Issue #13 “On the Beach”
Writer: Jamie Delano;
Art: Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Mike Hoffman;
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski;
Letters: Todd Klein;
Cover: Dave McKean;
When thinking back on our childhoods, the notion of life being much simpler undoubtedly comes to mind. This can be attributed to our still developing minds not being exposed to the complexities and workings of society, or not being able to comprehend such matters when they are first encountered. This obliviousness combined with the general lack of responsibilities one has at such an age can at times evoke notions of nostalgia when the only worries were learning the words on your weekly spelling list for school, or if you could get away staying up late. These times of course slowly faded as we grew and came to the realization that the world is much larger than we ever thought possible in our young minds, and was filled with horrors much worse than the monster that lurked under our beds, as can be seen in “On the Beach.”
Laying low at a British beach resort while trying to wait out any lingering trouble from the previous 12 issues, Constantine waxes poetic on the perceived innocence of his childhood. Remembering childhood trips to the same seaside with his sister and father, and observing the shabbier state of the town today, Constantine cynically toys with the notion of how things really were as a child. Namely are the memories of his youth just a “dream – some kind of hopeless race-memory of childhood?” and how one makes the transition from this perceived innocence to the realization of a larger more frightening world. The panels flashing back to his childhood, colored by Lovern Kindzierski in a red hued sepia tone, gives us the first brief glances of Constantine’s father, who bears a solemn sad look contrasting the bright smiles of his children. As a fully grown adult who lost his wife during John’s birth, Thomas is fully aware of the horrors of the “real” world. His sad demeanor, only visible when his children are far enough away so they can not see it, evokes the idea of “they don’t know how well the have it.” As children things are often taken for granted, as children don’t know any better, but the real world catches up to them in one way or another and the innocence is gradually lost. How this occurs is different from individual to individual, personal events such as an unexpected death of an immediate family member, or diagnosis of an incurable disease can often play a factor in this, although certain cultural events can play a significant factor in this as well.
Stopping to rest on the beach Constantine comments how the nuclear power plant across the bay looms over like a “blank ugly tombstone waiting to be inscribed with a million names.” In the late 1980s the idea of nuclear annihilation by ICBMs was slowly becoming less of a threat as the Cold War was winding down. However due to the explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine on April 26th 1986, the looming threat of nuclear power was still in the public mind. The Chernobyl disaster is the worst nuclear power plant accident in history to date in terms of damage and casualties, with long term effects still being accounted for, and effectively bankrupt the Soviet Union, spending $18 billion roubles (equivalent to $18 billion USD in 1986) handling the disaster. While narrating directly at the reader, Constantine is joined by a couple who are spending the day on the surf, one of which is a worker at the power plant. Overheard conversation shows a worker negligent of safety protocols and doesn’t acknowledge the dangers of working in such a facility, grumbling about new safety regulations that will undoubtedly affect his take home pay. Studies of Chernobyl and many chemical plant catastrophes often discover safety violations which directly lead to the incidents, with productivity often taking precedence over safety. Constantine “awakes” to the explosion of the nuclear power plant, as the every present seagulls of the beach rain down from the sky ablaze. Watching the fire with others on the beach Constantine thinks back on his childhood and how even if he was delusional at a young age he would rather go back to that than face this horror as an adult.
Wandering the beach and discovering the destruction of the town Constantine befriends the power plant worker’s girlfriend, who has been left on the beach to await his return. As the panels progress Constantine and the girl become shabbier as they suffer the effects of the fallout. Residing in a house on the beach as their flesh wastes away, Constantine and the girl become lovers, dying as she gives birth to a two-headed seal. Constantine regards this as humanities evolution, here to claim the world world that it has been left. Constantine shows legitimate affection to this strange creature, seeking to protect the child as it enters the world. However the child wrenches from his grasp, as children are apt to do and goes to live its life. Constantine displays the characteristics of a supportive parent, he wants his child to survive and thrive, and despite knowing the horrors of this radioactive world does not shelter the child any more than he can from them, not wanting to stifle the child’s growth. The seal-child never makes it to the safety of the sea as it is pecked to death by skeletal seagulls, denying the continuation of the species. Constantine laments over the death as his last chance for immortality being taken from him, as the legacy of a parent is carried on through their children, who then will recount their memories of them to future generations. This sharing of memories makes people effectively immortal, and being forgotten due to insignificance is a fear that many face.
Filled with a rage that he can not carry out, the skeletal birds devour Constantine as the human race succumbs to extinction, followed by Constantine waking up from the nightmare to the squawking of gulls. While a cynical outlook on life in the post-nuclear world with comments on the innocence of childhood, parenthood, and the threats of nuclear power, parallels are also first established between John and his father Thomas with the birth to a two-headed child to a lamenting father who has lost his wife, which would be explored upon later in Delano’s run.