Yesterday, I bemoaned the fate of Hellblazer and the title’s termination at issue 300 before going on to say mostly nice things about a character that had been generally known as a cliche, prior to being brought back from the dead. Today, I will talk to you about a character who has also turned into a cliche prior to becoming dead: John Constantine.
I think my “wailing and gnashing of teeth” yesterday was primarily mourning for a character who has really been dying and on his way to dead from about issue 251 on. I’m sure Peter Milligan meant well, but this series – which managed to survive the literal dicking Brian Azzarello gave it back in the year 2000 – has been dead man walking for some time. Sure, there’s been some glimmers of good story, but this is not the John Constantine we all signed up for. This is a sad shell of a John Constantine, a Constantine that, had he been anticipated as a likelihood by former writers like Garth Ennis, would have eaten a bullet sometime back around 1994. Issue 300 does not serve so much as closure for John Constantine as make you wonder about the Constantine that might have been in other hands.
And, I think I’ve figured out why.
Join me as I spoil my way through problem solving, after the jump.
Two words: Scooby Gang.
John Constantine uses the entirety of double sized issue 300 to get closure with every character currently inhabiting his universe. There are final moments with long suffering buddy Chaz, broken niece Gemma, loving wife Epiphany, hateful father-in-law Terry Greaves, and recent newcomer and lookalike nephew Finn. That is about three or four characters too many.
In my mind, John Constantine’s character functioned best in the earlier stories that found him a loner, strolling into someone’s life and fucking it up, usually irreparably, on his way to dealing with some mystical problem or another. Sure, we saw quite a lot of Chaz, but that was ok. Chaz was Constantine’s sole consistent connection to the outside world. Where Chaz’s wife was repelled by Constantine, voicing what most sane people would say in regard to Constantine’s activities, the fact that Chaz would remain friends with him, despite all the bullshit Constantine would put him through, spoke more volumes about the possibility of a redeeming human being underneath the cynic in the trench-coat armor than any amount of exposition.
Milligan used his run on Hellblazer to develop a bullpen of core, consistent characters who showed up in almost every issue. He drew from some existing characters in Hellblazer continuity, such as his niece Gemma, but also created others, like his wife Epiphany. People joke that marriage is the kiss of death, and here it truly was. Constantine now found himself in plot lines in which he needed to worry about the effects of his actions on others. A John Constantine driven in his actions by concern for his loved ones? No fucking thank you.
Which isn’t to say that previous writers and storylines showed Constantine as uncaring about his family. However, where the rubber hit the road, Constantine was driven by getting the job done. If people, even, and especially, loved ones, got hurt in the process, so be it. Milligan’s Constantine didn’t go out as that magnificent bastard. No, this Constantine wants to try and put as much right with his loved ones for closure’s sake as he can. It’s a position he wouldn’t have even been in had Milligan not let most of these people into Constantine’s life in the first place.
After shipping Epiphany’s father off to hell so she won’t have to put up with him after Constantine is gone, he spends some time urging
Constantine-lite nephew Finn to put his life back together. Then he has a final night with Epiphany before trying to sneak out on her “so she doesn’t get hurt”. Once he gives her the “you can be strong and have a life without me” speech, he goes out in search of Gemma. Gemma, who has issues with Constantine the way Electra has daddy issues, is given the task of firing the remaining psyche shredding demon tranquilizer (last seen in Hellblazer #291) at Constantine. She had threatened to do it back in #291 anyway, still not having completely recovered from her rape at the hands of Constantine’s doppelganger, despite being instrumental in its eradication. See? Issues.
Gemma is given the choice to fire the tranq, which would end Constantine somehow without killing him. He wants her to have closure without guilt, regret or worry that he’ll come back from the beyond. She would rather he just use magic to wipe her memory and take away her pain, but, since he’s not Zatanna, he won’t. He doesn’t want to do anything that might hurt her anymore. So, she fires the dart.
What happens next is somewhat open to interpretation. The panel in which the gun goes off has the actual gun off panel. It’s hard to say if she fired it at Constantine or herself, as she’d threatened to do earlier in the issue. When the aftermath of the dart’s impact settles, Constantine is gone and Gemma is alone in the street. Meanwhile, miles away in Liverpool, the reader is treated to this final panel:
Has a somewhat visually aged Constantine been transported back to the city of his youth, condemned to end his days in a pub seemingly taken over by young hipsters? Is this pub, in which he is an old nobody, Constantine’s psychic hell or his new reality; is this where he’s fled to after leaving an, instead, psyche shredded Gemma alone and wandering the streets? That would be more like the Constantine of old; I’d like to believe that might really be the case for my own closure.
Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils continue to do a fine job telling the story. He has a habit of drawing huge, haunted eyes on his characters that serve the tone of the story well. If you remove the dialogue from the panels, visually this is an affecting story. The pain and sadness the characters feel is palpable.
If the final panel is intended to leave us believing that Constantine is alive, then the character could be viable in case DC/Vertigo wanted to resurrect him properly somewhere in the future. Sure, DC is trotting Constantine out in Justice League Dark and in his own new title, Constantine, but this younger version so far has been a PG rated battle wizard in storylines that have been action stories involving magic rather than the proper horror comics from which John Constantine originally sprung. An ambivalent ending at least gives fans hope for the future of the property, even if it’s false. This is not the way the man should have gone out.