Issue #47-48 “The Pub Where I Was Born” & “Love Kills”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Pencils: Will Simpson, Mike Hoffman;
Inker: Stan Woch;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Cover: Tom Canty;
Being that Hellblazer is a supernatural horror book, and by this point nearly 50 issues into the series, readers can expect the stories to follow a certain structure. Namely, that a malevolent supernatural force will intrude upon the lives of everyday citizens causing havoc, only to be thwarted by John Constantine by the conclusion of the story. Whether the story has a “happy” ending is another matter as undoubtedly much suffering has occurred to the characters filling out the story. Do not mistake that statement as one deriding the overall structure of the series, if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be on the 38th installment of this column and if people in general did not enjoy it, the series wouldn’t have lasted to issue #300. It is merely an observation that when there are instances where the antagonist of a storyline is infact a mundane human like in “The Pub Where I Was Born”, the story becomes memorable even though with the presence of the supernatural.
Issue #47 opens with the Northampton Arms, a pub in Camden that has the aura of being a drinking establishment that was there before you were born, and most likely will be there long after you’ve moved on. Ennis’ narration describes it as a place that attracts all sorts, be it age groups or those drinking to celebrate or those to forget, the Northampton displays an aura of acceptance and release from the outside world. We are introduced to Laura Collins, head of the bar who was born in the pub during World War II in the midst of a German bombing raid1 who would meet her eventual husband Freddie at the same pub. The pair were married and Freddie eventually made manager until his recent passing, but not wanting to leave his wife Freddie’s ghost stayed around to watch over Laura (who is aware of his presence) and their love continues. This marks the first instance where the presence of a spirit is a positive thing in Hellblazer, and being that this bond is based off of love and companionship it’s touching given that the closest thing to such an interaction was Thomas Constantine haunting his granddaughter Gemma in issue #31. While the ghost of Thomas was by no means malevolent, Gemma found the one armed ghost of her grandfather quiet creepy. Hellblazer has often focused around the happenings in bars and pubs, often serving as places for narrative exposition, but also scenes that delve into character interaction and development of relationships, as anyone who has enjoyed a drink with friends or a romantic interest can attest.
The scene shifts to John Constantine, somber and grieving as one would expect, but an unexpected visit from Kit and an invite for a drink at the Northampton puts a bit of spark back into John livens him from his sullen demeanor. Agreeing to meet later, John mulls over in his mind Matt’s advice about keeping people like Kit close, while having a rather dull day not encountering “a crazy girl who’s the newly blessed virgin. Or some mad sod who’s turned into a bulldog,” instead feeding the ducks, something he almost enjoys in its simplicity. Arriving early to play some hands of poker with Chas and friends, Constantine discovers from Laura that the pub is being sold by the building’s owner, Carson. Constantine assures her that any new owner would be daft not to keep her on, but when John hears that Carson sent Joe Hollis, a hired thug who suffered brain damage due to an accident involving urine and electricity (this is Garth Ennis after all) he becomes a bit more concerned. Eventually meeting with Kit, the two delve into a night of heavy drinking and discussion about growing old, and being civil. There isn’t much to take away from the scene critically, other than it’s just two individuals drinking and having a real conversation with the occasional flirtation and John’s internal narration of how Kit makes him feel like a “nervous schoolboy asking for the first kiss” to tease the readers on to what will happen in the future.
Following a quick interlude in which Mr. Carson, the owner of the pub, and Mr. Quincy, who is set to by the pub, and is paying to have it burnt down by Joe Hollis, an extremely drunk Constantine is led out of the Northampton by Kit, and Laura closes up the pub for the night. She talks with the ghost of her husband fearful of what is to come, vowing that they will burn down the pub over her dead body to stay with her husband. Immediately after her statement of defiance, Joe Hollis and his thugs arrive to burn down the pub. After being manhandled by Hollis she is thrown out, only to crawl back into the pub as the building explodes. The scene shows the brutality and thuggishness of Hollis and his crew, and it is sad to see Laura, someone who loved the Northampton Arms that brought so many people joy suffer such a tragic passing. As uncomfortable as the closing of the issue is, it serves to explain why events fold out the way they do the following issue.
