Garth Ennis’s Knights of the Sky, Part Four: Finest Hour: “I think I owe you something.”

Posted by on January 24th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

To understand Garth Ennis’s attitude about wars, and the people who fight them, it’s worth looking way back to 1993’s Hellblazer story “Finest Hour” (issue 71).

In it, John Constantine is hitting bottom.  He’s homeless, alone, wandering along the Thames, just out of London, blacked-out drunk.  He stumbles, falls, passes out.  He collapses in the overgrown weeds right beside the skeletonized remains of a WWII fighter pilot, not too far from the remnant of his Hurricane.  And of course, Constantine being Constantine, the memory of that pilot’s last few minutes invade his unconscious mind:

“Jamie Kilmartin, 1922-1940, never slept with a woman and two kills to his credit —”  He’s been hit, and his plane is going down.  There’s nowhere to land, and he’s too low to bail out.  There’s nothing he can do, yet he continues to fight it all the way down.  As the engine sputters out, Jamie remembers something his commander said — or rather, shouted.

The conversation began civilly enough.  Grant, the squadron leader, was “sitting pissed as a fart under his aircraft.”  Jamie went to check on him, and Grant offered him the bottle.  “I come out here every night, Kilmartin.  Have a good think about who didn’t come back today, and who won’t come back tomorrow.  And not a bloody thing I can do about it, either.”

“Well —” Jamie begins.  “It’s something we all worry about, isn’t it, sir?  When Old Man Death’s going to come calling. . . .  You just accept it, don’t you?”

This would not seem an acceptable reply.  Grant grabs Jamie, throws him against the plane.  He shouts:  “You stupid little bastard! . . .  You don’t accept death!  You don’t humanize it! . . .  You fight it to your last bloody drop — otherwise, you’re nothing.  Otherwise — why did you even bother in the first place?”

Jamie takes this lesson to heart and, later, trapped in a smoking, failing, shot-to-pieces plane, keeps trying, keeps fighting, all the way until it hits the ground.

Constantine takes it to heart, too.  He wakes up, goes back into the city, scams himself some money.  He gets a room and a new suit, bathes, shaves and once again begins to look like himself.  Then he goes back to the overgrown side to the Thames, shovel in hand, and buries the pilot.  As he does, he asks:  “What were you like?  Were you an arse-hole who fought with For the Empire on your lips, or a stupid kid who didn’t think at all?  Did you want a better world for the children that you’d have, and try to carve it out with fire and iron?”

He answers the question himself.  Or rather, he dismisses it:

“Whatever,” he shrugs.  “You never gave up.  You knew the precious thing you had, and you scraped and clawed and fought to the last drop of blood for life — and I think I owe you something, mate.”

Art by Steven Dillon. Images ©1993 DC Comics

Next:  Mutiny and Mercy

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.