Issue #55 “Royal Blood Part Four: Dog Eat Dog”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artist: Will Simpson;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
Royal Blood ultimately concludes with “Dog Eat Dog.” The common idiom in which the title get’s it’s name from refers to the lengths that man will go to obtain and maintain power, no matter the cost to others, and often with great viciousness. As the final questions of the story are revealed to John Constantine and the reader and with all the players on the field, everyone gets their just reward for services rendered. Horrifying it may ultimately well be, but deserved nonetheless, based off their vicious dog eat dog nature.
Opening on Constantine being bandaged up after the possessed prince has been pulled off of him and restrained, by having swords pushed through his hands into the floor after being shot in both knees by Hezlet, “Dog Eat Dog” does something rather unexpected. As Ennis has shown through his past 14 issues, his style of writing is to show the deeds being done. Ennis seamlessly weaves the events of issues together, never shying from uncomfortable moments and pushing what he can get put into the series, particularly in Royal Blood where each issue has picked up immediately following the previous one, while also insinuating that members of the Royal Family are BDSM loving cocaine users or willing participants in demonic summoning rituals. Here instead we never see the scuffle between Constantine and The Prince, or the kneecapping, an action sequence that would have been a strong start to the issue, but would have ultimately taken up too much space for the plot the neatly wrap itself up in the space remaining. Along with sparing readers from a scene of ultraviolence, the exclusion of the fight also makes the conclusion of the issue much more memorable (and not just because of how grotesque it is) given that a majority of the violence prior to the conclusion happens off panel.
After bandaging up Constantine, Hezlet proceeds to execute the witnesses to The Prince’s rampage (offscreen) while John and Nigel wait in Marston’s office. Hearing the gunshots in the distance Nigel realizes that he and John will be killed after the ritual is complete and starts to panic. His dreams of exposing the scandal and taking down The System crushed at the brief possibility that he himself could be at risk, showing that Nigel does not live by the dog eat dog mentality, wheres Marston and Hezlet plainly do. Constantine also lives by this mindset, doing whatever he can to stay alive and trying to stay one step ahead of his adversaries. Keeping cool Constantine discerns that Marston purposely had Calibraxis bound to The Prince and comes up with a plan on how he and Nigel will survive namely “screw them before they screw me.” Visiting the other Royal Prince, who again is possibly Prince Andrew, Duke of York, he obtains a pair of handcuffs from his desk after knocking him out with a fire extinguisher.
A plan in mind, Constantine needs to know why Marston tried to put a demon on the throne before he can go through with it, his narration hinting that it is something particularly. Fortunately for John, Marston declares that he is a patriot for his actions, and that he “wanted to restore the monarchy of this country to it’s rightful power” a line with several variations that are common1 amongst those that are either not in power or that are upset on how things are not like “the good old days.” Marston particular plan is an anti-intellectual authoritarian state with “no parliament. No opposition. No Radicals. No Liberals. No Thinkers. No Immigrants.” Ultimately eliminating The Other while also showing the overlaps between patriotism and nationalism and as the arc shows, the dangers that can come from this. Constantine reveals that he knows Marston plans to have him killed and then will go on to find a different demon as Calibraxis couldn’t be controlled as he hoped, Constantine damns his soul to hell, in a figurative sense as opposed to actually performing a spell that damns his soul, as it should be clear where Marston will end up when he dies.
As Constantine and Nigel draw the banishment symbols around the pinned down Prince, Calibraxis accepts that it has lost, but remembers that there is always next time, as he was summoned before and will undoubtedly be summoned again. Briefly Constantine jokes with Nigel as the symbols are being drawn, “we’ll make a magus out of you yet.” suggesting that John sees him as a sort of sidekick in the adventure, or amongst the closest thing to one aside from Chas Chandler. Hellblazer doesn’t play by the rules of most superhero comics, but when it does, even jokingly here as an offhand comment, it’s always amusing. With the entirety of the remaining characters gathered round (Constantine, Nigel, Marston, and Hezlet) Calibraxis is removed from The Prince,and is bound to Marston after Constantine handcuffs him to a pipe. Marston begins to promptly devour himself, as Calibraxis seeks to claim one more life before he has to go back to hell. As if the site of a man devouring himself was not violent enough it is being made even more unsettling by Ennis’ narration of “the vertebrae start popping as he goes for the candy” as Marston bends. Horrified by the scene, Hezlet threatens to make it stop lest he shoot Constantine, but has never reloaded the gun after his prior executions of the witnesses. Constantine gets in some very un-Constantine like punches (which is fully acknowledged) before he is tossed to the possessed Marston who proceeds to devour him as well. John and Nigel leave, deciding that everyone has gotten what’s coming to them, while Marston awakens in Hell hanging on a hook next to Calibraxis’ former vessel, Sir William Withey Gull, and starts screaming.
In the end Royal Blood is a violent four part romp where Ennis portrays his views about the ruling class well across to the reader. While Ennis was not the first, nor will he be the last, to use use the British Royal Family in a statement of the privileges of the rich and powerful, it most certainly is one of the more memorable accounts of such a storytelling method. Ironically, the arc was published in 1992, the same year when the marital problems of Prince Charles and Princess Diana became a spectacle in the United Kingdom upon the revelation that both parties were in engaged in extramarital affairs that ultimately led to the couple’s formal separation in December of 1992. It appears that sometimes it doesn’t take demonic possession to bring those in power down. They are more than capable of that themselves.
1. If I never see the phrase “Make America great again” again it will be too soon.