After the fantastic The Devil’s Vinyl, Constantine continues to defy its detractors, with A Feast of Friends airing practically in response to those complaining that the wealth of magnificent stories from Hellblazer’s 300 issues are being ignored. Not that this need necessarily be a drawback anyway; as our regular episode reviews indicate, Arrow forges its own path with DC characters and is utterly sublime as a result. But still, long-time Hellblazer fans will recognise this episode’s supernatural threat (an insectoid swarm possessing people and infecting them with a ravenous appetite only for them to die emaciated from starvation) from the very first two issues of the comic, the second of which lends its title to the episode. Of course, naysayers will still bitch about the story not being followed exactly, or not including Papa Midnite – especially after such a memorable introduction in the previous episode – but people like that are unpleasable anyway.
Constantine’s old friend Gary Lester has accidentally unleashed the hunger demon Mnemoth, and unless Constantine can figure out how to rebind the creature, the plague of deaths will spread without end. You probably don’t need to have read the comics to guess how the story will ultimately play out, but it’s less about an innovative twist and more an indicator of the depths to which Constantine will sink in order to defeat dangers to humanity.
A significant aspect of Constantine’s character has always been his working class status (in the comic’s early years there were strong undertones of the anger and despair of living in Thatcher’s Britain as well as the hopelessness that infected society’s downtrodden) and he is clearly resentful of the opportunities that life afforded Gary that were squandered, and that had he had access to the same financial resources he would almost certainly have had the opportunity to develop his skill and power to far greater heights.
Despite Constantine freely admitting that he previously used Gary for his money and for all Constantine’s duplicity and untrustworthiness, Gary still admires him and aspires to be the kind of mage Constantine presents himself as, despite lacking the necessary skill and guile. In spite of Constantine’s self-loathing and Gary existing at the mercy of a heroin addiction, the two of them manage to ignite a faint spark of their old friendship, and after they circumvent the security of a museum housing a mystical knife required to defeat Mnemoth, they almost look like they’re enjoying themselves; the thrill of cooperative duplicity taking them back to when they were young men full of the heady joy of life, before the failed exorcism of Nergal exposed them to the true terrors that the world of the supernatural hides behind the seductive facade of a quick path to power.
Although Hellblazer falls squarely into the urban fantasy category, it was always first and foremost a horror comic, and this adaptation of its initial story doesn’t shy away from it. The desiccated corpses left in Mnemoth’s wake continue to silently scream the agony and suffering of their final breaths, while the thought of a swarm of insects clawing their way down your throat is enough to make you nauseous. The scarification required to bind Mnemoth within a human host serves as a stark reminder that magic is not all rhyming couplets and chromatic prisms, and that power often comes at a cost of surrendering yourself to the darkness within. Also, horror isn’t always about facing hideous monstrosities, but also demons of the internal variety such as the thrall of addiction, the siren song of temptation, the knife twist of betrayal, and the inherent fallibility within us all that is simply a part of what makes us human.
Zed takes more of a back seat in this episode, and since she was on the verge of actually appearing more competent than Constantine it’s probably just as well, with her most significant contribution being using her psychic powers to aid in tracking down Mnemoth. Chas still remains an enigma with little presence, but the very fact he was included in the first place means there are likely bigger plans for him further down the road. Manny likewise pops up to be meaninglessly cryptic, but his appearance reminds us that there are greater forces at work in the shadows, with the encroaching danger referred to with wonderful portentousness as the Rising Darkness. The specifics of what (or even, perhaps, who) it is remains a mystery, but its ultimate revelation will be something to behold.
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