Friday, May 12, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #107

The second and final installment of the story arc In Line of Fire was as simple as it can get as far as conclusions go. It's not a bad story, but it didn't offer anything much except a fluff piece that had a nice enough sentiment behind it. I enjoyed it as it is although it does baffle me until now why this arc in particular became the titular one for the collected tenth volume. Because...the phrase 'in line of fire' sounded good on paper? I really don't understand the editorial choice for that.

A short recap: John was in some pseudo-suburbs place to visit an old couple who are his friends from a while back, I'm guessing. I wasn't really given enough backstory about his exact relationship with them, so I'm just going to chalk this as, "John Constantine knows lots of folks from all walks of life" sort of thing. While making nice, he also stumbled upon a haunted flat where the tortured ghost of a World War 2 soldier resides. 

Telepathically, John became privy to this poor man's tragedy; that he survived the war only because of the promise of returning to his sweetheart one fateful day. That reunion never happened, and he ended up hanging himself in his dreary flat. Afterwards, some racist asshole landlord hands John an eviction notice for that haunted flat that used to be hidden away for decades. But thanks to John unveiling what's underneath the iron curtain, however, this same flat became visible now to ordinary humans. Typical Constantine stuff as always.

But John decided to take responsibility and approached the help of an overweight medium who was more than eager to help especially after being offered access to Alistair Crowley whom John previously condemned to Hell during his nifty trick to dupe the First of the Fallen. So John takes this medium with to the haunted flat so they can speak face-to-face as men, and this was when another surprising twist was revealed. The dead soldier's sweetheart all along was a woman named Ellen, or, as John knew her best--Nellie, the elderly woman he was chummy with next door alongside her  husband. What are the fucking odds, right?

So John finally arranges the reunion this ghost had been longing for in decades and they get to have a nice chat and some much needed closure between the two of them. Like I said, it's sweet moment of connection, and something I hope John would feel good about since he deserved some silver lining every chance he gets, you know. The issue ends in an anticlimactic moment with the landlord approaching the haunted flat to start doing the eviction thing . John also made Nellie forget about what happened (which was...shitty, I guess) and then John moves on to the next crazy adventure with hopefully more grim action than this.

My reviews have been less than stellar, I know, mostly because I really don't have much to say about some issues lately. I might begin doing mass reviews much like last year where I would combine three issues into one post. I think Jenkins doesn't really offer me enough material to review and discuss, quite frankly. I had the same problem with his earlier issues too which was why I even decided to do a mass review to begin with. There are also pressing concerns in real life that prevent me from reading and reviewing issues quicker, so I think it might save me time if I just do a three-in-one review next time. 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #106

We're now getting the two-part story entitled In the Line of Fire for this issue, and it's also the title for the tenth volume collection of Hellblazer. This story arc is shorter than I would have expected but the first installment was compelling enough already in itself so I didn't mind the brevity. In fact, if Jenkins sticks to his landing at the very end then this can be a very memorable arc indeed. 

The premise is simple and relatable enough: the opening pages recounts flashbacks about a soldier from the second World War who longs to come home to his sweetheart. We get narrative boxes explaining that the only reason he survived and endured for so long was because of love. Sappy, unoriginal and common, maybe, but it was definitely still earnest and moving to read about. Old-fashioned romance, after all, is so rare these days in our generation that I can appreciate this kind of old-school approach. But since this is a Hellblazer story we're talking about, shit hits the fan by the second act.

John Constantine was making nice with old friends, an elderly couple, while in a suburban-esque neighborhood somewhere in England, I'm assuming. They're flats squeezed together and a racist landlord apparently wants to evict some blacks because that's what every racist piece of shit wants. Everything seems to go well enough for Constantine until he feels an energy of a place that is not supposed to be there, hiding in plain sight.

Like a magnet once more to anything occult-related, he was pulled to investigate further. It turned out that the residence he was mucking around in belonged to that World-war soldier fellow from the flashback pages who apparently managed to get home safely against all odds and injuries---but never got to marry the love of his life. And a bitter life of disillusionment and despaired followed, right until the moment he hanged himself. Constantine witnessed this tragic event through a telepathic connection and it almost made him literally suffocate as well as if he was the one with the noose around his neck. Nothing like secondhand suicide to help you put things in better perspective, innit?

