Issue #64 “Fear and Loathing Part One: For God and Country”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artist: Steve Dillon;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
Although overly cynical there is some truth to the phrase, “nothing good lasts forever.” Romantic evenings come to their conclusion, vacations to far off places come to an end, and the inevitability of Monday morning always looms over the lives of 9-5ers. If anything Hellblazer and the life of John Constantine is another piece of evidence in support of this statement. Under the pen of Garth Ennis, Constantine’s life from issues #41 to #63 has been a rather happy one, sure there has been it’s ups and downs as one would expect from Hellblazer but generally speaking Constantine’s life has enjoyed a couple of years of relative stability, even with the cancer scare. However, to really appreciate the good times in one’s life there must be bad times, times in which you wish didn’t exist, and for John Constantine “Fear and Loathing Part One: For God and Country” is when those times begin.
Upon looking at the Ennis’ run as a whole as opposed to an issue by issue analysis, the entire run is can be read as a cohesive narrative following the plot of John Constantine vs. The First of the Fallen. While the narrative does not always focus on the conflict between the two, individual issues often acknowledge it as the ultimate endgame of Ennis’ run or share common thematic elements with Constantine’s literal duel with the devil. From a creative standpoint this is a massive undertaking that shows Ennis’ skill as a storyteller. Across the first half of the run there have been a number of seemingly throwaway lines that are seamlessly woven into the dialogue of various issues and Fear and Loathing is the story arc in which the importance of those lines comes to fruition.
“Of God and Country” opens on the Cambridge Club and the Archangel Gabriel, previously seen in “Friends in High Places” almost two years prior. In the event that the reader had not been reading Hellblazer 21 issues ago, Gabriel’s internal narration is used by Ennis to document the events of “Friends in High Places” and display the internal struggle that Gabriel is going through. While it may seem that taking nearly two years to decide upon the events of one evening is excessive, given that Gabriel “soared through the first sunrise and sang his joy to the first born of the world,” two years does not seem like such a long time in comparison. Along with reflecting on other kind and heartfelt actions that Gabriel deems as being because of “The Will of the Lord” he also reflects on the cruelty that he has inflicted upon man as part of “The Will of the Lord” namely the slaughtering of Egyptian children as part of the Biblical Plagues, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, although Gabriel is unsure why one man can not have another he obeyed unquestioningly. Ennis’ also interprets the Immaculate Conception in a different way, portraying it as an actual rape that was “The Will of the Lord.” It’s clear that all of these actions weigh heavily on the angel’s conscious, and it is apparent that Constantine is the first to question if what the angel is doing is truly “good” when he confronted the angel about his association with Charlie Peterson a fictional high standing member of the very nonfictional National Front political party. Gabriel views Peterson as a racist and bully, and Constantine’s intervention has made him question why he was even allowed to associate with the man or even been reprimanded for doing so. In reflecting on his past actions, cruel and kind, Gabriel justified them with the statement “The Will of the Lord” but with current events instead questions “The Will of the Lord?” ultimately beginning the his downfall that is the one of the main focuses of the arc. This confusion causes Gabriel to leave on foot (as opposed to usually appearing and disappearing) being followed by a waiter named Thompson who reports to Peterson.
Following this the reader is treated to another John and Kit happy interlude. What sets this aside is that this is the last John and Kit happy interlude. The last time the pair share a playful back and forth, and in John’s lone narration caption of “You’re everything to me” reinforces just how much Kit means to John, and why the events of the near future hit him as they do. Switching back to Gabriel who has taken to walking the streets of London, he encounters a woman named Julie after she accidentally bumps into him. Initially Gabriel has a cold silent demeanor as she profusely apologizes to him and then continues to walk away, but after she calls him a snob, like Constantine, he stops to apologize, proclaiming distraction and begging for forgiveness. Awed by the formality of this Julie asks if Gabriel needs someone to talk to as it is painfully obvious that he is facing some kind of internal struggle. The two sit at a cafe, and when asked what is wrong Gabriel proclaims that he is having troubles with his father, and although never clearly stating what these troubles with his father are, Gabriel covertly describes God’s black and white view of morality and how he has assisted his father in disciplining some of his brothers. In addition to describing Lucifer Morningstar’s fall from grace, Gabriel’s descriptions of his troubles and family life never suggest that he is in fact an angel, and would just suggest a very conservative household and upbringing. Julie is all too happy to listen, and when asked what Gabriel did to be in trouble with is father, he proclaims that if he is it is because of something John Constantine had said to him.
