Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 8

Issue #10 “Sex and Death”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Richard Piers Rayner and Mark Buckingham
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Dave McKean

With the ultimate goal of self-preservation, the consequences of John Constantine’s actions more often than not cause the suffering of others, sometimes on a large scale, as issues such as “Sex and Death” plainly show.  Due to a crossover with The Saga of the Swamp Thing, in which the Swamp Thing is occupying Constantine’s body to procreate, the majority of the issue has John’s spirit observing the consequences of his actions in the form a ghostly voyeur. Like the title of the issue, two of the main things Constantine observes on his astral jaunt are sex and death and explores the relation of the two within the series thus far.

Constantine’s narration of being expelled from his physical form is akin to a cosmic sperm cast across the astral plane as he comes screaming into existence, much as a newborn babe would as he realizes how he has gotten to this point. Constantine comments on how the Swamp Thing discarded him from his physical form like he was throwing out a piece of trash, only seeing John’s vessel as a tool, much like he often does.(1) Gaining control of his spirit, Constantine travels to Glastonbury to see if his plan worked with Zed. Throughout the series Constantine’s cons usually result in him living for another day or the antagonist of the story getting their comeuppance, but this marks an instance in which the consequences of Constantine’s intervention in Heaven and Hell’s game surpasses his expectations. Instead of mating with Zed, the angel calls down God’s wrath, killing all the members of the Resurrection Crusade and destroying their facility. Throughout prior issues the Damnation Army has been called a force of chaos that is destabilizing the world, as would be expected of the forces of Hell. However, Constantine remarks that had he not defiled Zed and the Resurrection Crusade’s plans succeeded then humanity would have been made slaves of Heaven. This event enforces the fact that in Hellblazer, the forces of Heaven are not necessarily good, just as later we see some forces of Hell are not always necessarily evil. Instead of the usual black and white portrayals of good and evil, Hellblazer instead portrays both sides with shades of grey, with humanity being left to its own devices usually as the best course.

Realizing that the Swamp Thing has fulfilled the prophecy he spoke of in issue #8, Nergal pursues Constantine’s astral form with literal hounds of Hell until he is able to reunite with his body, interrupting Swamp Thing and Abby mid-coitus. Prior experience with Constantine combined with the untimely return of his spirit leads Abby to believe that this is yet another manipulation. Constantine’s reputation often helps things go in his favor, but despite his sincerity and genuine need, often places strains on his relationships with those who have been used by him before; consequences of the lifestyle he chooses to live.

Issue #11 “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Richard Piers Rayner and Mark Buckingham
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Dave McKean

The use of violence within media has always been controversial, and probably always shall be. Often it is used for shock and revulsion for both the characters in the story as well as the viewer, and can quickly become gratuitous if not properly handled. Violence is used best when it instead is used to progress the narrative of the work that contains it, and when paired with the uneasiness that comes along with gruesome scenes makes for memorable moments of storytelling.(2) There is no argument that Hellblazer is a violent series, as more often than not someone meets their untimely demise each issue, and more often than not in a grisly fashion. Despite the almost commonplace presence of death, the series uses it to propel John Constantine’s story forward, as best shown in “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come.”

Issue #11 is primarily a flashback to the events in Newcastle in 1978 which would ultimately lead to Constantine’s incarceration. It also marks the first time we see a younger Constantine, being 25 at the time, who has not yet become the cynical trench coated figure that he is more well known for. Young John is much more ready to tackle the world of the arcane head-on and make a name for himself and his friends, the same friends that would eventually become the ghosts we have seen haunting Constantine throughout the series. John is still as cocky as he have seen him previously, but he displays the recklessness of youth and the arcane and the occult is more of a game to him than it will be in 10 years time.

