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.


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