as they don't interact or trade with his constituents.
Sadie and Terry just couldn't help themselves though. Sadie was overjoyed that in Abaton her injuries became non-existent and she was whole and beautiful again. Meanwhile, Terry tries to free a scarecrow owned by Jack, unmindful of John's warning not to get involved with the affairs of the Abaton folk. Now Sadie and Terry were doomed to remember Abaton forever, with Terry being mentally trapped in it until the rest of his natural life. That was their punishment while the rest of John's friends were able to forget and move on with their lives. Sadie can't. With her boyfriend in another world while still being physically present, she goes to the woods during a snowy day then drowns herself in the pond. It's...yeah, it's morbid. But hey...it's still Hellblazer after all.