Picking up immediately from the previous issue “Love Kills” shows a now ghostly Laura being comforted by her husband. The title of the issue explains the overall plot of the issue perfectly, the great love that the Collins shared for each other and their pub has now become hatred for those that are responsible for it’s destruction. “Love Kills” also features Mike Hoffman as a guest penciler for the issue, and while abrupt artist changes are all too common in comics, Hoffman draws the facial features of numerous characters differently than Will Simpson did in the previous issue, and while in most cases this would not be an issue, given how many new characters were introduced in “The Pub I Where I Was Born” that also appear here, five named characters and 3 goons, it can be a little disorienting trying to distinguish certain characters from the other based off how some panels are framed. The colors of Tom Ziuko, who has colored the series from issue #23 and will continue until the climax of Ennis’ run in issue #83, feels rushed in this issue. There are some inconsistencies in how things are colored, the eyes being most noticeable, some panels have clear definition in pupil and iris while the next has them flesh toned, it’s a jarring feature that takes the reader out of the issue. Most of my analysis tends to only comment only lightly on the art focusing on lighting or framing techniques which serve to enhance the narrative in some manner as stylistically art is subjective, someone might be fans of one style but hate another. Here though the art is jarring enough that it breaks immersion in some instances and weakens the overall narrative because of it.
Waking up on Kit’s couch Constantine wonders just what happened the prior evening, not wanting to admit that he was out-drunk by a woman. Despite that that is what clearly happened, Kit tells him not to worry as he woke up on the couch, and not in her bed. After fawning over Kit having sodas, an Irish quick bread that uses baking soda as opposed to yeast as a rising agent, Constantine sets off to go look for trouble being the magic adrenaline junkie that he is. However this time he ponders maybe he shouldn’t go looking for trouble just “fall in love with a beautiful Irish woman, and work tirelessly to get her into bed.” It’s a pleasant change after the previous story arc of outwitting The First of the Fallen, that maybe Constantine should take it easy and focus on building long lasting relationships. However before John gets too lost in the clouds, Chas arrives and tells him that the Northampton pub has burnt down. Chas ever the regular bloke/straight man, usually serves to remind John of the real world, but in this instance the threat is the real world, so we get to see Chas used in a different manner here and throughout Ennis’ run, being that many of the threats Constantine faces are not supernatural. They may have ties into the supernatural in some way, but are not always motivated by such as was the case in Jamie Delano’s run.
Investigating the ruins and determining that the fire was infact arson, and the aura of hate that was once love, Constantine goes hunting to find Hollis and his cronies before the now malevolent ghosts do. Arriving a few moments too late Constantine is unable to stop the ghosts from possessing one of the goons Del, and having him shotgun his fellow crony Mike before driving a shard of glass through his skull. Thinking that John killed his fellow cronies, the third goon who is never named just referred to as The Jerk, finds Constantine’s apartment and proceeds to assault him before Kit arrives to aid John, being that John has always been garbage in a fair fight. Kit’s nature to take on a man twice her size, and subdue him, shows that she is not a damsel who needs defending and can handle herself in such situations. It sets her aside from John’s two prior love interests, Zed who was more spiritual and magically inclined, and Marj who was more motherly and supportive. Kit instead has this “I’m not putting up with your shit” attitude but this does not mean she isn’t hard or uncaring, as she has already given John support and caring when he needed it most, but this attitude will come to bite John in the ass eventually.
Feeling guilty because of the death of Laura Collins, Carson brings in Joe Hollis to intimidate Quincy to make sure he does not go to the police to report the arson. Before anything can happen other than Hollis sharing a story of the terrible things he’s done, he gets possessed by the ghosts, but not before realizing who it is. Powerless to stop them Hollis proceeds to rip out the entrails of Carson and proceeds to eat them, eventually choking on them and dying. Constantine arrives before the ghosts can take hold of Quincy, and warns them about the path they are travelling down by giving into the hatred. Constantine is right as in the time since the ghosts have started killing Freddie and Laura have gone from conversing in full sentences to fragments, losing their humanity as they continue killing. To stop them from killing and save them Constantine puts the squeeze on Quincy to rebuild the Northampton Arms even if it isn’t as profitable as his health club would be. The ghosts are satisfied with the plan and deem now they shall rest, their narration of “rest and love” over panels of John meeting Kit on the street after the grisly business is done and walking away.
“The Pub Where I Was Born” and “Love Kills” are not the first issues featuring a human antagonist within Hellblazer and they certainly will not be the last. They are however an indication of a theme that is present in many of Ennis’ works, namely that humanity has within it’s means the power to conduct great evil out of want of power or greed. Demonic powers don’t need to be invoked to bring about the sufferings of others, but they certainly do help as will be seen in the forthcoming storyline “Royal Blood,” but even in such instances it is man who is utterly responsible, as man is the worst. However, man is capable of great love, compassion, and kindness, and issues such as these show the feelings that are being fostered between John and Kit. With such evil in the world, comics or otherwise, it’s easy to get caught up in the bad and forget about the good, something that John Constantine and ourselves have to deal with daily, but we carry on favorite pub or otherwise.
- Ennis throwing in random nods to WWII as one would expect