Issue #75b-77 “Act of Union,” “Confessions of an Irish Rebel,” & “And the Crowd Goes Wild”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artists: William Simpson, Steve Dillon, Peter Snejbjerg;
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz, Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Clem Robins;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
Along with concluding Damnation’s Flame the double sized 75th issue of Hellblazer also features a second story recounting Constantine’s first encounter with Kit Ryan at the home of the recently deceased Brendan Flynn. Aside from the overall theme of carrying your past with you and the effect that has on one’s present that can be seen throughout Ennis’ run, thematically and tonally “Act of Union” ties in more with the following two issues, “Confessions of an Irish Rebel” and “And the Crowd Goes Wild” than with Damnation’s Flame. The prior story arc was a very impersonal story with Constantine acting as an observer for the majority of the narrative, lacking agency within the story until the conclusion but for the story Ennis told this character direction made sense. The story here and in the following issues are a series of personal anecdotes from Constantine’s past that tie into the present and for this reason I have decided to include the commentary for “Act of Union” here as opposed to last week’s.
“Act of Union” takes place during an evening in 1980 outside of Dublin at Brendan Flynn’s castle, last seen in “A Drop of the Hard Stuff.” There is no threat, no antagonist, and one could even go the lengths of saying there is no real plot to the issue other than “John Constantine comes to visit Brendan Flynn”, but even then nothing really “happens.” That is not to say that the conversations that Ennis pens aren’t memorable and there are glimpses of 1993 John, Brendan, and Kit that can be seen in their 1980 selves. William Simpson returns to provide artwork for the story, which works for the story considering his portrayals of John, Kit, and Brendan, has a certain youthfulness to it that Steve Dillon’s frankly does not. Additionally as William Simpson was the first to draw both Brendan and Kit, and only artist to draw Brendan at this point, there is an artistic progression (or regression?) in how the characters looked in the past to the present. Brendan isn’t nearly as heavy set as when he was seen last, but you can see how he would end up that way based off his drinking habit. Kit is revealed to be only 18 here (making her roughly 31 or 32 against John’s 40 in the present) and Simpson’s art backs up this statement. Even after 75 issues it is still odd to think that these characters have a naturally progressing age, as Hellblazer is one of the few outliers in comics that does so (or at least was back in it’s early years) but the shift in artwork from here to the following two issues does an excellent job of conveying this to the reader.
As far as the conversation content goes the only real thing worth mentioning is a brief discussion that Kit and Constantine have about magic and belief. Constantine argues that magic works for you if you want it to work for you, but it won’t tell you your future, it will only tell you things about yourself. It’s a conversation we’ve seen Constantine have before, but usually as internal narration or with someone seeking knowledge about the mystical arts. Kit is far from either of these so it’s a nice change of pace to see John have this conversation with a “normal” person. Other than Brendan making a drunken fool of himself by passing out in his bathroom somehow shirtless, there aren’t many “moments” within the issue. It’s a series of conversations peppered with bad jokes and several drinks that takes it’s time to meander from Constantine’s arrival until dawn. It’s lighthearted and relaxing, which even Hellblazer needs to be from time to time.
Returning to present day “Confessions of an Irish Rebel” has Constantine in Dublin on a layover from his flight back from New York. Stopping into a pub as one does when in Ireland, he encounters the ghost of Brendan Flynn, upon which the two spend the issue reminiscing on their past debacles and adventures together, and just generally enjoying each other’s company. Ghost is a loose term as others can see and interact with Brendan, and although John’s hand goes straight through him it doesn’t stop Brendan from drinking, the benefits and drawbacks of being dead I suppose. From a narrative perspective it makes sense that Brendan Flynn had to die when he did, as his death is what sparks Constantine’s conflict with the First of the Fallen, but based off the fond friendship the pair shared within “A Drop of the Hard Stuff” and their implied past history it makes sense that at some point Ennis would get back to the character at some point. Throughout the issue it’s easy to forget that Brendan is even dead, as the issue reads like how you would expect two friends catching up to be.