With the presence of angels, demons, ghosts, and elementals it is easy to forget about the horrors and cruelty of man within Hellblazer. While grounded in reality, the series is set in the DC universe at this point so it’s easy to fall into the mindset that these supernatural threats are basically Constantine’s rogue gallery. However like in regular superhero comics, some of the most poignant moments of the series arise when dealing with threats that involve the mistreatment of children by regular human beings. While searching the Casanova Club for what’s causing supposed magical disturbances, Constantine and his group of friends encounter Astra Logue, daughter of the club’s proprietor. Through hypnotism the group uncovers that she has been sexually abused by both her father and several other patrons of the club on many occasions. Astra’s descriptions are not particularly vulgar or detailed, but enough is presented that it can be pieced together by the reader making the scene much more disturbing than the deaths caused by involvement with the supernatural thus far. This is because the horrors Astra faced are horrors that actually happen in our world. As much as we wish it did not happen the sexual exploitation of children is something that exists in our world. It may not always be on the local or national news, but media such as Hellblazer reminds us that it does exist. Pedaophilia was touched on lightly in issue #4 by Constantine’s sister, Cheryl Masters, fearing that something along these lines was happening with Gemma, but to the best knowledge of the reader, despite the girls corpses lying in the bed, The Man only murdered the three girls.

Astra tells of how a demon called a Norfulthing came to her “rescue,” which strikes as the opposite of what one would expect to come to the rescue of the girl. The demon’s ultimate goal is wanton slaughter, and is tied to the material plane with Astra, preventing her from being devoured. However, the notion of a demon at the beck and call of a young girl, ultimately protecting her, is unsettling but is better than the situation she was previously facing in comparison. John decides to conjure up a more powerful demon to banish the Norfulthing, in an ill attempt to fight fire with fire. John’s summoning ritual shows just how inexperienced he is at this point in his career as opposed to the ritual from issue #3, in which he vaguely went through the motions. Instead John follows a book step by step in a sequence that bears some familiarity to “magic” in regards to the popular notion, complete with incantations, mystic symbols, candles, and robes. It is ironic that when performing magic” by the book” that Constantine’s misstep dooms everyone in the building. A misnaming of the demon, who is in fact Nergal, causes the demon to be summoned but not bound to his will, possessing Astra before dragging her to hell. Constantine offers himself in her place, something that seems very out of character from what has been shown over the previous 10 issues, but is denied the trade. Constantine attempts to rescue Astra from Hell but only manages to get her arm through before the gate closes leaving her behind. The image of a severed hand would from time to time appear in Hellblazer as a reminder of John’s failure to save Astra, and would haunt him well into the series until he was able to release her soul several years later.

Constantine’s failure at Newcastle would go to define the character that the reader comes to know through the series. In a sense it is his Crime Alley, his killing of Uncle Ben; where the young, almost heroic mage is swept away, to replaced by a haunted, jaded, cynical man upon his release from incarceration. Were it not for Newcastle it is easy to see what kind of character Constantine could have gone on to become. The event also plays a major part in how John’s friends would suffer from their association with him, with everyone attending coming away either physically or emotionally scarred because of the events, with all of them perishing either before or during the opening arc of the series, fulfilling Nergal’s boast that in the end Hell would claim them all.

Notes

(1) While in control of Constantine’s body in Saga of the Swamp Thing #76, the Swamp Thing gets revenge for Constantine’s prior manipulations by getting a tree tattooed on his right butt cheek in a rare showing of humor. The tree would show up from time to time throughout the series and would even survive the destruction and recreation of Constantine’s body.

(2)   Pulp Fiction handles this wonderfully in regards to Jules’ (Samuel L Jackson) story arc within the movie.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Nestorowich is a Michigan Technological University graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering. To keep his sanity in the perpetual winter of Houghton, in his free time he dove head first into exploring all that comics had to offer, which worked to a certain extent. He eventually started writing about them at every opportunity, settling on a blog at some point. When not reading, watching, or writing something, Max can be found in the Analytical Chemistry Lab in which he finds employment, doing science.

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