Third Worlds : The Wild Card
Annotations By : Adrian Brown
Click Here for issue synopsis
Notes about the cover.
We see John as the Joker - a wild card, a card that can replace any other card in a game.
We can't see his head in the inverted part on the card, I like to think it has a halo to match the horns we can see.
The number three is a powerful number in magic, indicating strength - like a triangle or tripod.
Three is also the number of tasks or ordeals that heroes have to complete in fairy stories. John and Angie are about the embark on three journeys. Also on the cover, Angie is in the dark. More about the butterfly later.
We find John and Angie in Brazil.
Juliema to be exact. And where is it ?
Well, I can't find a place of that name, but it's near the site of the Parliament of Trees which is at the source of the River Téfé - as established by Alan Moore's John Constantine in Swamp Thing #47.
Altitude (feet) 144 Lat (DMS) 3° 22' 0S Long (DMS) 64° 42' 0W to be even more exact.
The disembodied narrator's voice of this issue is Angie.
She wonders how John arranged the flights without tickets, which we have seen before. (first explained to Tim Hunter by Boston Brand aka Deadman in Books of Magicas as "riding the synchronicity freeway".)
"The British Museum reading room" is a spectacular round building with books around the walls.
I understand that our host, Mr Carey, has been known to go there for research purposes.
"The lock-up in Streatham" is a garage in South London, usually rented out for storage by dodgy dealers and rarely used just for cars. Hiding his "special books" there is not a bad idea.
But I wonder what his connections with the Vatican were ? They are known to have a big occult library (qv any horror film with religious connotations - Stigmata, End of Days (where Arnie plays "Constantine").
Okay - Angie's found out about this in a short space of time, and it leads me to observe that Mike Carey's Constantine has been seen to prepare for all these adventures !
Remember that Angie was at the Totentanz gig before she went down to rescue Jason.
And this bloke isn't going to take advantage of her either.
Bar O Jardim - The Garden Bar. And we're not even in Eden yet.
Note that the bar has "Blue Bals" which is a play on words, not unrelated to the following, the drink is actually Blue Bols.
We meet Paho Bokhari who is expecting John. That's an asian (Indian ?) surname by the way.
One of Mr Goterrez's henchmen has a fine Salamander tattooed on his neck.
And there's that joker, again, a symbol of Constantine - the trickster - in more ways than one.
John is here to ask Swamp Thing for help, since the former location of the Parliament of Trees is probably a safer place than the Louisiana Swamp. The destruction of the Parliament of Trees was described as "one year later" in 1996. John says that the place is still burnt ash after four years. Clearly arcs don't contain issues one month apart. The most recent three issues have taken place over three days, as Angie says on page 1. But there is a tension building up, as John is around his fiftieth birthday, of the sort which usually means established comics characters need to reboot their ages every so often.
When John was here with "Alec" the first time in Swamp Thing #47 (1986), he wore decidedly more comfortable clothing - loose shirt and a rather fetching headband. But this story does take place in the evening, so maybe he thought it was going to be cooler ? (50 degrees instead of 90 !)
Potassium + ash = Pot Ash, an old time fertiliser.
John notes that this should have enhanced the re-growth of the area.
That's a mighty fine depiction of Swampy. When he first came here he was rejected by the Parliament, who dwarfed him - even the minor members. Perhaps that's why he left the site as a circle of ash.
There should be a river closer than shown on page 3 though.
It's a poignant fact that Téfé was named after the river that leads away from the Parliament, and sure enough that echoes her role in the history of the Green, despite her original purpose to protect it.
On this map, the river is conveniently unmarked, and is the third southward tributary along after the Rio Solimoens leaves Peru. (Jutay, Jurua, then unmarked Téfé) These days, that's included as part of The Amazon)
For a better look, here's NASA's photo.
Anyway, the source is in the west of Brazil near Bolivia (to where The Daintees informed us, you can't catch a boat).
Mark Millar's tale of Swamp Thing's apotheosis showed the Parliament destroyed in flames by The Word (of God) - in Swamp Thing #167 (1996). Téfé was said to be "here in Patagonia" by her governess, Lady Jane.
Perhaps they had been off down south in Argentina or Chile ? Which is where Patagonia is.
Or perhaps her late-Victorian geography was poor.
You'll need the excellent Swamp Thing Chronology to find out more about the Parliament and Lady Jane.
(I mean, who knew that Nergal was a character from the heyday of the Phantom Stranger ? More Fun comics #67 - 1941)
John lit a match the last time he met the Swamp Thing, which was a wishing match that stripped Swampy of his power.
"Aah so you can still do the other three elements then ?"
A reference to Swamp Thing's quest to become the elemental for Earth, Wind, Fire and Water in Millar's run.
A game of poker between business associates.
In the first panel, Sr Goterrez has a number card partially showing, it must be the Ten of Hearts.
In the second panel he has 10, K, A in his hand. We don't know what his fifth card is.
"The house stands pat" means that the dealer has not changed any cards from the deal.
Bokhari is out of the hand. Nuno suggests Ace high will win the hand.
Nuno seems to be signalling with his right hand, the other player folds. Note that Nuno's right hand has a signet ring with "N" - makes it easier to follow the game.
Goterrez displays his full hand. He now has a full house of Hearts, having exchanged two (10 diamonds and King) from his previous hand.
Goterrez's belt is somehow significant to Bokhari.
Nice symbolism in those first two panels.
