Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 11

Hellblazer Annual #1 “The Bloody Saint”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Bryan Talbot
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Kent Williams

Life has a sense of never really turning out exactly as we would like it to, but such is the way of life. As important as our beliefs and ideals are to us, there comes times in which if we don’t compromise we shall left behind by the world, forgotten, and eventually perish. Sacrificing or compromising in order to survive often leads to someone becoming a different person entirely, but not in all such cases as shown in “The Bloody Saint,” exploring Constantine’s life in 1982 as well as the life of his Dark Age ancestor, King Kon-Sten-Tyn, and how each encounters compromise in their day and age.

Opening with a patriotic broadcast of the departure of the British Navy to the Falkland Islands in what would become known as the Falklands War, Constantine laments on the display of British power with a kick to his television screen. The Falklands War was a 10 week conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands that Argentina claimed it rightfully had. A brief conflict in comparison to many others of the 20th century, the defeat of Argentina would have great effect on both countries. Argentina would come to oppose the military dictatorship that instigated the conflict, the National Reorganization Process, and would return to democratic elections in 1983. Prior to the war, the Conservative Party of the UK was behind in the polls but after successfully repelling the Argentinian forces from the Falklands, would win the 1983 general election by a landslide. The continuing rule of the Conservative Party would fuel Jamie Delano and other British writers work throughout the decade.

Wandering the streets of London after leaving Ravenscar: Secure Facility for the Dangerously Deranged, Constantine encounters Destructo Vermin Gobsmack, or Martin Peters as he is now called, an old acquaintance from his punk-rock days who has gone from a shaved head, nose pierced punk rock anarchist to man that Constantine fails to recognize(1). In short, Martin saw what the world was becoming and decided to change with the times; no longer playing in his band he instead works in management and promotions, slipping police money to get out of tickets, and driving around London in a Porsche getting calls from his coke dealer. Martin fully admits that he’s “sold out,” but it is how he has survived the “Libertarian free-for-all” of Thatcher. Constantine cynically lamenting on the crushing hopelessness of society, something he thought he could fend off with magic until Newcastle showed him otherwise Constantine encounters a dark haired women who jars him to his senses, commenting on the pagan monuments hidden within everyday London, and how “tearing it all down” is not the way to go about bringing change, in what can be seen as a brief precursor to what Alan Moore would do in From Hell. The two retreat to make love while also rekindling the hope within Constantine before the woman leaves as mysteriously as she appeared. Constantine comments on her actions as “a silver snake of thin resolve, wriggling in my fluttering veins.” While snakes are more often than not portrayed as evil or sinister creatures, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden being the most memorable example, serpents have historically been used as symbols of healing, guardianship, fertility and rebirth, themes prevalent in the story of Constantine’s ancestor, King Kon-Sten-Tyn.

The second part of the annual focuses on the life of King Kon-Sten-Tyn, Constantine’s Pagan warrior ancestor who ruled over Raven Scar until he too was forced to sacrifice and compromise to survive, but in a much different manner than Martin Peters. Waking from a dream of “iron ships sailing on a sea of blood” and a ferocious boar, Kon-Sten-Tyn wakes raving and coughing blood.  Hideously old, decrepit, vengeful and having a silver right arm instead of a normal human one, making him appear as some sort of geriatric medieval Terminator, he sends away aid proclaiming the blood is of monsters he has slain in his sleep.  Retiring to a secret chamber within his tower, Kon-Sten-Tyn boasts of his greatness and worth but also lapses into moments of exhaustion, and turns to the severed head of the wizard Merlin, formerly of King Arthur’s court (but still very much alive), to recount his life to him before he dies. Kon-Sten-Tyn’s tale is one of bloodshed, sacrifice, and deceit, much as his descendants would turn out to be. Beginning immediately after downfall of Camelot, Merlin seeks out the young Boy-King, proclaiming “that which ends must yet begin.” However his attempt to romanticise the tale is met with immediate chastisement by Kon-Sten-Tyn, proclaiming “this is not hero’s poetry” and will not stand to hear any embellishments to his life’s story. A brief moment of calm makes Kon-Sten-Tyn consider his life as a whole, of it’s worth now in the Christian kingdom he now resides over as an old man, despite secretly keeping to his pagan ways. Ultimately Kon-Sten-Tyn’s goal is immortality but not in the physical sense, much like Constantine in “On the Beach” Kon-Sten-Tyn wants to be remembered, and with the dominant rise of Christianity, he believes the best way to achieve this is to become a saint.

