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Hellblazer vol 5: Dangerous Habits

Hellblazer vol 5: Dangerous Habits back

Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano & Dave McKean, Sean Phillips, Steve Pugh, more


Page 45 Review by Stephen

“Eyes on the horizon. Future ahead. Never look back. Never let memory step on your shadow.”

VITAL ALERT! This book contains twice as much material as the old DANGEROUS HABITS volume, collecting as it does (in addition to Ennis’ opening salvo) the last seven issues of Jamie Delano’s run for the first time ever, including ‘The Dead-Boy’s Heart’ charmingly illustrated by Sean Phillips in which you meet a very young, ski-slope nosed John, uprooted from Liverpool with his sister Cheryl and staying with his kindly Aunt Dolly and a lot less kindly Uncle Harry.

But if you think Uncle Harry’s abusive, you wait until you meet grotesque butcher Archibald Acland whom Steve Pugh will sear indelibly onto the back of your eyeballs, his ruddy, blubbery face looking like a flabby pig’s arse, his mouth its very anus. Out of that mouth comes the stench of offal and furious threats he turns into promises, dismissing his son Martin as a “sick heifer” and “starved bitch” and deriding his missus as a “fat sow” and “stupid mare”. His vegetarian son is terrified of him:

“He needs to piss but he can’t face the bathroom – the soapy stubble-scum; the excess Preparation H finger-smeared on the basin; the thick, dead, lingering smell of shit. The smell of his father.”

He’s right to be terrified. This is Martin’s eighteenth birthday and he’s about to be forced down a make-shift abattoir for an ordeal so horrific you will not believe what you read. This is HELLBLAZER at its best: binding occult horror to the very real nightmares of actual human suffering, and it is excruciating.

Lastly for Delano there are two of the most important chapters in Constantine’s history. In ‘The Hanged Man’ John finally discovers what’s been nagging him all this time: the identity of the Golden Boy he first saw at his mother’s graveside, so he sets a pre-natal wrong right. The repercussions are played out in ‘The Magus’ illustrated by Dave McKean. It’s a startling final flourish for Delano’s stint which began over three years earlier in HELLBLAZER VOL 1: ORIGINAL SINS.

There I wrote:

“John Constantine is a trouble magnet; the problem is that deep down he enjoys it. Brash, rash and cocky, this streetwise trickster, this Laughing Magician with his nicotine-stained fingers and trademark trenchcoat relishes the war of wits – the blag, the bluff and the quietly palmed ace up his sleeve – and his insatiable curiosity drives him to places where no soul should go. That he somehow returns to enjoy his next pint is a miracle; that his friends rarely do is inevitable.”

Case in point:

“I stop walking.
“It’s quite an effort, because walking’s one of the things I do best. Walking away without a glance over my shoulder at the misery and bloodshed I’ve left behind me.”

Whatever John Constantine’s considerable failings, a lack of self-awareness is not one of them. That and his sense of social justice are his two saving graces, fortified immeasurably with an indomitable, ruthless determination to win. Here in 1991 Garth Ennis takes the reins and immediately gives John Constantine terminal lung cancer with three months to live. Get out of that, John!

Obviously he does, but the key is that he does so not through conjuration – for that would be a complete cop-out – but manipulation and, when you discover exactly whom he manipulates and how, you will laugh your head off at the sheer gall of the guy and determine never to play him at chess.

John will have no time to gloat, however, for although Garth Ennis does introduce a surprisingly sturdy love interest in Kit, he also swiftly sets out his stall for the humanity – and political anger – which he will be bringing to the table as evidenced by his meeting with Matt, already bed-bound by the time John discovers him in hospital:

“He’d been with the desert rats at Alamein, come home to a life that could never quite equal the thrill of his army days, drunk and smoked enough to kill him – and ended up here. Dying in a country that he didn’t know anymore, because all the money was spent on getting a whore into office every four years.”

Steve Dillon will become Garth Ennis’ best known partner in grime both on HELLBLAZER and later on PREACHER, but Will Simpson brings a haggard sense of mortality to the pages which were perfect for these six issues of raw vulnerability and renewed sense of loss.

“I don’t want to hear them call time. I don’t want a nurse asking me if he was a friend, and how sorry they are, and how hard they tried.
“I’d be like evidence for the prosecution at my trial. John Constantine, you have been found guilty of first degree cold-hearted bastardy. Of being a twisted, evil frigger who sneaks and creeps his way out of trouble that those less privileged have no defence against. Of swaggering merrily away from lung cancer while a good friend’s organs split and rupture, without even a hope of the salvation you enjoy.
“Outside it’s still raining.”

There will be repercussions, yes.
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