John ran out of the flat, still gasping for air and relief. He was definitely bothered with that poor soldier's sob story. Now when this issue began, it was pointed out specifically that none of the people in the neighborhood can see this haunted flat. But I suppose after John visited it and experienced the ghost of that horrid past, he must have somehow unlocked it and made it visible to the normal eye. And one of the people that finally took notice was that racist landlord I mentioned. He approached John and told him to give the owner this eviction notice. And that's how this issue ends with that ominous cliffhanger.

I don't really know why readers should care about what happens to that flat because I personally believe it might set the spirit free if he is no longer anchored to a place. But based from Constantine's reaction, I suppose that is not the case (?) Anyway, I'm looking forward to what happens next then for second and last installment. I have yet to see John do anything proactive since he just got in touch with his dark side in Difficult Beginnings so it would be pleasant to see him doing something productive and helpful to the human race; in this case for a lonely ghost who just needs peace and closure from his personal tragedy.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #105

Happy birthday, Mr. John Constantine! Honestly, I think my reviews look like the date postage is happening a day later than what should be, but you probably won't notice if you're reading this in the US. I live in Asia so I'm a day ahead than Americans. That means if I'm writing this review at the moment on the 11th of May, it would still be evening of the 10th there. So yes, it's still John Constantine's birthday.

I can't think of a better issue to celebrate that than this one which is more or less something of a filler, but a rather fun and enlightening one I had a good time reading and chuckling about. It's a really pleasant filler.

On semi-related news, the major conflict that was the root of my recent personal drama had been somewhat resolved; not in the way I wanted and wished for but definitely in the way I needed. It's probably why my muse for writing in general has been revived now. See, a great part of why I write lately had been anchored to the connection and chemistry I found with a certain someone, and for a time when our relations were in the rocks, I was also losing a significant part of what made me enjoy and love writing to begin with. 

I will never have any regrets that we found each other, but I also think it's time for us to both heal separately and find a way to be the people we want to be outside of the little world we built together back when we were so in love. I suppose it was sort of what Constantine and his serious girlfriend Kit had done too during Ennis' run when they were going through the painful cycle of breaking up. Something needs to break but I myself will no longer stubbornly collect the shards and try my darndest to glue them all back together. 

It's insane to torture myself with being so bullheaded and refusing to let go because I've never been one to give up on anything, even a relationship that had already run its course. I'm old enough to know that heartbreaks are learning experiences, and I could finally start moving on and accept that although this beautiful person might no longer be my lover---who says he can't be my friend after this? I think we owe it to each other to see other possibilities that our connection could thrive and grow from.

Anyway! Back to this motherfucking filler of an issue! We get an interesting flashback about the past concerning Samuel Coleridge. You know, the poet and theologian who was besties with William Wordsworth, the guy who wrote about daffodils. Anyway, the celestial beings known as the angels took interest in Mr. Coleridge because they want a better representation of Heaven to mortals and who better write it in great, lavish details than the founder of the Romantic Movement itself? So, while Sammy was busy getting high (literally, Coleridge is an aficionado in the recreational use of drugs because who the hell isn't back in those days especially when you're a goddamn poet?), the angels began influencing his consciousness with some harmless tinkering on his imagination. 

Now how does this relate to anything John Constantine? Well, it turned out that Sammy's supplier is none other than a distant relative named James Constantine who, of course, also deals with the occult stuff. Them Constantines, you know, they love to dabble with the supernatural stuff going back to generations. Does this surprise me? Not at all! There was her ladyship Johanna Constantine after all, who was a recurring character in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. She was a badass aristocrat-adventuress on her own, and she helped the titular character about all that nasty business concerning his son Orpheus. But I digress. My point is the Constantines are nuts! Their lineage had been steeped in mystical energies and even dark magic for a long time and John is just the latest addition to that, if not his niece Gemma Masters who had started manifesting her own powers herself.

So as the angels tinkered with Sammy, James appeared in the doorway, righteously indignant that the celestials are attempting on doing 'propaganda'. What I liked about the confrontation was how mollified James was in the same way a father would be if his children were doing something naughty behind his back. Constantines never play favorites especially among angels and demons. They exorcise the bad fuckers, sure, but they don't win any good graces with the halo-wearing counterparts either. And as a drug supplier, it's good to know that James still looks out after his clientèle outside the drug-dealing business. He's a really serious fellow who is a big believer in keeping things separate between mortals and celestials. Because free will and all!

Here's a really amusing page of how he scolds the shit out of some angels:

Let 'em bloody humans fuck up by themselves and be accountable for the mess, you wankers!

