Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 69

Issue #82 “Rake at the Gates of Hell: Part Five”

Writer: Garth Ennis;

Artist: Steve Dillon;

Colors: Tom Ziuko;

Letters: Clem Robins;

Editor: Stuart Moore;
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg;

Cover: Glenn Fabry;

Throughout their careers as a creative team, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon are known for their shock pages, panels or full pages of a usually violent or horrifying revelation that the work at hand is either built around or the climax. These scenes, meant to shock and serve as talking points about the work slightly differ from the traditional last page cliffhanger that comics are known for to entice readers to continue buying the book on a monthly basis to answer the question or conundrum presented at the final page. This is by no means a narrative device unique to comics as television series throughout the years have made great use of it, the 1966 Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward made great use of the cliffhanger every other episode for example. While end page cliffhangers are all but expected and violent revelations eventually lose their effectiveness the more they are used, Ennis and Dillon go away from form in the first panel of “Rake at the Gates of Hell: Part Five” with the return of Kit Ryan and the embrace between her and John Constantine.

Until this point Rake at the Gates of Hell has been a rather bleak storyline, numerous people have died as Ennis puts his toys back into the box and what humor there has been in the story usually has been at the expense of someone else’s well being. Last we saw John Constantine he was leaving a church walking towards the Tower Hamlets, buildings ablaze in the midst of a riot and in a rather glum state of mind.  So the return of John’s lost love Kit Ryan in the immediate opening of the issue strikes the reader as both a relief from the events of the previous four issues and enticing to find out why exactly Kit has returned into John Constantine’s life in the worst possible times. While I lack any actual testimonials, it is easy to imagine people going “Wait, what?!” as they picked up the issue. Glenn Fabry’s cover does give a hint as to what the issue contains, but a cover can’t always be trusted as an indicator to the content contained within. However when compared to Dave McKean who had provided the most covers of any artist for Hellblazer before Glenn Fabry, Fabry’s style is much less abstract and straightforward and generally gives some hint about what one could expect to find. This does not make them any less beautiful and creepy.

Leaving the pub in which the reunion commenced, Kit and John get reacquainted on the way dinner, revealing that Chas told her where she could most likely find John, in reference to a message from “some tart” that Kit left with Chas’ ever unseen wife seen briefly in Part Three. All the while Kit dodges the question of why she came back to see John, narratively it is what one would expect from a chance encounter such as this, Ennis isn’t going to give all the answers immediately, and in a real life conversation you wouldn’t (and probably shouldn’t) immediately jump to that question either. The entire issue plays out like you expect a romance story involving Constantine would go: the odd meet up in the pub, getting caught in the rain, Constantine cracking wise over dinner, and the eventual spilling of the guts by Constantine almost pleading with Kit to take him back. A simple “I’m sorry…” sends Constantine the message of which he of course dramatically over reacts to almost sending him into another spiral of self loathing. A proper shouting at by Kit pulls John back before the pair head to where most things in John Constantine’s life end or begin: a pub.

At the pub Kit proves just how well she knows John by bringing up how he has failed to mention Sarah, despite the fact that she has brought up how she’s seen a few people throughout the evening. John’s reply of “oh she slipped my mind” and the explanation of how it’s over between them leads to the sequence of panels above that reminds both John and the reader that despite this quaint reunion John’s life is actually pretty terrible at the moment, and just because Kit has shown up he can’t just put everything else off, lest more people get hurt by Constantine’s inaction to the schemes he’s already spun.  Kit nailing Constantine’s character to a ‘t’ also ties in reveals why she and Brendon Flynn broke up, a fact she kept from John until now. From the short time we have seen of him Brendon was a raging functioning alcoholic, a fact Kit reveals he was very much aware of but was oddly proud of given his Irish heritage. This slow self-destruction and utter acceptance of what he called “an Irish Inevitability” is what ultimately drove Kit away, and she sees John’s persistent dabbling in the occult schemes leading him down the same path, and like Brendon there’s no way she could ever get John to change, no matter how much John would plead that he would give it up. We all know he never would. After this confession Kit reveals that the reason she came back was to patch things up with John and to say “goodbye”, so that she could move on with her life. Somehow the pair end up back at Kit’s apartment where the two quickly delve into sex one last time. Dillon’s character work is at it’s best here you can see the passion on John and Kit’s faces and the scratches on the back of John are a nice touch that builds the scene. It’s passionate but not raunchy in any way, with either Kit or John’s bodies covering the others more intimate parts as opposed to the shadows of how John and Zed’s sex scenes were framed. Later a freshly woken John reaches up from the bed to Kit as she heads towards the door, but Kit just turns and gives a small sad smile. It’s one of the most touching moments of Ennis’ entire run only enhanced by the caption of “in my dream I don’t just reach out to her, I tell her I love her as well.” One gets the notion that this issue is a big of giving fans what they want, John and Kit together, albeit briefly. It’s short, sweet, emotional and while this is utterly a more satisfying conclusion than how we last saw Kit and John interacting, it’s also Ennis preemptively nixing any future writer from bringing back Kit Ryan as a love interest, as it would undermine this entire issue and be an utter example of character assassination.1

Awakening from sleep and returning to reality John slowly descends into horror a la Dante Alighieri. First overhearing a biased news report on the Tower Hamlets riot paired with racist comments from patrons in the diner where the report is playing, Constantine then makes his way into the actual hamlets seeing the carnage first hand. The violence then takes a turn for the horrid upon entering Nigel’s apartment complex seeing what appears to be a woman drinking from a pool of blood, spectral emanations, and a man who has sewn his eyes shut. Upon entering Nigel’s apartment he finds his friend lying on a table with an iron spike driven through his forehead, the weight of everything returning to his conscience Constantine goes out to the balcony watching the city burn with his head in his hands and the First of the Fallen waiting for him.

Part Five of Rake at the Gates of Hell gives a well needed respite from the previous issues before hurdling John back further into the whole than he was with seemingly no apparent plan. The reunion between Kit and John is initially jarring given the recent events in John’s life, but ends in an utterly satisfying way that will allow both characters to go their separate ways even if John would have it otherwise. The revelation of The First of the Fallen in Nigel’s apartment is a definite “oh shit” moment and a clear forecast that the end is nigh for John Constantine, at least under the pen of Garth Ennis that is.

Notes:

  1. That doesn’t mean she isn’t given the proper attention when eventually John gets married far far down the line from here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Nestorowich is a Michigan Technological University graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering. To keep his sanity in the perpetual winter of Houghton, in his free time he dove head first into exploring all that comics had to offer, which worked to a certain extent. He eventually started writing about them at every opportunity, settling on a blog at some point. When not reading, watching, or writing something, Max can be found in the Analytical Chemistry Lab in which he finds employment, doing science.

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