Issue #45 “The Sting”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Pencils: Will Simpson;
Inker: Tom Sutton;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Cover: Tom Canty;
In the comic medium, every character or series has moments that become paramount in the history of the title or in the legacy of the character. One of the benefits of the medium being that a few panels or a page can be pulled out from the narrative to capture the moment. Often the scene becomes more well known than the issue itself, for example the image of Bane breaking Batman’s back, or of Spider-Man catching Gwen Stacy as she falls from the George Washington Bridge are both widely known events within comics, but the amount or people who have read Batman #497 or Amazing Spider-Man #121 is most likely far less than the amount who can tell you about the event itself. This also brings up the fact that most of the memorable moments in super-hero comics are when the hero has failed or has suffered some great tragedy. The deaths of Superman, Captain America, and the Human Torch were all national news making events, but their successes (other than box office returns) are left unreported. This can be seen that in super-hero comics, good is expected to triumph, and heroes are not supposed to fail, so when tragedy strikes it’s much more memorable than when Batman defeats the Joker yet again. Conversely, with Hellblazer some of John Constantine’s most memorable moment are in fact his successes as opposed to his failures as “The Sting” shows.
Picking up immediately where “My Way” concluded, the issue solely deals with Constantine having slit his wrist while The First of the Fallen watches with sadistic glee. In a manner that some would consider bad taste, while others would view as The First trying to torment Constantine as much as he possibly can, The First appears as a mockery of Jesus Christ when he has been crucified. While some of the features do not line up with common depictions of Christ, most noticeably that The First appears clean shaven and the wounds on his hands and feet are slashes as opposed to punctures, his pose and Constantine’s narration confirm that this is infact an unsettling mockery. The First is not able to gloat over the bleeding Constantine before The Second of the Fallen, appearing as a black amorphous blob, and The Third of the Fallen, a shape shifter who comes in the form of a cancerous growth, both arrive to claim John’s soul. Despite his claim over John’s soul by way of insult, Constantine reveals to the First that he has sold his soul to both The Second and Third of the Fallen, putting the three into a Mexican Standoff in which one of them must claim John’s soul upon his death.
Of all of the Seven Deadly Sins, pride is considered to be the most serious (and the original) sin, and according to biblical myth is what caused the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. The fact that The Fallen are filled with a pride that will not allow one to bow down before the other and the cause of their loss in this instance is entirely appropriate. At the risk of going to war over Constantine’s soul due to each brother being equally powerful, Constantine jests how the outcome will lead in Heaven winning the eternal war due to the losses from infighting. Wanting such an outcome even less than admitting defeat to a brother, the three reluctantly heal John’s wounds and remove his lung cancer, as was his plan all along, while also remaking his body entire body in an effort to “fine tune” it. In what is considered to be Constantine’s greatest victory he has beaten the devil, found the cure for cancer, and ensured that the forces of Hell will try to keep him alive as long as they can, lest they go to war. With all of that said John’s decision to give The First of the Fallen the finger on the final page of the issue along with phrase “up yours,” is the cherry on top.
Given how Constantine’s life is filled with tragedy more often than not, seeing him actually win for once without any mortals suffering in his victory is a refreshing change. Although the issue contains some of the most gruesome art Will Simpson draws for the series, you can tell Simpson is pulling out all of the stops with his penciling as evident by the constantly shifting form of the Third of the Fallen and Constantine’s revival from near death. The Dangerous Habits arcis such a well known event within Hellblazer and as a part of John’s legacy that the key points of it, John dying of lung cancer and The First of the Fallen healing him made it into the 2005 film adaptation of the series1.Like the memorable events in many superhero stories, John tricking the Devil is dark and violent, but ultimately ends on a much more positive note than other events. And if anyone deserves a little happy ending every now and then it’s John Constantine.
- While the film starring Keanu Reeves is by no means a good adaptation of the source material, Constantine is a decent enough supernatural action movie for what it is, with Peter Stormare’s portrayal of Lucifer/The First of the Fallen being a notable highlight.