Issue #83 “The End of Rake at the Gates of Hell”
Writer: Garth Ennis;
Artist: Steve Dillon;
Colors: Tom Ziuko;
Letters: Clem Robins;
Editor: Stuart Moore;
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg;
Cover: Glenn Fabry;
Endings are inevitable. As much as we would like things to continue onwards and forever, this is not the case, in comics, life, and many other things. Over the past 43 issues of Hellblazer Garth Ennis’ has taken John Constantine and readers on a ride through the personal horrors of cancer to racial unrest in the modern era and even touching upon how one’s life can fall apart at the end of a relationship. Throughout these trials and tribulations the feud between John Constantine and the First of the Fallen has been ever present, not always in the foreground of the narrative at hand but often casting a shadow on that Constantine has had to dance around as he tries to make his way out of it. With Ennis’ final issue of the series “The End of the Rake at the Gates of Hell”, we see this feud and all the other loose ends come to it’s rightful conclusion.
“The End of the Rake at the Gates of Hell” is predominantly is comprised of The First of The Fallen gloating over his apparent victory over John Constantine, starting with returning his lung cancer in a cyclical gesture that ties the 43 issues together as the run comes to it’s conclusion. After amusing himself over the poorly written blank verse poetry of a recently murdered Nigel and derides his socialist mindset, The First takes his sweet time letting John vomit up pieces of his lungs while he monologues at him savoring the moment. Constantine realizing that his ticket is all but punched asks the First how he actually came to fall, as he once ran into a priest who was driven insane by the story, and John is if anything a curious fellow. The First recounts the basic tale of the Judeo-Christian creation and of how he was God’s first creation, and how he was set to help his Father create the paradise he sought. However, when The First questioned the idea of creating a mortal race where instinct was replaced with free will and voiced his opinion that 9 out of 10 times people will make the wrong choice, he realized he had lost the trust of his Father. Avoiding his creator amongst the other angels, one day he came across God “squatting in a corner of eternity…/Clutching at his genitals/ And drooling.” upon which he realized that God wanted humanity to make that wrong choice (praising him) 9 out of 10 times. Then The First was cast out because of his realization. In such he has spent all of eternity trying to sway souls to his side so he may wage war on Heaven to make things right in the universe. It ties in many of the other villains in Hellblazer who try to use their positions of power to enforce their own particular worldview, to “make it better” than it supposedly is.
Hearing this tale Constantine is able to surmise why God created The First in the first place, which The Devil himself wonders out loud about. Namely, that The First was God’s conscience, plucked out of God’s mind and given physical form so he would not have pay attention to it after it (The First) steps out of line and is barred from Heaven for all eternity. Constantine justifies this idea by telling The First he would do the same thing if he could. Laughing at The First being just another “tosser thought he’d lead us to his promised land” The First is enraged, and after realizing just how lonely he is in comparison to John’s life, accompanied by a spread of Constantine’s supporting cast and quotes about John in a wonderful tribute to all the people that make Hellblazer memorable outside of Constantine himself, he summons the spirit of Astra to torment John and counter Constantine’s spirited jests. This breaks John more than anything else that’s been done to him thus far this story arc and just as he is about to descend downwards Astra’s soul transforms to the Succubus Ellie, who proceeds to stab The First with the two bladed dagger from Part 2. The First fades away into a burst of light to “wherever The Devil goes when he dies” and leaving Ellie in charge of Hell. After she pulls the cancer out of John’s lungs, it is revealed that the method for destroying The First was in those pages that John and Header stole in Part 1 that got him killed. Despite this revelation is still feels like a somewhat cheap very Deus Ex Machina as no clarification is given to what this magic dagger is, where it was, and how it was obtained, the reveal that Astra wasn’t really Astra is however rather shocking.
Back on his feet John encounters George Ridley amongst the wreckage of Tower Hamlets, as the riots have ended and he is still alive. George is guilt ridden for all the bloodshed that was caused because of him, and of the friends he lost due to it, and how he is still a fugitive from the law. John tells him to hold on to that guilt as he may yet get some good from it, but as John’s dangerous lifestyle is one of choice as opposed to George’s he really can’t say much. The two part peacefully, calling each other racial slurs with a smile. Two months later John is eating lunch with Helen who has lost her eye but is generally better off than where she was at the beginning of this story. She thanks John for what he did for her, despite everything else that happened, and jokes on how where it a film the two of them would go live happily ever after. This is not the case, and there are future issues of Hellblazer to come, Garth Ennis or no Garth Ennis. The issue closes with Constantine’s narration of their parting and Helen’s last words also serve as a fitting end to the run. “Good night and God bless/ Now Fuck off to Bed.” The first use of that particular expletive in the series.1
And so we have reached the ending of Ennis’ tenure on Hellblazer, while this is not a permanent departure from the title Ennis does return after the conclusion of Paul Jenkins run for the story arc Son of Man. Nevertheless, the young at the time Ennis would leave a large shadow looming over the title. To this day Dangerous Habits is still regarded as the definitive story arc for the series, and is often suggested as a good jumping on point for the series, given that in comparison to Jamie Delano’s run the series isn’t a concrete piece of political satire about 1980s England. The satire and political commentary is present in Ennis’ issues, but they are more broad topics that can still be viewed by younger generations without the knowledge of what the world was like nearly 30 years ago. Furthermore Ennis’ issues deeply tie in aspects and characters of Christianity that the series would have a difficult time shrugging off completely. The First of the Fallen and Chantanelle would both return in time, but after besting both cancer and The Devil (numerous times) Constantine loses the feeling of vulnerability moving on. While he undoubtedly gets into trouble from his misadventures, as one would suspect, the reader knows he will get out of the mess one way or another. With comics that should be suspected though, but that doesn’t make the next 217 issues any less fun. Cheers.
- Observant readers will have noticed the lead up to its actual use, either with being cut off mid way with “Fu-” or drowned out by Constantine vomiting up his lungs with “Fucchhhh”