Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Hellblazer #255 & #256
Peter Milligan has managed to do something I doubted any writer apart from Brian Azzarello could ever manage; make me seriously contemplate dropping Hellblazer from my subscription.
I can't really explain why, save that while he seems to be writing stories about a character named John Constantine who knows some magic and is a bit of a con-man, he doesn't seem to be writing about the John Constantine we know.
#255 continues the Regeneration storyline in which John awakens the ghost of an ancient Plague Doctor in his efforts to "hex" the stadium where the London 2012 Olympics will take-place. The last issue showed us flashbacks of a man stuck in London during one of the infamous plagues, who contemplates whoring out his eldest daughter to The Plague Doctor in order to assure his family safe escape from the city - a story that was seemingly unconnected to the main tale involving John being desperate for cash and feeling heartsick after his latest relationship ended.
Now we find that The Plague Doctor ghost is - in fact - the ghost of the father in the flashback and that his daughter wound up killing the Plague Doctor rather than lay with him. The father effected another plan to escape the city and wound up killing his whole family before killing himself - better that they die by his hand than he should lose them to the Plague or the soldiers killing the plague victims. He asks John to move his bones so that he can rest in peace apart from his family. John tells him to slag off and leaves him to haunt the site, condemning for taking the coward's way out.
This flies in the face of what few ethics John Constantine has ever been shown to have. In one of the better Garth Ennis stories, John did grant final rest to a man condemned to eternal life (a family member no less), noting that "one bastard can forgive another bastard". Given that John has done worse... a lot worse... in the name of saving his own loved ones and friends, it doesn't seem likely that John would condemn a man for trying to save his family from a more painful and slow death.
This "almost but not quite" feeling continued into #256 and the first part (Part One of Three we are told) of a story called Hooked. Following off the last page of #255, in which John's now ex-girlfriend Phoebe rebuffs his attempts at trying to ask her out again and he threatens to use his magic to make her love him. She says even he couldn't stoop that low... and here we open on John negotiating with a blue-haired alchemist over a love potion.
Even Epiphany, the alchemist in question, notes how horribly out of character it is for John to be doing something like this but John dismisses any such questions with instances that he is as big a bastard as everyone thinks.
That's the problem, though. I don't think he is.
In my estimation, most Hellblazer writers don't think that he is.
Even Garth Ennis said that John had a basically decent bloke deep down and that his biggest flaws were snap judgments, cowardice and an insatiable desire to poke at metaphorical wasp's nests. He thought John honestly did try to do the right thing for his and his loved ones - he wasn't a hero by any stretch of the imagination, but he was trying to be good. And giving the woman who dumped you a love-potion laced bottle of wine is about as not-good as you can get.
I'll give it another issue or two to see how it goes, purely because it is SOMEWHAT uncertain if that is exactly what John did and if he didn't use the love potion on another mage who is blackmailing him. We will see... but right now, this book is dancing on a knife's edge for me.