John Constantine finds out about this tale through some woman he and a friend of his had been staying with. She's a distant descendant of Coleridge herself. As soon as John heard this story, it definitely raised his eyebrows, and whether or not it's true is up to debate. Knowing John, however, I think he would be more inclined to believe his ancestor was a drug supplier. That part of the account cannot be contested. In a nutshell, this was a really nice filler as far as fillers go. And a happy birthday again to Johnny boy!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #104

Much like John Constantine, I myself am going through something shitty right now which is why it's taking me a while to read and review comics again as far as the beginning of April this year when I was still doing Batman reviews at my other blog. It was one thing when I was single and perfectly happy about that singlehood which is how I got started in reviewing comics in the first place back in 2014. It's another thing now that I'm currently nursing a broken heart and struggling to fill that void with the very things that used to make me happy enough or provide me solace, but even doing those same things again can't lift up my damn spirits either. That's exactly how I think John feels at the moment; just shitty and now has to find his way through the muck.

And aren't we all just trying to find our way through the shit life would invariably sling-shoot at us from unexpected and often unfair directions? Haven't all of us, at one point in our lives, stood in the middle of an ongoing shit-storm and almost died? Hellblazer as a comics series basically rehashes the same thematic message during a  few of its character-centric arcs; that life is encrusted with shit upon more shit, and we're just going to have to deal and endure it all if we ever hope to see a silver lining. And John has lived through the worst shit which was more or less a  product of even shittier choices. That's typical Hellblazer.

Last issue, Constantine re-acquainted himself with the mundane things that can make a human being commit atrocities, even the small and unnoticed kind that quietly thrives and poisons the light. In this case, it's a failed aspiring actor in his middle age named Pritchard who recorded fake confessions about serial killings to mislead the police which meant that the real killers who committed the crimes got away in consequence of him playing crying-wolf. That was really sickening for me to read, and John himself was just as aggravated to be reminded yet again why some humans are just too horrible and inhumane to even be allowed to live. But knowing the worst of humanity and fighting its malice and cruelty is exactly the foundation of John's fascination for the occult. So he goes to some mysterious mountains where the veil between the normal and paranormal is weak, allowing certain entities and creatures to trespass and make their stay. It was in these mountains that he became re-acquainted with the personification of himself whom he doomed to hell.

This John Constantine supposedly contained all the bad parts of his emotional baggage; the guilt, the ego, the scars of his wrong decisions, his broken heart and soul bereft of hope and redemption. John performed this clever ritual of separating himself into two halves so he can escape his contract with the First of the Fallen (the Devil) which was why he was living and breathing on earth these days while another version of him is suffering in perdition. Of course, that clever trick cost him more than he realized. To have severed himself from his worst parts was to make himself hollow too for what is a human being if not the marriage of light and dark?

John finally makes this realization in the nick of time and tries to persuade his other half to come back to him:

The other John was far too content with his damnation at this point, so he refuses and then walks away with a smile on his face. So now John has to explore another option to retrieve back some of his darkness again. And he resolves that by having sex with a succubus, the demon named Ellie whom he had a good, working relationship with previously. Now he had to successfully burn down that delicate friendship by duping her into believe he was in love with her so she will fuck him. At this point, I don't even know why I still root for John Constantine, really. I was pretty shocked he would resort to something to tawdry, but then again I shouldn't put it past him either. He pulled the same shit with Zed before; when he copulated with her so infect her womb with demon blood which he was still carrying back then. Yeah, I don't know. I suppose I can't end my review for this issue on a good note, so I'm not going to bother; most certainly not with how John just handled his crisis, and how I'm still struggling with one of my own.

Life is shit made up of even shittier choices. John's dealing with it. We should all learn to deal with it.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #103

I was incredibly shocked yet still quite delighted about the very first pages of this issue. I had not expected for Jenkins to go into such a dark route so early like this and the content of such material is as gritty as one can easily expect from the usual Hellblazer story Still, even though I fairly consider myself to possess a very strong stomach for gore and macabre in general, there are key scenes here and there that sent a chill down my spine.

In the previous issue, John realized that he fucked up when he removed his baggage from himself just so he can literally cast it down to hell. Now he has to go on a quest to measure just how deep his fuck-up goes. A good sixty-percent of these pages were devoted to this asshole named Pritchard who apparently  got off sending the police fake recordings of murder/rape confessions. 

The trouble was he never committed the crimes himself and so only diverted attention from the real killers who had taken lives. The allure of duping the cops and sending them to a goose chase while the killers themselves got away and may have even killed more is apparently such a turn-on for this Pritchard wanker. When we were introduced to his sickening hobby, he had just finished off with victim #8 whom the news had specified died only a day after that fake confession had been submitted. If only the police didn't take it seriously, they could have caught the killer day sooner. 