Aside from the bar-hopping John and Flynn’s reminiscing reintroduces some of John’s supporting cast that have been otherwise absent from the series for some time. The first of two tales consists of John and Brendan visiting Jerry O’Flynn, the Brian Blessed based bearded fellow who dealt in occult oddities who was last seen being dragged off by fictional characters for he himself becoming too much of a character. Also present at the house of O’Flynn are Rick the Vic and Header two criminally underused supporting cast members of Ennis’ creation whom have a history of assisting Constantine in various schemes. The pair watch a England vs. Scotland football match while Constantine and O’Flynn discuss obtaining the Ace of Winchesters, a magic demon slaying rifle that would be a plot device in Ennis’ Hitman series, as well as making future appearances in Hellblazer years later. The main focus of the flashback is a scuffle that Brendan and Jerry get into a over a bottle of wine. Brendan sees the bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape 1925 as a piece of art that should be savored, while O’Flynn sees the vintage as a piece of pure commodity with little care on what the fate of the bottle is. The result is a right hook that breaks O’Flynn’s nose but each side has their reasons for believing the way they do, and the debate over the commodities vs. art is one that is best suited for someplace else.
The following flashback shifts to New York shortly after where John and Brendan go after the rifle with an associate by the name of Tommy Cox. According to Cox the rifle is in the possession of Zeerke, Midnite’s underling from Damnation’s Flame that hinted at an encounter with Constantine in the past. Not content with the doubled price, the trio steal the rifle only for John and Brendan to find Zeerke in Cox’s room with a sawed-off shotgun up Cox’s ass. Zeerke tries threatening them all, but breaks down crying and pulls the trigger on the sawed off blowing away the crotch of Cox. The reveal is a deadpan shock panel that Ennis and Dillon have made use of in prior issues and will use extensively in Preacher, but this is the first time where the look of befuddlement and disbelief on the present character’s faces gives the scene a bleak humorous tone before quickly turning very somber as Hellblazer is apt to do.
After revealing that his version of heaven is more or less an unending tide of Guinness that never gets you drunk, John and Brendan say their goodbyes of a sort. I say “of a sort” as Constantine wakes up sitting on Half Penny Bridge where he was last talking with Brendan. Shooed off by police Constantine boards the ferry back to England, cracking a can of Guinness to his friend whom he could not properly reminisce about until now. It’s never explained why Brendan is back on Earth for this one issue or why everyone can see him, but frankly it doesn’t matter, and not knowing has no effect on the story. Drink up and enjoy it.
Lastly we have the ‘And the Crowd Goes Wild” the last issue of Ennis’ run before the final story arc Rake at the Gates of Hell. Like the two issues beforehand the story is a recounting of John Constantine’s past adventures but what sets this issue aside from the others is that it is from the perspective of “regular bloke” Chas Chandler, who was last seen smashing Constantine’s face into a coffee table before dunking his head in a toilet for being a heart-broken bastard immediately following Kit leaving John. Following a football match where Chelsea trounces Arsenal, Chas and his friends drink in a pub in which someone brings up how Chas supposedly knew Constantine and asks for a story, begrudgingly Chas recounts the story of how a ghost was haunting the house of John former bandmate from Mucous Membrane, Beano. Acting as Constantine’s driver and muscle in the matter Chas recounts how the botched ghostbusting resulted in Constantine seemingly disappearing and presumed dead. A funeral is held where the majority of the human members of Constantine’s supporting cast are in attendance. The variety of faces gives Ennis a chance for some interesting character interaction between his own creations as well as some of the characters that Jamie Delano’s issues featured (before they all promptly died). As one would expect as Rick the Vic is delivering his sermon (or lack there of) Constantine shows up on the side, baffling everyone and utterly amused by this.
Returning to the present Chas proclaims that John never told him what really happened and is surprised to see that Constantine is also in the bar, and from a few remarks has been in the bar since at least the beginning of the tale. The two head off to drink more and make up as the pair always eventually do, as just as much as Hellblazer is all about the adventures of John Constantine, it just wouldn’t feel right if chas Chandler wasn’t somehow involved.
The three issues discussed here show the versatility of John Constantine as a character, from philosophical conversations in Ireland, to heists gone wrong in New York, to showing up alive at his own funeral, there are few situations you can’t imagine the character in. As John ages in real time more or less, and every single moment can’t be accounted for on the page, it allows writers to interject their own little short stories somewhere within the life of the Working Class Magus. Sometimes these one-and-done stories are more memorable than sprawling story arcs, but that is much like life itself, little brief moments being just as important as the big long journeys that we go on. Either way it’s a hell of a ride.