The things we love the most don’t always love us back. John Constantine, blue collar magician and eternally a grumpy old man, has an addiction to cigarettes. He fights the occult, the extremely powerful, and has more screwball experiences in one day than most people experience in a lifetime. None of that does him in though. It’s the nicotine, tar, and heaven knows what else that have attacked his lungs because of cigarettes. He discovers he has lung cancer in Hellblazer #41 by writer Garth Ennis and penciller Will Simpson, and he’s somehow surprised by the revelation.
Constantine admits to smoking “twenty or thirty” cigarettes a day, but it never crossed his mind they would cause health issues. His cluelessness and arrogance manages to come across as endearing. I see where he’s coming from. When you lead a dangerous life and watch your friends and loved ones drop like flies around you, dying from a human affliction isn’t on the radar. Why would you think about smoking or drinking when you’ve faced down the Devil? It seems mundane in comparison.
Constantine takes one look at the hospital ward for terminally ill cancer patients and decides it’s not for him. He knows magic, and the next logical step is to get assistance by any means necessary. I would have pursued that option first regardless of futility. Or how crazy it looks. In Hellblazer #42: “A Drop of the Hard Stuff,” Constantine hops a ferry to Ireland to visit his pal Brendan Finn for a cancer cure-all. On the miserable ferry ride over, Constantine is in the desperate state known as “everything’s awful and I need alcohol.” We’ve all been there.
Alcohol becomes an important part of the story. Constantine’s vice is smoking, and Finn’s vice is drinking. Their bad habits aren’t equal. Finn is obsessive about booze. He uses his magic to improve it, and he makes a deal with the Devil that allows him to collect an assortment of the finest drinks. They’re different types of addicts, but they both end up on the same road to death’s door. That lends the story a certain heaviness and makes you pause to consider your own vices and obsessions.
Finn and Constantine take a moment to catch up since it’s been a while, and the darker moments continue. Both of them have lost lovers and friends. They lead extraordinary lives that put them in the path of unimaginable threats, yet here are they are sitting and drinking together like any two friends who haven’t spoken in ages. The story keeps coming back to being human despite the supernatural lives they lead. Knowing how to wield magic doesn’t make life better. Not even close.
The story takes a turn when Finn shows Constantine his favorite trick: making a magic stout from holy water using a changing spell. The glasses of beer look positively beautiful and since Constantine has been longing for a beer since the ferry, the stout is heaven. While they toss back pint after pint, Constantine gets to the point and tells Finn he’s looking for a spell to cure cancer. Finn reacts with laughter and says he was going to ask Constantine for the same thing but for cirrhosis. His liver is over it. Not even magic holy water stout can go down without consequences.
Finn says he knows it’s his last night,and before Constantine can get out the door after a final glass, the Devil shows up. It’s a hazard of his job, but the Devil’s presence surprises him. Constantine learns Finn made a deal for his soul and after the Devil taunts him and mentions Constantine’s dad, he snaps. He’s pissed, and when Constantine’s pissed… well, it’s best to step lightly.
The Devil mentions he has to collect Finn’s soul before midnight so Constantine stalls and then offers the Devil a glass of the magic stout. Remember the part where it’s made from holy water? Yeah. It’s oh so satisfying to watch the Devil’s head nearly explode. The brew packs enough of a punch to put the Devil off his game and to stop him from collecting Finn’s soul. Constantine couldn’t save his friend’s life, but he sure made eternity much more comfortable for Finn. That’s a win. But, he’s also committed an act the Devil’s not likely to forget which means dying isn’t just an undesirable prospect, it’s one to avoid at all costs.
Hellblazer #42 captures everything I admire and enjoy about the adventures of Constantine. His carefree attitude is there despite the fact that he’s dying, his wry sense of humor is on full display, and most of all, the issue highlights his loyalty to those he cares about. He might not step out the door in the mornings intending to be a good man, but it ends up happening time and time again.