It's definitely some real disturbing shit, but John Constantine made it his personal mission to go see and look this wacko in the eye just so he glimpse at the abyss again and taste this certain flavor of evil that defies any kind of morality and logic. His decision to confront Pritchard and bring him to justice was motivated more of less of the journey he must take. I like how Constantine was repulsed by what he had discovered, but he also remained very level-headed about the entire ordeal. 

For what it's worth, I think this issue's narrative in particular sounded almost as memorably creepy as Delano's back in the earlier run. The depravity that marked Garth Ennis' style of choosing storylines was also present, but Jenkins managed to keep it cohesive without bothering with bullshit distractions unlike his predecessor had often done with certain arcs that are more spectacle than actual substance. I think Jenkins can be that perfect balance between Delano and Ennis' styles. There are elements that remind me of both previous writers which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Jenkins' own writing stands out by itself so I shall reserve any other comparisons so I can enjoy what he offers in the present as oppose to how that measures up to his predecessors' work.

John Constantine started climbing the mountains now. I'd like to say he's in sudden mood to hike and camp around but the truth, of course, is because he was pulled into this strange valley that I think is paranormal in itself, based from his explanations about it at least. Nightmares and fears lurk in these mountains/valley. Like, personified versions of nightmares and fears that you only think about at night or when you're most vulnerable. So yeah, best place to just lay for camp and sleep without any lights on. 

The best  part is what awaited John. Why should any of us be surprised that he would encounter a zombified version of himself?


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #102

"I'm not the person I used to be. I used to know my place in the grand bloody scheme, back when I was just a downtrodden ear of corn."

"Now I'm more than a vaguely interested bystander. And the future's just a bloody coin toss."

With an on-the-nose title like The Single-Sided Coin, Paul Jenkins tackles now the aftermath of John Constantine's nifty trick back in #96 to get out of his bargain with the Devil for the third time when he divided his soul into the most black-and-white way imaginable; he made a personification out of his bad self whom he dumped with all of his baggage of screw-ups, misery and guilt then tossed that wanker into hell as his replacement. Afterwards, he kept what he believed are the good parts of him he can salvage instead. 

And yet somehow he feels more hollow than he ever thought he could be. There are plenty of reasons for that. In the previous issue concerning a football game mayhem bonanza (as I'd like to call it starting now), Constantine didn't even try and stop a demon borne out of strife to take one human as a scapegoat instead of causing a mass hysteria among the sports geeks. That definitely made me feel as if something was off about John as a person now. His almost helpless apathy is not at all a trait of the Constantine I love. Writer Paul Jenkins then follows it up with this serving of the hard facts. 

This Difficult Beginnings arc is going to be comprised of three chapters. The first chapter had John mull over his emptiness in nature as he reminisces about an old tale he heard about Good and Evil's battle against one another. He consults an old friend about his troubles, a Chinese mystic who gave him an advice of the journey he must undergo in order to understand more fully the impact of his losses and the price he had to pay by messing with his own soul.

This arc so far is a bit reminiscent of Jamie Delano's final stories in the series starting from issues #38-40 in which John discovered he ate his twin bother during utero and how somewhere in an alternate universe if a different twin survived, a better John Constantine may have had been born other than the one we are reading now as the lead of this series. It was such an engrossing arc and definitely belongs to my top favorites. With that in mind, I already have positive vibes for this Jenkins' arc because one of the things I can't help loving about Hellblazer in general is that at the core of all its supernatural elements like hauntings, demons and unconventional serial killers, it's really just a story of a man who doesn't have the true markings of a hero per se, but tries to become one--sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes unwittingly--as he deals with cleaning up his own screw-ups when he's not busy cleaning up other people's. He's also clever, charming and mysterious as much as he is deeply flawed, cowardly and temperamental. And though we might not agree with his decisions at times, we find ourselves rooting for him because he represents that part of our humanity that we want to believe can evolve and become victorious. 

That's who John Constantine is to me, and the reasons I keep coming back to this series, determine to finish it and tackle each issue with as much honesty and insight as I can give. And now he had abandoned those ugly yet relatable parts of him that made him so compelling and refreshing to read in the first place.

