Issue #31 “Mourning of the Magician”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Sean Phillips
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Cover: Kent Williams
Over the last 30 issues of the series, it is clearly obvious that death is an ever present part of the series. The death of a character in Hellblazer is so commonplace that it’s striking when there is an issue where someone doesn’t die. In fact the only issue at this point in the series where that happens is issue #14, “Touching The Earth,” part one of The Fear Machine story arc. Given that the beginning of the arc shows Constantine embracing a new life and escaping from the “weirdness” for a time, it felt appropriate for the issue. But that did not last long. With deaths come funerals in some form or fashion, and while death holds little value in most comics due to the cyclical nature of the medium in which resurrection is all but inevitable, issues focusing on funerals serve as a break from the action instead focusing on how the life and death of someone effects the rest of the cast as can be seen in “Mourning of the Magician.”
This issue reintroduces us to Constantine’s sister Cheryl and niece Gemma, who have been absent from the series since “Waiting for the Man.” As before Gemma displays the inherent magical nature of the Constantine bloodline by being able to see the ghost of her dead grandfather who is haunting her. In comparison to what little we have seen of Thomas Constantine before, his ghostly shriveled form is somewhat comical and yet at the same time terribly sad. When first seen in “Thicker Than Water” he gives the impression of a hard man who has lived a hard life, raising two children on his own and with only one arm. Reduced to an apparition has stolen that presence from him and makes the reader view him from an entirely different angle than before. Gone is “The Constantine Smirk” he displayed when drinking tea with The Family Man, now replaced by an anguish filled frown.
As with everyone, John Constantine chooses to mourn his father his own way. While the rest of the family attends the funeral service, he instead watches from the cremation chamber. He cracks a few jokes but then chides himself on how as bad of a relationship he had with his father. Thomas was his father and he was responsible for getting him killed. Visiting with his family afterwards, Gemma confides with John on seeing her grandfather’s ghost. Explaining that he probably feels safe with her and how he can’t physically hurt her, John tries to convince the ghost (whom he can’t see) to haunt him instead. Cracking a joke on how “all sons kill their fathers. It’s part of growing up.” Constantine realizes that the reason why his father’s spirit can’t pass on is also his fault. Constantine tells a tale of how in his youth after his father burnt some of his magical books, he placed a curse on his father that would wreak slow death upon him. Bonding his life with that to a dead cat, his father would go weaker as the cat rotted away. Upon fearing that his father would actually die he placed the half rotted cat in a jar of formaldehyde to prevent further decomposition which he then hid. All the while telling this tale to the ghost of his father, Constantine remarks how they never had a proper conversation and how their clashes were based out of the teenage rebellion that nearly every teenager goes through in some way. Constantine just took it a few steps further than most and it’s only upon when his father’s life was at stake did he admit that he wasn’t trying to kill him, he just wanted to be loved by him. Teenage rebellion is often done in an effort to be acknowledged as an individual by one’s parents, to be seen as something more than just their child, as an actual person. Constantine’s teenage years (late 1960’s) clashed with his father’s outlook on life and on what kind of person he wanted John to be, which ultimately caused a schism that the two never really recovered from. This is ironic in the sense that observing how hard of a life his father had and how miserable he always was, (and being terrified of turning out like him) is what drove Constantine to the occult lifestyle that we know him for. It is only now when John pours out the preserved cat that he buried at his mother’s grave and sets fire to it do the two make their peace.
The relationship between Constantine and his father is ultimately fundamental to how John would turn out as he moved from adolescence to adulthood. In this point of the Hellblazer narrative, it is believed by John that this resentment is partly fueled by the fact that John’s mother died giving birth to him. The actual circumstances of this death would be expanded upon in Hellblazer #100, but given that Paul Jenkins contribution to the title is still nearly 5 years away, the changes this brings will be addressed at a later date. The clash between fathers and sons has been part of stories since stories have been told, often made interesting in how men obey or disobey the gender roles inherently assigned or expected to them in Western society. While John and his father were never on the best of terms even at the end, the issue gives closure to their relationship and allows Constantine to move onto other trials and tribulations with a slightly clearer conscience. While it’s questionable how good of a father Thomas was, (John himself wasn’t that good of a son to be perfectly honest) he did end up raising a son who has helped save the world on a few occasions, so it isn’t all that bad.