Tuesday, March 15, 2005

GraphiContent Book Club Selection for March--Hellblazer Rare Cuts

As promised we begin today the first installment of the GraphiContent book club. The book for March was Hellblazer Rare Cuts and the assignment was to read the first half. Please feel free to join us in discussion of the book in the "talkback" section, but please limit your discussion to assigned portion of the book. We will wrap up the book by discussing the second half on March 31st.

One of the most endearing things about this collection is its main character and the shaky moral code by which he lives. John Constantine has quite the reputation for being a cold bastard, but the reality of the situation is that there is nothing here that supports that characterization. Sure he’s a bit too blasé about the summoning of the demon in “Newcastle,” but this story represents his greatest mistake in life, the one that he regrets most, that eats at his conscience constantly. Most of us would look like bastards if we were only judged by the worst thing we’d ever done.
It is also important to note that this story is all based on Constantine’s own recollection of the event. And does he sugarcoat things, does he put himself in a good light? No, instead he admits that he was an arrogant youth, inexperienced in the ways of the world, playing around with things he shouldn’t have been. In his words at the end of the story, he shows a deep insight into the flaws of his own character that a truly heartless person would not: “Catastrophe, from start to finish. Inexcusable, stupid, bloody shameful catastrophe. No one to blame. I hold the smoking gun—the accusatory fingers point my way” (30).

And he never forgets the cost of the lessons he learned that day. His friends are all dead, and their ghosts clearly haunt him. Again, as he states in his narration, “we all make mistakes, don’t we? … The only difference is, I’ve paid for mine. Two years in Ravenscar Secure Facility for the Dangerously Deranged” (30). A real bastard wouldn’t feel enough guilt or remorse for his actions to be committed to an asylum for two years, let alone have this incident haunt him into the present day, ten years later at the time of the story.

His actions which are the centerpiece of these stories are not the least bit self-serving. In “Newcastle” Constantine attempts to save the young girl Astra from the “Norfulthing” she has conjured, a thing that was borne out of the “awful things” she has seen and the horrible acts that have been committed upon her. In “Early Warning” and “How I Learned to Love the Bomb,” he attempts to save the inhabitants of the town from destruction. All of these things he does at great personal risk to himself. Some might call that heroic, after a fashion. At any rate, it should be clear that John Constantine is far, far from being a bastard.

I’ve not even had the chance to write about how the motif of dark reflections in these stories: how the Norfulthing reflects what was done to Astra and how the villagers’ personas (as well as Constantine’s) while under the spell reflect aspects of their personalities. Nor have I had the space, as I had originally hoped, to compare Morrison’s two part story about the life and death of a town to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman tale of the dream of a city. But these are things I hope we can get to in discussion.

(As we enter discussion, please share with me your thoughts about what April's book club selection should be. Right now I have several ideas: Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, Lost at Sea by Bryan O'Malley, David B.'s Epileptic, or perhaps the collected edition of Ho Che Anderson's King. If you agree with any of these choices, or you'd like to offer an alternate option, please let us know in the comments section.)