Closer inspection of the issue reveals that the actions of Constantine and Gabriel are mirrored in this issue, just as Gabriel met someone in a cafe, John meets his own acquaintances in a pub. A brief meeting with Rick the Vic delivers a foreskin bible into John’s hands, an item the two bartered over in “Forty.” At the time the scene served to establish Rick’s role as a dealer in occult objects and seemed to be just something to flesh out the relationship with John, but as will be revealed in the storyline, the bible contains important information for Constantine’s overall scheme of this storyline. After the transaction John encounters his black friend Dez, and his younger brother George, who has recently returned to London from Brum (Birmingham). When asked why he left Brum George says that someone burned his house down. From George’s tale it is obvious that this was a racially motivated crime, as prior to getting a petrol bomb through his front window, someone had set themselves on fire in his front lawn while attempting to light a cross on fire a la the Ku Klux Klan. George was going to attempt to help put the man out but had a change of heart after seeing the gasoline soaked plywood. Dez says that he doesn’t know why George came back to London to escape the racial issues as the National Front and British Movement both have a presence in London. Rick the Vic lightens the mood with a pun about “climbing into the hurricanes and spitfires to give Fritz another sound thrashing,” while the joke causes Constantine to shake his head and George and Dez to stare blankly, it does end the scene on a up-note. As Hellblazer takes place in Britain (mostly) and because it happens in real time, understanding some of the politics and references to some historical events can be challenging to future readers.1 However the racial issues that Ennis strikes upon in Fear and Loathing and later in Rake at the Gates of Hell transcend this boundary. Sadly, 23 years later some of the issues that Ennis touches upon in his stories are still culturally relevant.2 This discussion of politics and racial issues is one of the hallmarks of Hellblazer and is what makes the series memorable beyond the trench coated magician pulling fast ones on the forces of Hell.
The issue concludes with Constantine and Gabriel walking the streets of London, both alone. Constantine reflects that he can “hear the old days calling” of living by the seat of his pants and doing the daring acts of magic that for the safety of others, he shouldn’t do. Constantine thinks that while things are different now, deep down he knows he’s lying to himself. It’s a heavy handed bit of foreshadowing but after the events of Fear and Loathing, Constantine’s life takes a turn for the worse. Gabriel reflects on the chance meeting he has had with Julie and how peaceful her console has made him, as made apparent by a prostitute bursting out into tears of joy as Gabriel passes by her after ignoring her offers. While it is effective method of showing the change in Gabriel, it also is significant that he ignores this prostitute who offered to help him with his loneliness, when someone else has already done so: the succubus Chantinelle who will be revealed to be Ellie’s true identity in Part Three. Lastly, Thompson returns to Charlie Peterson to inform him that Constantine is the reason why Gabriel is acting strangely, and rather than have a direct confrontation with him at the moment, Peterson intends to send men to kill Kit instead.
“For God and Country” is a jam packed issue, with not a single scene or panel wasted. From here Hellblazer takes a definite change of pace for the life of John Constantine. The mirrored actions of John and Gabriel is a solid use of storytelling that foreshadows their inevitable downfalls, although both in very different ways with Constantine is the one responsible for both. Ennis picking up throwaway lines from over the past 23 issues makes Hellblazer feel like a living breathing world where every action has its own consequence.
1. In writing this column I know way more about Thatcher’s England than any American should, but that was probably Delano’s point.
2. The racial issues that will be discussed in Rake at the Gates of Hell in 1994 are eerily similar to some of the events in the United States in 2014 and 2015.