This arc is his journey back to finding himself again. The first stop, of course, is the mental facility Ravenscar as featured in the monumental issue #11 during Delano's run. John Constantine surrendered himself to the asylum after his brush with the demon Nergal whom he summoned to defeat a demon who claimed a little girl named Astra and her soul. John became too confident about it but he could not control Nergal at all and this demon ended up taking Astra for itself, leaving John and a few friends distraught with guilt for being responsible about a child's damnation to hell. That was the root of Constantine's angst and emotional trauma back in Delano's run; he never held himself fully accountable for Astra's death and then he got his friends involved and all of them began to spiral down one by one until John was the only one who was left alive. His greatest sins were towards the people he loves and who trusted his leadership until they saw him for what he truly is. Reading those first twenty or so issues for Hellblazer was rough for me too because John was never painted in a sympathetic light, at least not at first.

So here is John now, a hundred issues later, outside the place during a stormy night, recalling the steps he must follow for this journey of self-discovery. As advised by the aforementioned Chinese mystic, these are the places John must go to and the first of them was Ravenscar, the proverbial, "Place of Thunder". In doing so, John understands now the gravity of his mistake:

You see, dear readers, even for all his flaws and failures, John Constantine is a tempered steel because these misgivings are a source of redemption. He became what he is now because he had been tested and put on several trials by fire. To eradicate those grimy parts from his soul means to undo all the progress he had made. Just removing his darkness made him less whole.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hellblazer by Paul Jenkins issue #101

It's May again which is fitting because my last comics diet for this series ended on the same month last year. It also happened to be on the day of John Constantine's birthday and my most recent review was the 100th issue. Now here I am again in this blog, and I can honestly say that reading more of my precious baby Constantine couldn't have come at a better time in my life. A lot has happened since last year, mostly in regards to my personal life. And I've always maintained that since we were fellow Taureans, that John and I deal with our problems quite the same. We mostly share a few negative traits in personality, as stated by our astrological sign, which we both struggle to deal with if not overcome.

Things had always been difficult for John Constantine from the get-go. Jamie Delano's early run depicted him as morally ambiguous and guilt-ridden due to the sins he committed on his friends which took him a while to forgive himself for and as well as earn their forgiveness. The next writer Garth Ennis explored John's transformation into an actual decent human being by giving him a serious girlfriend named Kit who managed to lead him to a better path and make him so happy. She could not accept his ties to the occult and passion for the mysticism and the paranormal, however. She most certainly did not want to get involved so as soon as her life became endangered, she decided to cut off ties with John. That relationship didn't work out and it had serious repercussions on  John's emotional health. 

And now that we have this next writer Paul Jenkins, I'm quite excited to see what new dimensions of his character can be revealed. In actuality, I've already reviewed several of his issues last year for the series, and I was impressed with a few stories while a little detached from others. Two issues that really stood out for me are issues #96 and #100. They all dealt with Constantine's ongoing game with the First of the Damned who just wants to claim his soul and fails for the third time when John thought of a nifty trick, almost like figuratively punching a loophole into an otherwise tight contract. The Devil did try to attack John back by attacking our anti-hero's daddy issues, but John, for the first time, was able to move past his father's abuse and their overall fractured relationship they have by just forgiving him. So that's 4-0 between Constantine and FotD. This brings us to the present with issue #101.

On the surface level, this appears to be a filler issue of some sort. John just came back from the hospital and some of his oldest pals took him out to watch the football game. And I never thought British football can be so volatile. These sports geeks really take their game and athletes seriously. The entire stadium therefore became a breeding ground for hatred and conflict to transpire, summoning a demon that relishes on the strife. John easily spotted said fiend and approached it. Their conversation was casual and a little passive-aggressive, considering John's reputation and that this demon doesn't give a fuck about it and would not hesitate to fight him if Constantine stands on its way.  For all of John's failings, he at least will always find a way to send demons back to where they belong and stop bothering the humans. This time, John actually allowed this demon to take its pick.

It bargained with the offer that it won't cause a mass hysteria and panic in exchange of John choosing one unfortunate sod to be the scapegoat. To me, John's compliance was uncomfortably too passive. Sure he had his moments when he didn't assist, either because he can't be bothered or because the situation itself is helpless. But this case showed that this John Constantine simply felt like he can't resist. He is a new person now after that nifty trick I mentioned earlier. This issue served as a good example to highlight that perhaps by dividing his good and bad side and sending that bad side to hell, John also lost his edge and his daring nature to fight back dark forces and save lives consequently. Oh yeah, have I mentioned he detached himself from his dark past like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing in issue #96? Now John is about to pay the price for his greatest cheat strategy that nulled his damnation to hell.

But what a steep cost it really must be as we will later see on in the next issue.