Kon-Sten-Tyn’s upbringing mirrors that of King Arthur, being tutored by Merlin in the ways of war, politics and magic, and the common folk refer to him as “Arthur returned,” due to his military victories. Where as King Arthur is often portrayed as a worshipper of the Christian god, Kon-Sten-Tyn retains his faith in the pagan gods of the land and is intolerant of the monks who worship “The One God.” Conquering his enemies King Kon-Sten-Tyn goes to sea to explore the unknown and learn more than Merlin would be able to teach him. During the voyage he loses his arm to Pictish pirates only to having it replaced with a silver one by the Sidhe of Gaelic mythology, also conceiving a son with their queen Nimue(2), more commonly known as Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. Although Kon-Sten-Tyn was quick to deny his tale is not that of a hero just a man, it does bear many similar characteristics to a traditional “heroic tale” but with all the romanticism removed from the tale. Arthurian legend would often be filled with tales of gallantry and splendor, with fair maidens and knights in shining armor. Kon-Sten-Tyn’s by comparison lacks all of these, with his castle being a single squat tower by the sea, and all of his subjects residing in thatch roofed cottages adorned with the severed heads of their enemies.

“The Bloody Saint” features many aspects of folklore from the British Isles, the goddess Cerridwen, more commonly referred to as “The Mother” by characters within the issues plays the largest part within the story. A figure within Welsh mythology and modern Paganism, Cerridwen is often associated with rebirth, transformation, and inspiration. She possesses a magic cauldron capable of healing and resurrecting those placed inside of it, and is the source of Kon-Sten-Tyn’s longevity due ot the blood sacrifices he makes to her. She is often represented with a white boar, which has also been seen as Kon-Sten-Tyn’s personal coa of arms throughout the issue. Returning home with his infant son, Kon-Sten-Tyn sacrifices the son upon his 19th birthday to The Mother, prolonging his and giving him “more time to dream up my scheme.” It is worth to note that like Constantine, Kon-Sten-Tyn is not unphased sacrifice of his sons, and is actually saddened by what he has to do to survive. Try as he must, Kon-Sten-Tyn’s tactics of bloodshed and slaughter can’t hold back the tide of Christianity, forcing him to accept the presence of the faith within his lands, even “converting” to the One True Faith, blessed by actual St. Petroc. In this we see Kon-Sten-Tyn behave much more like his descendant, as his conversion is in fact one giant con, secretly preserving worship to The Goddess while also building his own reputation to hopefully one day become a saint. Churches are built with old standing stones in pagan holy sites with sacrificial blood mixed into the mortar, Merlin commenting on how “the one-god not been conquered but had been seduced.”

Finished with his tale, Kon-Sten-Tyn decides his time has come, as a dragon erupts from beneath him to carry him off to see The Mother. Prior to sacrificing himself, Kon-Sten-Tyn directly addresses the reader that these are the fruits of his labors before being devoured by the boar of his dreams, which in this instance is Cerridwyn. The priests who witness the Dragon as it flies with with Kon-Sten-Tyn see it as him vanquishing it to protect his flock, declaring him a fearsome warrior to god and declare him as “Holy Kon-Sten-Tyn a fierce and bloody saint.” Similarities between Kon-Sten-Tyn and the tale of St. George and the Dragon can be drawn, but the earliest instances of that tale date to the 11th Century, whereas the presence of St. Petroc date this tale to take place sometime in the 6th Century.(3) Whereas Martin Peters compromised till he was unrecognizable to a former friend, Kon-Sten-Tyn instead chose to feign devotion to these new ideals, while retaining his true devotion to Cerridwen, until ultimately he would be remembered as a Saint effectively making him immortal, showing there is more than one way to live forever. Concluding with Constantine uncovering an old music video of his punk band Mucous Membrane that Martin Peters asked him about earlier in an effort to turn a profit, which Constantine initially spurned, Constantine toys with the notion of maybe some compromise isn’t such a bad thing, at least when one can profit from it.

Notes:

(1) Martin Peters bears a striking resemblance to one of the demonic yuppies from “Going For It”

(2) In 2007 Matt Wagner would have Nimue be the true name of the sorceress Madame Xanadu, despite other Arthurian legend characters showing up in the series and also being published under the Vertigo imprint, the two characters are separate entities.

(3) Patriarchal Library, Jerusalem, codex 2, according to Christopher Walter, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition 2003:140

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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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