Issue #65 “Fear and Loathing Part Two: London Kills Me”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artist: Steve Dillon;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Gaspar Saladino;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
By know the inevitability of John Constantine’s life should be clearly obvious to the reader. Certain things can be expected from Hellblazer, no matter whom is working on the series. Demons will be summoned, John Constantine will stumble into trouble, and most importantly people will be hurt, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, but in the end their fate was sealed the minute they heard the name Constantine. Sure, Constantine may come away with a few cuts and scrapes, and that’s what makes the suffering of others so much worse, that he is spared from the brunt of what his friends and loved ones go through. Continuing almost immediately after the conclusion of Part One of Fear and Loathing, “London Kills Me” brings the personal loss back to the world of John Constantine.
As Glenn Fabry’s cover would suggest, Kit Ryan is one of the main focuses of this issue. Following Charlie Patterson’s threat from last issue, the National Front sends a couple of goons, Sam and Mickey, over to her and John’s apartment to presumably kill her as the banter of the goons would suggest. In a excellent display of writing and character, Kit is calm and collected never once questioning who these two are or why they busted down the door to her apartment, never showing the slightest trace of fear or vulnerability. However, the two fascist mooks like to run their mouths and gladly spout that she is to be made an example of to John. This allows Kit to back into the kitchen to stealthily grab a knife which she then stabs Sam with, before clawing the face of Mickey with her nails and fleeing the apartment. Kit has always displayed a confidence that suggests that she can handle herself in sticky situations but this is the first time we actually get to see her strength.1 The following page reveals that Kit has stabbed Sam in the groin with her kitchen knife, with blood pouring out through his jeans. This sudden reveal of a violent image is a hallmark of Ennis stories which I will refer to in the future as an “Ennis Reveal.” Alongside the shock of violence or depravity the Ennis Reveal is usually accompanied by a blank look of bewilderment from characters in the near vicinity, baffled that such an event has happened, almost making it humorous. However the pendulum swings both ways as the reveal also tends to ratchet up the grisliness beyond normal expectations, as will be seen later in this issue.
Somewhat later, Charlie Patterson receives a call from Mickey explaining what has happened and after a mournful stare and careful cradling of his crotch, sets out with a set of goons to track down Constantine. Kit stabbing Sam in his crotch isn’t just Ennis going for shock value (although it succeeds at doing so) as her precision strike has literally emasculated a member of an organization known for it’s hyper-masculinity. The stabbing is a statement that just because Kit is a woman, a beautiful woman as many characters have commented on, does not mean she’s a “wee Irish lass” who can’t stand up for herself and will be beholden to threats from arguably some of the most masculine oriented people one could run into. It’s a much more effective scene than if Kit had shot Sam in his crotch (not to due to the difficulty of obtaining handguns in England), as with a knife it was *her* hand which took away from Sam what many men hold most dear. Later we see Kit calling Chas trying to figure out what to do next, and trying to maintain her cool, showing that even though Kit had no problem defending herself, she’s not made of stone and can’t live on the fight-or-flight mindset forever. Kit’s not defined by one set of actions or another, she’s complex: she’s an artist, a fighter, a lover, a sister, a woman; an all around great character.
On an overpass John Constantine and his friend Dez discuss the threats that Dez’s mother has been receiving from local hate groups, namely a piece of paper saying “go back to Africa” that was wrapped around dog feces and stuffed through her mail slot. As any rational person knows, racism is far from being wiped out, even 13 years after this issue was published. While American readers may only think about racial issues within their own borders, the fact remains that America isn’t the only country in which racism is still a problem. Ennis would use some events of the early 1990s in the United Kingdom as a springboard for future stories, but even to American readers today, this issue is still relatable. John offers to look into the hate crimes against Dez’s mother, but the pair is set upon by Patterson and his goons, who proceed to assault them before capturing them both. Dez is seen being attacked by box-cutting wielding fascist, but the art here focuses on the rage in his assailants eyes and not on the strikes themselves. Waking up tied to a chair and surrounded by baseball bat wielding skinheads, John Constantine plays it cool as Patterson tries to grill him and slap him around. John manages to remain calm and collected, so Patterson has Dez brought over, who has had his face slashed to pieces, teeth missing , short one ear and a good amount of flesh, which sends John into a rage. It’s a striking image and by far one of the most haunting and memorable (unfortunately) panels in the entire run. Alan Moore is known for a quote about comics for mature audiences mainly just being “tits and gore” and it is panels like this that are responsible for that cynical view. The worst part of the image is that this was not the work of the forces of Hell set upon man like in Royal Blood which had a number of grisly corpses, this was suffering inflicted by man by another. Royal Blood’s violence was over the top to the point where it didn’t seem real, but here the violence is extreme, but when looking at the panel you get the thought that “this has actually happened to someone before,” making the image chilling.
The one respite from the violence in the issue is the evolving relationship between Gabriel and Julie, which appears as a shining beacon in the growing darkness of the series. Gabriel grows quickly infatuated with Julie seeing her as the ideal woman the God had hoped humanity would create. Over the past two issues Gabriel has had the demeanor of a lost puppy, sad and afraid, and Julie has tried to relieve his mind of the supposed guilt he feels, the phrase “no guilt” being shared between the pair during tender moments. Usually uttered by Julie, Gabriel reciprocates (internally at least) after the pair walk through the park and Gabriel makes all the cherry blossoms bloom as they share an embrace. The issue concludes with Constantine having a dream of walking on the beach, a turbulent wind blowing across the water dark clouds suggesting an oncoming storm. The wind scatters John’s possessions as he notices Kit standing alone on a stone pier jutting into the water, bearing the brunt of the storm to come. After Kit gives what appears to be a look of sadness and disappointment, Constantine then awakens realizing something terrible has happened to her. This is not the first time John has had dreams of the beach as seen in “On the Beach” and the sand, water, and wind all have thematic signifiers relevant to Constantine’s life. The beach here representing the earth, the course man walks every day and lives his life upon, something familiar. Kit stands upon the stone pier, and for the past year has been something stable and constant in John’s life. Kit stands at the edge before the unknown, the water, herself unsure what to do next, and her future with John obviously strained due to the events of this issue, represented by the wind and oncoming storm, causing turmoil on the seaside and in the life of John Constantine.
“London Kills Me” is a tragic act two to the three part Fear and Loathing, just as things were starting to shape up in the life of John Constantine everything starts to crumble down. The issue shows the cruelty of man on those that are different, but also the strength man (woman to be specific) that can be called upon when required. Rolled up into this is the rejection of the guilt that fills people and bogs them down into sullen depression, even when there is no reason to feel it in the first place. From it love blossoms and happiness is shared. Until you find out it’s false of course. Then everything just gets worse.
- This also isn’t the first time Kit has had to stick someone with a knife, as the future Hellblazer special Heartland will show (which I was requested to write about and will happily do so).