Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 02: Hellblazer #11

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer #11, "Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come."]

Hellblazer is a comic told in something approaching real time. John Constantine's birthday is May 10, 1953, making him 57 years old right now. The events of this issue take place in 1978 when John was 25 and what happens here is sort of his 'Uncle Ben got shot because Spider-Man didn't stop the robber' moment, except a little bit worse and with different lasting effects. It just rates that high in his history for its effect and what came after. The issue is told in the present (1988) with John thinking back after coming to Newcastle and the site of the events.

Prior to the events of this issue, John had been in a punk band called Mucous Membrane and had played in a club in Newcastle called the Casanova Club. Now, a short time later, he and a group have returned to that site to investigate some strange stuff. There, they find a little girl named Astra, the daughter of the club's owner. She's in something of a trance and there's a bad vibe throughout. They also find a huge pile of rotted, twisted remains of people in the basement. Apparently, her father would not just sexually assault his daughter, he'd throw these parties full of drugs and sex and make her watch... and participate. Eventually, it was more than she could stand and she somehow summoned an elemental creature that she called Norfulthing and it protected her by killing everyone. It's still loose and it needs to be caged/destroyed/just gotten rid of.

So, John, still young and naive and cocky as shit, decides to raise up a demon from Hell to get rid of the elemental creature. Except he fucks it all up and some people die. Worse than that, he and Astra are taken to Hell. While he escapes, he isn't quick enough and Astra doesn't make it through, only the arm attached to the hand John was holding makes it through. Because of his actions, the soul of an innocent little girl was sentenced to Hell and some of his friends died. The results were guilt that he's never gotten over and two years in the 'Ravenscar Secure Facility for the Dangerously Deranged.'

In many ways, the events of this issue tell you everything you need to know about John Constantine and that he never really learned his lesson. He has a compulsion to be the hero, to save the day, but, because of those he is forced to deal with and the means through which he acts, things often get cocked up and someone else pays the price. In many ways, what happens here is a mixed up version of every Hellblazer story. It's always about guilt, John's arrogance, and, really, John not being nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

The issue was written by Jamie Delano, the book's first writer (though Alan Moore created the character) and the storytelling is solid. It's not entirely clear why John and company are in Newcastle (never made explicit) and having John narrate ten years later gives the right perspective. On the second page, there's a fantastic bit of foreshadowing where John walks through the junkyard that the property where the Casanova Club has begun and, when he places his hand on a wrecked car while standing around, a doll's arm falls out of it, previously stuck in the door. He freaks out and we learn later why.

The art isn't the best. The layouts are sometimes confusing and muddled. The style a little overwrought in its attempt at realism.

The key things to remember from this issue are: John's guilt over Astra, that almost always someone has to pay the price for John's mistakes (and it usually isn't him primarily), John makes a lot of mistakes, and John always feels the need to save the day. He may act too cool for that sort of thing, like it isn't his problem... but he comes around.

In thirty, I'll cover some other Delano-penned issues...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]