Hellblazer 300, by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano LandiniAnd so it ends. The longest-running funnybook for grown-ups in American comics history (*) published its final issue today. And we are all the poorer for it.
(*Technically, Hellblazer only shares the title of longest-running adult funnybook with Dave Sim's Cerebus. That also ran for 300 issues, and was a lot better most of that time (even when its author was busy turning into a misogynist nutbar). But if you count annuals, specials, mini-series, and one-shots, Hellblazer actually published more issues. It doesn't make me happy to point that out, but... It's true.)I've followed this book, off and on, from the beginning. As I believe I said when its cancellation was announced a few months ago, it's been a constant, comforting presence for me, always there on the rack for me to dip a toe into when I wanted a taste of modern urban horror. Some runs were better than others, but even its worst moments were better than Justice League Dark. That book features a dumbed-down version of Constantine who lacks the original's depth, but somehow tries to make up for it by shooting shiny lights out of his hands. Frankly, he just makes me sad. Sad for John, sad for myself, and sad for the funnybook industry as a whole. Because it's that version of the character that's going to soldier on in the monthly corporate funnybook trenches, in a new series that will no doubt be embarrassing itself on a monthly basis any day now. In the meantime, though, we have this final issue to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. It's a fitting conclusion for the story of John Constantine, I think, one that not only wraps up the plot and theme of Pete Milligan's long run, but does the same for the series as a whole. The story and its characters are, at this point, far and away too varied and complex for any sort of detailed plot synopsis, but in brief: Constantine runs one last occult long-con, and just when it looks like the old bastard's going to get a happy ending... he doesn't. Which could, of course, describe pretty much all of the better storylines in the series' history, but there's one important difference here: this time, all the right people get hurt, and none of the wrong ones. That's quite a departure for this book. One of Constantine's friends often winds up being sacrificed along the way, getting hurt or killed or driven insane. It's the over-riding theme of John's life, introduced in the very first issue, and he's haunted by a virtual graveyard full of ghosts because of it. So when it seems that Our Hero will end his published adventures getting a touchingly intimate hand-job from his beautiful young alchemist wife... He knows that something's wrong. And from here on out, things will be getting rather SPOILERY. I'll continue after the jump, but only make with the clicky if you really don't mind having even the book's very last page spoiled for you...
So. Ready for MASSIVE SPOILER ACTION?
Don’t mind learning exactly how the series ends?
Are you sure?
Well, okay. Just read on, then…
So John’s settling in for a quiet life of mad monkey-love with his wife Epiphany, when he realizes that something’s wrong. He’s won, but… Where’s that familiar sting of bitterness? This can’t be the end, right? Somebody’s got to get hurt, and he’s got to feel bad even in victory. So what the hell’s going on here?
There are two ways to read what happens next, I think. It could be that Constantine senses the truth of his mystical fate. He knows that Epiphany is inevitably going to get hurt because of him, and decides that he can’t let that happen. So he leaves her, and puts his fate in the hands of his dangerously unbalanced niece, who’s already been damaged beyond repair by the Constantine curse.
Or (and this is the reading that seems more honest to me) he’s actually, finally won. He’s tricked Fate and can go off and be happy without anyone else getting hurt because of him again, ever. But life has twisted him up so badly that he can’t accept a happy ending. So he abandons everyone he loves for no good reason, seeks out his niece, and winds up like this:
A sad old man taking a pint down the pub, staring at the room through empty, soulless eyes. Brrr. That might be the most chilling image in the series’ history right there, and it’s all down to those eyes. The Camuncoli / Landini art team haven’t been particular favorites of mine, but they won my favor here at the end.
So. The final Hellblazer sacrifice is John himself. That’s how it always needed to end, of course. He’s cheated too many times, and no con man can keep it up forever. But I still find myself shocked and dismayed. Because he doesn’t get dragged screaming off to hell, or die in a disgusting cancerous bloom. He just… loses himself. He becomes a hollowed-out empty shell, everything that made him special and interesting gone. Truly, a fate worse than death.
Kind of like, one might argue, what DC editorial seems to have planned for him as part of the DC Reboot.
I mean… Someone might argue that. Certainly not me.
Embiggen that picture of John in the pub, by the way, and you may notice some familiar names on the bottles behind him. That is, I believe, every writer and artist who ever worked on the character, starting with Moore, Bissette and Totelben (who created him as a supporting character in Swamp Thing), and moving along to the present team. Nice touch, that.
Milligan’s also given us two other nice touches in this issue that I wanted to mention before I go. First, in a bit of grand irony, he has John literally smoke himself back to life. I won’t go into details, but for a character whose greatest adventure involved him double-crossing the devil to rid himself of terminal lung cancer… That’s rather silly and brilliant.
And second… heh… This final story introduces us to Constantine’s nephew Finn. This young man looks like John, smells like John, smokes like John, and has even picked up a ham-fisted semblance of John’s occult knowledge, through devoting his life to studying John. He slides into Our Hero’s life while he’s presumed dead, to the point of even having painful rebound grief-sex with Epiphany. Essentially, he’s a mildly pathetic Constantine fanboy-stalker. And kind of a dead ringer for the character that’s been appearing in Justice League Dark.
All meta-jokes aside, though… This was a fine final issue for Hellblazer. Certainly not the series’ best, and maybe not even the best of Milligan’s run on the book. But it was a fun series finale with an appropriately sad, twisted, and chilling ending.
So fare thee well, John Constantine. You will be missed.