Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 13: Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell (#78-83).]

It all comes down to this. While there's still the two "Heartland" stories after this, this is really the end of Garth Ennis's Hellblazer run (oh, and the Son of Man arc he did years later...). Ennis weaves together two stories about men who put into action a course of events that consume all of those around them. We'll start with George, the brother of Dez, who you'll remember was killed in "Fear and Loathing" when kidnapped alongside John by the British Movement. Here, George is arrested by the police and, in the process, they push his mom down the stairs. He responds by shooting one of the cops and fleeing. This begins a whole riot in that neighbourhood, pitting the black population that's sick of being shit on against the cops out for blood after one of their own was killed. George is hidden by a group of friends who slowly but surely get picked off as the story progresses. In the end, George manages to get away. He's a mini-Constantine in that respect: causes the shitstorm and everyone around him pays the price, but he walks away.

John's story is much more complex with two big parts. The first has him running across an ex who is addicted to drugs and being pimped out. Being the sort of guy who can't resist a damsel in distress, he intervenes with the help of Chas, getting his new girlfriend and others involved in trying to take care of this dumb, stupid woman who is so broken and dependent on her pimp that she doesn't actually want his 'help.' I like how, before getting to the First of the Fallen, we see John just sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong -- in an understandable way. He wants to be the hero and doesn't think things through. He just sees a problem and has to solve it. He's given a good bitching out later by his (pretty much ex-by-this-point) girlfriend after the pimp tracks them down and nearly kills some people, working over the ex. John has a chauvanist streak that Ennis would carry on to Jesse Custer -- got to be a man and protect the little ladies from the big bad world.

At the same time, the First of the Fallen has been approached by someone in Hell with a plan to get John. Someone with good motivation to want him gotten: Astrid, the little girl that John condemned to Hell in Newcastle. She gives him some ideas, like how the triumverate leadership in Hell existed only because he believed it did. He was the First of the Fallen... how could the other two be his brothers and equals? So he steamrolls over them and heads to Earth where he neutralises the angel heart and kills Nigel, Header, and Rick the Vic.

John goes on the run, hiding out in the basement of a church where he talks to a priest. It's a discussion of faith, John confronting a man who believes even though John knows the truth (or some of it). Eventually, John decides to come out and who does he run into? Kit. Ennis spends an issue on the two of them together, talking and falling into familiar habits, including hurting one another. They wind up in bed, but it's more a proper goodbye than anything else. She's thankfully out of the picture when the First of the Fallen shows up, ready to finally do away with John.

First, John gets his lung cancer back. Then, he hears the First of the Fallen's confession, which is how he came to fall. He was the first creation of God's and loved God, loved being his confidant... until God wanted to create humanity and the First of the Fallen told him he thought that freewill was a bad idea that would backfire. That's when it began to go south because of God's reaction -- how dare he disagree with Him? Later, the First of the Fallen finally comes face to face with God again... finding him in a corner of eternity, dropping and clutching at his genitals. Freewill was an act of a madman, someone so deluded and stupid to think that freewill would be a good thing. Why would a loving God curse mankind with such pain? Because he's a fucking loon. That's when the First of the Fallen fell. John tells him what he really is: God's conscience that God expelled when it became a nuisance. It all comes a head when the First of the Fallen wonders what John is and gets his answer in a masterful two pages of snatches of dialogue beginning with "You're a man who inspires the maximum amount of loyalty for the minimum of effort, d'you know that?" John is a man with friends...

Except where are they, the First of the Fallen wonders? That's when Astrid appears, freaking John out. He looks absolutely fucked. You know the book doesn't end, that he somehow survives, but Ennis has built this SO well. John Constantine looks absolutely forever and ever fucked. Except Astrid isn't Astrid... she's Ellie and she's just stabbed the First of the Fallen through with a blade. John wakes up to find that Ellie has pulled out his cancer.

The story ends with John meeting with the ex of his who was the addict/prostitute. She lost an eye, but she's better. He puts her on a bus and she thanks him. He made things worse, but they got better because of him, too.

Ennis wraps up the story he began in "Dangerous Habits" by dispatching the First of the Fallen in a clever manner, but also kills off much of the supporting cast he introduced. John wins, but his friends pay the price. They're sacrificed so he can walk away scot free.

What stands out in this story most of all about Steve Dillon's art is how he draws the First of the Fallen when he reaches Earth: this massive, long-haired bodybuilder type that also just looks like a fucking douchebag. Sounds about right me.

We'll say goodbye to the Ennis/Dillon team in 30 minutes with the two "Heartland" stories...

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