Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 24

Issue #28 “Thicker Than Water”

Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Ron Tiner & Kevin Walker
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Cover: Kent Williams

Following the brief tenure of Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman on the series, Jamie Delano returns to continue The Family Man storyline that began four issues prior. Since “Thicker Than Water” itself takes place 3 months after issue #24, the events of Morrison and Gaiman’s issue nicely fit into the gap of the story despite Constantine not showing the abject terror he is in throughout most of this issue. While it is possible Morrison and Gaiman did not know exactly what John Constantine would be up to when their issues were set to be released and subsequently only touched upon events of Constantine’s extended background (Ravenscar and his relationship with The Swamp Thing), when looking at Hellblazer as one continuous narrative, the events of issues #25-27 account for the frantic state the Constantine finds himself in.

Picking up 3 months after the reveal that Constantine has provided The Family Man his next batch of victims, “Thicker Than Water” opens with a series of dreams providing some background on The Family Man and foreshadowing things to come throughout the story arc. First is the dream of The Family Man, who is revealed to be retired cop Samuel Morris, killing his parents with a series of hammer blows to their heads as a child. Throughout the scene he is expressing his love for his mother, even after he kills her, before a man in a trenchcoat enters the room with a noose. The man, whose facial features are lost in the dark, is obviously Constantine, foreshadowing how Constantine will be Samuel Morris’ downfall. Constantine’s dream deals more with the repercussions of his actions in issue #24, as he is visited by the mutilated bodies of the family that Samuel Morris last killed, who are looking for a place to stay. In the dream Constantine is wearing pristine white clothes which risk becoming stained as he is asked to hold the dead daughter, who “still has some blood left,” boiling the nightmare down to the expression of Constantine’s guilt over being directly responsible for the death of the family.

The issue primarily focuses on how Constantine and The Family Man are hunting each other, their efforts and actions mirroring one another. Specifically, the living conditions, information gathering techniques, and mental state of both are explored within the issue. Samuel Morris resides in a home for the elderly where he puts on the facade of a kindly old gentleman while secretly hating every single one of them, this is very much like Constantine who is known for his facades and allows for him to live below the radar. As a former detective Morris uses his police contacts to dig up what little information on Constantine there is, much as John would be apt to do with his occult contacts. This leads The Family Man to Constantine’s father, Thomas, who he further pumps for information, (feigning that he is the father of a woman Constantine has impregnated) before killing him. While this scene shows the extent of the efforts that The Family Man is taking to deal with Constantine, as The Family Man never leaves a witness, the introduction of Constantine’s one armed father[1] reveals a vital part of John’s backstory, namely how Constantine’s mother died during childbirth. While the exact details of why this happened would not be revealed until issue #100, but the death of his wife led to Thomas resenting his son and John rebelling against him by turning to the occult. Much of Constantine’s tactics and idiosyncrasies are visible in The Family Man, they even bear a slight resemblance, but they are taken to the extreme. Constantine will publically and economically humiliate you, but he doesn’t go as far as killing you, at least not directly.

Returning to Constantine, who has taken up living in squalor in a shabby room provided by his friend Chas Chandler. Pondering why he hasn’t done anything about The Family Man in three months, and concluding that he admired him for the short period he knew him as just a man and not a serial killer, Constantine sets out to investigate before anymore people are killed. Digging up public record information reveals at least 75 people have died at the knife of The Family Man over the course of 14 years. While this statistic can be seen as just a number to show just how horrid of a man Samuel Morris is, the term “serial killer” dates back to only the mid 1970s[2] (around the time when The Family Man would have started) so it is entirely possible that Samuel Morris had been killing for much longer without the press reporting the murders as linked. Posing as The Family Man, Constantine visits Reed Hackett, the man who was buying serial killer mementoes from Jerry O’Flynn.  Reed Hackett shows “The Family Man” his collection of mementos while being chided the entire time about how sick and guilty of an individual he is for not only being interested in the killings but wanting to be a part of them and being too afraid to do so. Like serial killers, the obsession with serial killers is a 20th century construction that any search on the web can reveal individuals that have an unhealthy interest in. Before he leaves, Hackett hands a Constantine an invitation to a Serial Murderer Convention in the United States, a reference to The Sandman storyline The Doll’s House[3].  Later Constantine calls the police on Hackett as a possible suspect of being The Family Man, and manages to be in the background of a photo to goad The Family Man into coming after him. Hearing on the news that a family was killed in a manner resembling The Family Man in Constantine’s immediate vicinity, Constantine panics. Constantine muses as to why he is so frightened by this situation he has found himself in, as in comparison to facing down the primal idea of masculinity like in The Fear Engine, this threat seems leagues apart.  Given that this storyline takes places directly after The Fear Machine, it is odd to see Constantine under duress from something as miniscule as one man. However as this is a flesh and blood enemy that he can’t beguile his way to victory, Constantine believes that this will only end with the death of either him or the Family Man.

After the ghostly exorcism and nuclear strike of the previous issues, the return to the realistic threat of The Family Man is a little jarring, but more personal in scope. Morrison and Gaiman’s plots were instances in which Constantine just happened to get caught up in, as is the case for a good portion of the series, and, while The Family Man starts off the same way, it quickly progresses to a personal attack on Constantine’s person. Such drastic changes in tone over three issues show the flexibility of the series and of Constantine himself, as not limiting the character to one kind of threat is what ensured the length of the series and allowed a variety of writers to contribute to it over 25 years.

Notes:

  1. Despite the missing arm being on his left as opposed to his right, Thomas Constantine bears a striking resemblance to his ancestor King Kon-Sten-Tyn from Hellblazer Annual #1
  2. Ressler, Robert K., and Tom Shachtman. Whoever Fights Monsters. St. Martin’s Paperbacks ed. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1993. 29.
  3. Observant readers of the series will remember people lamenting over The Family Man’s absence.
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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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