Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 26: Hellblazer: Highwater (Part Three)

[Discussed in this post: the third part of Hellblazer: Highwater, "Ashes and Dust in the City of Angels" (#170-174).]

The culmination of Brian Azzarello's run on Hellblazer is really... John Constantine versus Batman? Why, yes it is! SW Manor is really just a stand-in for Bruce Wayne. Once you know that interpretation of the story, it's hard to read it any other way, honestly. I pondered on the podcast last night and earlier this week on Twitter if Batman fans are aware of this story, especially the part where John and Manor enter into a sexual relationship. Batman/Constatine slash fiction, folks. Oh ho ho, that Azzarello... (and, after this, they let him write Batman... numerous times... oh ho ho, that DC... wait, did the people at DC even read this comic and understand what the gag was?)

The story begins with John Constantine dead. All burt up in an S&M club. Agent Turro is investigating and must piece together what happened by questioning the rich, famous, and powerful LA folks that frequent the club. It's slowly revealed what happened, intercut with SW Manor at his... manor. He's upset and participates in self-flagellation. I won't go too much into him being Batman here since that's in the link.

It's slowly revealed that John began showing up at the club and has insatiable there. He was also violent and the only thing that could calm him down was his boyfriend, Stanley. We learn that Manor had Lucky kill himself to frame John in exchange for Manor paying Lucky's wife a huge sum of money. But, when Manor learned that John died in prison, he was left feeling empty, unfulfilled. John returns and they enter into a relationship... whereupon John sets up Manor.

First, he gives Manor soil from Hell. Then, he gives Manor his heart's desire: to communicate with his parents. John hangs Manor in the middle of a room and leaves him there while the ghosts of Manor's parents (shot to death, of course, in dressy clothes) tell them of their disappointment in the man he's become, Constantine laughing all the way. That just leave Manor to contact Richie to help kill John using the soil from Hell. That's how the body was burned from the inside out.

Throughout the story, we get hints that John isn't dead. That's only because he isn't. Richie killed himself, knowing that Manor was the one behind his brother's death, I guess. That part is never explained entirely. In the end, Manor kills himself and Turro is killed by Manor. John gets away just fine, no one aware that's alive. His revenge has been taken and he's also dealt with the FBI.

That just explains the plot. The telling of the story is what makes this issue interesting as it's driven by the interrogation room dialogues. It's a little cutesy, the way that the story about John being there with Manor comes out in drips and drabs, but it does allow for Frusin to draw scantily-clad people. His women are grotesque in their exaggerations, while his men are just funny and ugly in theirs. It's all mood and the ideas pumped up on steroids.

My favourite panel is SW Manor holding his spear, shirt open, ready for battle and shouting "...and with myself as bait." It's a total Batman panel.

This concludes Azzarello's run. It's a big, seemingly epic run ala Ennis's... except SW Manor is no First of the Fallen. There's no tension here, only intrigue. There's never a question that John will walk away just fine, revenge his. Even when he's dead, we know it's not him. It's almost an inversion of what Ennis does, because, there, it seems like John is done for. You know he isn't, but you'd still believe it if that was the end of the series. Here, that's not a question. After Good Intentions, there's not even a hint of John being wrong or in any danger whatsoever. These are intellectually interesting comics. They're entertaining. Azzarello writes a spooky, clever John Constantine whose use of magic at the end to fool Manor is a great ploy because, until this point, it's been parlor tricks and con games, not magic. But, there's no tension. There's nothing at stake.

In the end, it's just John Constantine versus Batman... and that's a good joke and all, but it's just a joke...

In 30 minutes, we begin Mike Carey's run on the book with the graphic novel All His Engines...

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