The clenched fist and the delicate touch require to hold a butterfly.
no-mind - Ryokan (1758-1831).
The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind;
The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind.
The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
I don't know others,
Others don't know me.
By not-knowing we follow nature's course.
John's not so impressed with his quip about Zen Buddhism.
"The sound of one hand clapping" is a concept referred to in Buddhist teachings. It probably became the best known phrase, with the popularity of Buddhism in the Sixties.
John uses the burnt-out Parliament of Trees as an ash tray. Typical Constantine !
The Swamp Thing's dislike of Constantine goes back to that original story, but when it comes down to it, he also trusts John in important matters. The "paradox of getting off your arse" is Zen Constantinism. If you do nothing, you can't go too far.
John informs Swampy of the reason for him asking for help.
The muck-encrusted monster has known several friends and enemies come back from the dead, not least his wife, Abby.
John recaps the info he was given by the Lukhavim (issue 181).
Thanks to John for translating the latin here. Saves me some time !
John landing on the butterfly reminds me of an excellent story by Ray Bradbury "A Sound of Thunder". You can read the whole thing here.
In summary, time travellers step off the path in a pre-historic dinosaur hunt, accidentally killing a single butterfly and totally changing their own time into a fascistic nightmare.
Swampy going off on foot is funny. He probably doesn't want John watching while discorporates into the Green.
The four-handed game is over, but Goterrez and Bokhari have unfinished business.
It seems Goterrez is also some sort of magician-mobster.
He suggests a spell on his house has left Bokhari labelled "ladrao" (robber), but this may be a metaphorical reference to his bodyguards as his "house".
It has been pointed out by Luis M Rosa, on the Straight to Hell forum, that the wrong Portuguese word for "deck" is used here. "Conves" is the deck of a ship. Mike Carey is contrite.
The reason for Bokhari's confrontation of Goterrez has something to do with Elena and the belt Goterrez is wearing. Actually, John and Paho have not yet swapped places at this point.
"acho que vou vomitar" - "I find that I go to vomit" or 'I think i'm gonna throw up'
"posso, Tomaz" - 'I can, Tomaz. '
"a beer se faz favor" - 'A beer, please.'
Angie's upset at being kept waiting, but then just how upset can a person be, sat in a bar in Brazil rather than a cafe in Liverpool ?
Note that John says "one down, one to go" he is referring to Paho (see final page).
This is a lovely page, almost cinematic story-telling.
Of course, Bokhari is stalling...
... until John gets his message.
When John takes the card from Angie, the trick is set up. (In some card games, a scoring hand is called a trick.)
The Ace of Spades often signals an ordeal or challenge to come, but it can also mean a learner becoming adept.
Note that John's sentence is apparently finished by Paho. Some people missed this on first reading, but they have swapped bodies. The most excellent example of this in popular culture is the film "All of Me" where Steve Martin and Lili Tomlin have all sorts of gender-based hijinks - notably when "she" has to learn to walk like a man in Steve Martin's body. This was back when Martin made funny films rather than "family" films.
Those of you who are disgruntled about Keanu Reeves playing Constantine in the film should note that Ted "Theodore" Logan also did this trick - although he was a dead dude when he did.
John (now Paho) looks pleased, but then he was expecting this.
Meanwhile John in Paho is realising the trick.
And Constantine is apparently speaking fluent Portuguese.
"vai tomar no cu, filho de puta" means "Go fuck yourself in the ass, you son of a bitch". You could also translate this way: "kiss my ass, you son of a bitch". (Thanks to Fernando for translating from Brazilian).
Angie realises that something is wrong.
But Paho's not fast enough. (Did he really want to get away and leave John in trouble ?)
Goterrez knows something of magic, referring to the body-swap as a borrowing.
John understands the sort of dealer that Goterrez is, and offers his dodgy soul as part of the deal.
A classic poker player's bluff ?
John's comment about thinking they were playing gin rummy is just a Constantine quip. If he had a good hand in rummy, it could be quite good in poker as long as it was pairs and threes rather than a straight.
Also the hands are very different in rummy.
Goterrez has a soul in that belt. Elena's - I wonder if he used it on her in order to bind her there ?
John has pretty much worked out Paho's plan by the look of things.
Angie has the same healthy mistrust of John, which comes down to gambling on him in a crisis.
The vignette of a bird-eating spider (Theraphosa blondi) suggests that a trap has been sprung.
Goterrez has the highest full house, hence his big gamble.
But John/Paho's fairly mundane four of a kind beats it.
In a game without wild cards, only a straight flush could beat it (a royal flush being the highest).
Of course, in this game the wild card is not in the pack.
The bluff is actually a double bluff. Paco/John had the hand all along, and pretended that he was gambling desperately to get Goterrez to give up Elena's soul (the belt).
Camilo instantly enacts Goterrez's demand that "all debts are settled tonight" by stabbing him.
Obviously Goterrez had recruited a reluctant workforce.
Camilo intends to enact that debt-settling to the very letter. Interesting to note that he believes the luck of the cards is so symbolic.
Now John (as Paho) seems to suggest that he was in on the trick from the start, which shows good acting skills on his part to complete the bluff. It also suggests that he made Paho sweat by dragging out how long he waited to carry out the swap. Paho pays up with the information he promised John.
John's off to Eden. The second of the Third Worlds.
Once again, the number three.
The three worlds represented in the advance solicitations are Earth (Brazil/Swamp Thing), Heaven (Iraq/Eden) and Hell (Tasmania/"The Pit").