Issues #57-58 “Mortal Clay” & “Body & Soul”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artist: Steve Dillon;
Colors: Tom Zuiko, Daniel Vozzo;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
In a world filled with demons, angels, and things that go bump in the right, the inclusion of regular everyday folks can be refreshing, and Hellblazer fills this much needed role with Chas Chandler. As discussed before, Chas is John Constantine’s real world anchor and straight man, his brawl to John’s brains and one of the few characters to make it all the way through Hellblazer relatively unscathed, albeit not without the dicier moments that comes from association with Constantine. As Garth Ennis’ run focuses heavily on character driven stories, it’s only natural that he would write the first Chas-centric storyline featured across issues #57 and #58.
“Mortal Clay” begins with Constantine waxing poetically on how he seems to doing more “normal things” these days, such as listening to Chas carry on about knowing someone who acts as a sperm donor for cash in this particular instance. While John playfully jibes with Chas over the practicality and absurdity of such a method of income, he appreciates the normalcy of spending time with Chas and visiting his uncle with him. The levity of the situation ends when the pair discovers that Chas’ uncle has died of a heart attack at home, and the gaiety turns to misery. The passing of family is always hard and although we’ve seen John experience loss several times in the past 56 issues, seeing Chas experience loss from something so natural as a heart attack makes the death more relatable than being possessed by a demon or a victim of divine vengeance, and strikes home with any reader who has experienced similar. In this regard the Steve Dillon providing artwork over the following two issues is a good fit, as the emotions conveyed by expressions are wonderfully drawn by Dillon. Additionally as very little of this story involves supernatural forces per se (and what is involved only rears its head because of Constantine’s accidental involvement) Dillon’s realistic style suits the storyline, while Tom Zuiko and Daniel Vozzo’s colors cast the world in a neutral everyday tone, making the events appear perfectly normal.
During a walk in the cemetery after his uncle’s interment, Chas and John discover a group of men digging up the body of Chas’ uncle and loading it into a truck. Descending into a blind rage, Chas charges the men with John as his reluctant back up for a rare Hellblazer punch up. Being that Chas is more of the focus of these issues with John just along for the ride, it makes sense that things are a little more rough and physical than John usual sly demeanor towards problems.Were this corpse being stolen a relative of Constantine, John would have most likely made Chas tail the vehicle in his cab much to Chas’ reluctance and the ever present phrase of “you owe me.” While our “heroes” are hopelessly outnumbered in this instance the pair do discover where the bodies are being taken before being subdued. As in Royal Blood brief scenes with Kit Ryan provide some respite from the threat at hand, aided by a bandaged up and looking worse for wear John and Chas. Shaking up the Hellblazer format a little more, Chas mouths off to John that he isn’t sitting this one on the sidelines and is coming along with John to investigate the bodysnatchers. After all the times we’ve seen Chas be the brunt of John’s jokes, as humorous as they may have been, it’s nice to see Chas on the warpath and making himself play more of an active role. Ennis pokes fun at superhero comics with Constantine insisting that this is a one time deal, and that Chas won’t become his “trusty sidekick or something” to which Kit responds with in with “Quick, Chas– To the Piss-Upmobile!” an obvious reference to the 1966 Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward that was so famous/infamous that the interpretation cemented itself in the public consciousness until 1989.
The scene shifts to the ballistics testing site in Stokesley, a small rural town in Northern England, where we are introduced to Dr. Amis the director of the munitions testing who is so calm and emotionally distant that it comes off as unsettling in comparison to the short temper of Chas seen in the prior pages. When confronting the employee who revealed the location of the testing site to John and Chas, he does not yell, or even look upset. Instead Amis is cool, collected and announces that the man won’t be paid for the following two weeks as incentive to not mess up again. It’s a disciplinary method not commonly seen especially in Hellblazer where those in authority are often quick to execute or inflict grievous bodily harm on underlings who have failed them. Even more unnerving than a lack of care for the wellbeing of his employees, as two weeks without pay is sure to cause significant financial headaches, is the enjoyment Amis displays upon seeing bodies pulverized by gunfire as if they were slabs of meat. His gaze of the corpses as objects rather than human makes him oddly unsettling despite the fact that he technically hasn’t hurt anyone, at least in the physical sense but that the violence alone is reason for him to keep shaving bodies shot up. Yes what Anis does is illegal, but as he explains to John and Chas after capturing them for snooping around the facility he brings up the need for such testing, which brings up the discussion of the ethical treatment of corpses in the fields of science and medicine. Historically body snatchers provided many corpses for medical schools in the 19th century for dissection and anatomy lectures to meet the demand, and after William Burke and William Hare started murdering people to meet demands the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed, ending the need of body snatchers by allowing any unclaimed corpse in the United Kingdom to be used for medical purposes. Note that body snatchers are not the same as grave robbers due to the interest in the actual corpse as opposed to any jewelry or valuables that the corpse may have been buried with. In truth Anis’ actions of desecrating the bodies of the dead with gunfire are preventing their souls from passing onto the afterlife, which is reason enough to stop him.
“Body and Soul” picks immediately up after John and Chas have been captured and brings the supernatural aspect of the story to the forefront. The revelation of John and Chas’ bullet riddled future that Anis has in store for them, it is revealed that Chas’ real name is not Chas Chandler, but Frank Chandler, who is nicknamed Chas because of the manager for Jimi Hendrix, whom he shares the last name with. While this may seem like an odd throwaway line the fact that Anis’ quixotically goes “Jimmy Hendricks?” enforces just how detached he is from normal life.
The journey of a soul is described as just reaching the gates of the afterlife and getting the first glimpse of Heaven before it is drawn back to it’s corpse watching it being “killed” ad nauseum. Thanks to the magical presence of Constantine, a soul focuses in on John and manifests as an apparition before exploding while John and Chas are imprisoned as they await to be used as live targets for Anis’ “testing.” Realizing that the souls are trapped and unable to pass on, which also includes Chas’ uncle whom we see blown apart by .50 rounds, John devises a plan to free the souls, letting all of the souls back into the material plane in an act he refers to as a “soulstorm.” What transpires is one of the most prominent displays of magic that Constantine performs on panel in the series, drawing a circle with his blood on the wall the souls of all the victims come rushing on and wreck havoc on the testing facility, the guards paralyzed out of fear or awe while the souls focus their rage on Anis. In an earlier daydream sequence Anis is shown viewing the bullet riddled bodies as meat or clay that he molds with full metal jacketed hands ultimately perfecting the human body in his perverse manner. The souls instead show him their purity and perfection, all of their figures statuesque and awe inspiring, to which makes Anis gouge out his eyes with his fingers, overjoyed by the site and unable to handle the beauty of those he inflicted so much pain on repentant on the very end.
Free to leave the building, Chas grabs a rifle to inflict on Anis what he did to his uncle, but upon finding the clip empty, proceeds to bash Anis’ skull in with the stock until the stock itself is broken. Constantine stands outside fearing the philosophical question of “Why?” from Chas, but Chas being a simpler person than John just asks for a smoke, not wanting to inquire why the weird world is the way that it is. In that sense John gets some respite. “Mortal Clay” and “Body and Soul” stands out for being the first instance of a story in which Chas is the focus, as opposed to being a supporting character for John. It’s a quick, concise, personal, violent, and a rather simple storyline, in short perfect in every way to showcase Chas.