Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 34

Issue #43 “Friends in High Places”


Writer: Garth Ennis;

Pencils: Will Simpson;

Inker: Malcolm Jones III;

Colors: Tom Zuiko;

Letters: Gaspar Saladino;

Cover: Tom Canty;

From a narrative perspective comic books offer many storytelling methods that are rather unique to the medium. Of course the artwork comes to mind, as it very well should, with a quick image frozen in time effortlessly communicating to the reader a message on what is transpiring within the panel. As opposed to trying to communicate details in prose work, which while at times helps visualize the world being read about, can sometimes make the piece dry and weak narratively. It’s all a balancing act for any creative team or a singular author, how much is too much or vice versa, and while monthly issues are very much like chapters in a novel, usually telling a story within 5 or 6 issues in most cases, they do not have to be. At times otherwise standalone issues can subtly line up future storylines planned out far ahead that will otherwise lay by the wayside. Using such narrative techniques “Friends in High Places” shows how Garth Ennis’ Hellblazer run is infact one giant cohesive story as opposed to a series of loosely connected storylines, that the story of Dangerous Habits does not end after the final chapter, but will continue until issue #83.

Opening with a dream  sequence in which Constantine has become a giant cancerous tumor, Will Simpson’s art manages to adequately disturb the reader in one of the most gruesome images of the series thus far. Looking back to the first 40 issues of the series, much of the more gruesome artwork was obscured by shadows, but not in Ennis’ scripts, who’s run will push the boundaries far beyond anything that would (or would not) be shown by those who came before him. It’s an artistic choice, and some readers may prefer one style to another but that is the nature of having different creators on one title, they need to make it their own. Awakening on a bench on the seaside, Constantine meets with a woman named Ellie, to discuss his possible options and current state of affairs. It is not long before it is clear to the reader that Ellie is in fact a demon, referring to The First of The Fallen as her boss, when Constantine asks the innocuous question of “How’s things?” Ellie reveals the extent of the what is going to happen to Constantine upon his death at the hands of The Fallen, who is reportedly going to take out all of the aggression caused by the souls he could not claim upon their death on Constantine instead. Giving Constantine a bit of a scare with this statement, Ellie also discusses the option of aid from The Swamp Thing, whose title John debuted in under the hand of Alan Moore in 1985. However in 1991, DC had handed the title over to horror writer Nancy Collins, who took the title back to it’s pre-Alan Moore roots along with incorporating a new cast of supporting characters, much as Ennis did with Hellblazer, which effectively removed Constantine from the title.

At the end of their conversation Ellie suggests John to consult The Snob, someone she and John have a prior history with from the narrative clues. Hesitant at first John reluctantly agrees to do so after stopping again to see his cancer ward friend Matt. John and Matt have a similar discussion about “going out your own way” and doing whatever they could to stay alive given the chance, much of it is similar to conversations between John and Brendan Flynn, albeit now it is with someone who has lived a long life. Mentioning The Snob, Matt regails the tale of an uptight officer of his from World War II in North Africa. While the conversation mainly serves to give Matt more of a personality and a background as opposed to just being an old cancer patient, it does mark the first instance of displaying his extensive knowledge of World War II. A fond fan (and writer) of war comics, World War II and Vietnam both tend to find their way into Ennis’ comics, most notably here in Hellblazer, Preacher, and Punisher: Max.

Arriving at The Cambridge Club, a real life establishment in London founded in 1830 for people who attended Cambridge University and serving only men until 1996, Constantine hypnotizes the doorman to gain entry to the otherwise exclusive gentlemen’s club. Upon reaching The Snob, who is infact the angel Gabriel, Constantine sees the biblical messenger of God conversing with a man named Charlie Peterson, a fictional member of the very real National Front. The far-right “whites only” British political party founded in 1967 was often mentioned in passing during Jamie Delano’s run and Neil Gaiman’s single issue contribution to the series, but it is under Ennis that we shall see Constantine actually engage with members of the political party. The party has been accused of fascism, which while denied, the fact that the party has cultivated Neo-Nazi cells both in and out of the country and  that British police and prison services forbid its members of being a part of the party1, is enough for people unfamiliar with the party to understand the party’s views. Making his way over with ever a sly grin upon his face to show utter contempt towards the angel, Gabriel refuses the powers of Heaven to help Constantine. Divulging that Constantine means nothing and shall go to Hell as he has simply “broken the rules” Gabriel cements the idea that the powers of Heaven view the lives of mortals only in terms of black and white, and that more evil has been done by Constantine than good, despite the few times in which he has saved the world. An enraged Constantine proclaims on how despite being the ones who made the rules, the denizens of Heaven do not understand those who live under them and that may be why humanity is so screwed up. The ideas of right and wrong and how one bad deed can tip the scales of one’s life and result in their eternal damnation is very deplorable when painted in such a way, but it is exactly what Ennis is trying to communicate in his writing. Gabriel demands Constantine leave but not before Constantine jests that “his dad” may not approve of Gabriel associating himself with Charlie Peterson. To Constantine the look of shock on the angel’s face at the revelation of this makes the entire shouting match worth it as he storms out. Ultimately, Constantine concludes these meetings in a bar in which he realizes that he has been going about his cancer in an entirely un-Constantine way. Constantine may use people like tissues at times, but tends to rely on himself when the matters get too out of hand, harkening back to his distant loner tendencies which he needs to use once again.

“Friends in High places” serves as the turning point in Dangerous Habits, over the last three issues we’ve seen Constantine interact with various people on ways inwhich they can assist him in curing his cancer before coming to the realize that he alone must handle it. This is a deconstruction of the usual cancer patient narrative, usually people tend to come together to aid those in need through various emotional or financial ways due to how widespread the disease is. It’s a clever bit of storytelling that goes against the grain as it were. The issue also introduces a number of what appear to be throwaway or one off characters in Ellie, Charlie Peterson, and Gabriel. However these three are seeds that Ennis has quietly planted in the soil that will grow and mature as Constantine deals with concerns elsewhere, eventually bearing fruit over the next 40 issues.

Notes:

  1. Police Officer Recruitment: Eligibility criteria for the role of police constable” http://www.policecouldyou.co.uk/documents/npia-02-20112835.pdf?view=Binary
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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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