Hellblazer #6 “Extreme Prejudice”
Art: John Ridgeway
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Dave McKean
Just as when the term “magic” is presented and certain images come to mind, “skinhead” also conjures certain images. Seen prior either tormenting a Pakistani shopkeeper or defacing a wall with their gang name, The British Boys, have been Hellblazer’s resident skinheads throughout the first handful of issues. Originally, skinheads were a subculture started in London by working class youths during the 1960s that emulated Jamaican street culture, gaining the name “skinhead” for their close cropped or shaved heads, but by the late 1970s and onward the term generally became synonymous to someone who is a Neo-Nazi. Although there are skinheads that are either apolitical or lean to the far-left, The British Boys’ hate crimes place them on the far-right, which have gotten them a chiding from Constantine when the two cross paths.
Opening with a Molotov cocktail blowing up outside of a Pakistani owned convenience store, “Extreme Prejudice” places The British Boys front and center for the issue. Exposition relates that, despite their differences, for now they are united against a common foe. Although intolerant of many different cultures, the British Boys’ hatred toward homosexuals tops all others, as they are known for “messing around with kids”(1) and “spreading diseases.” Seeing a lone man in a trench coat with an upturned collar the British Boys label him as a “queer” and seek to rough him. The boys instead encounter a demon who meets their threat with a jest. This issue features scenes paralleling the actions of the demon, Nergal, and John Constantine, who has been tailing the British Boys out of curiosity. As we see the demise of the British Boys at the hands of Nergal, with the rough chaotic panels that John Ridgeway has made use of thus far, Constantine slowly strolls up to the restroom to discover the horror within with the traditional square panels of the medium. To both of them this seems second nature, as we know Constantine is often attracted to weirdness and horror and Nergal eviscerating people is suitably demonic. Remarking on the lack of bodies alongside discovery of blood splattered walls and the phrase “Damnation Army,” Constantine surmises that whomever did this left through a service hatch to the sewers, but since he is in his good coat there’s no way he’s following, reinforcing his self-centered nature to the reader. Not brushing the killing of 4 youths off entirely, as a member of the Damnation Army was responsible for the incident with his niece Gemma in issue #4, Constantine decides to investigate from a pub, where all good things are learnt throughout Hellblazer. Although the specific location changes throughout the series, pubs are one of the most common settings within the series, stories are often traded between characters and they occasionally serve to deliver exposition.
Returning to Zed’s apartment Constantine overhears members of the Resurrection Crusade talking with Zed, calling her “Mary” and that she needs to return to them. After threats from Zed and and Constantine, the Crusaders back off. Constantine attempts to dig a little information out of Zed but her response is abrasive but he assures her that he is only trying to help. This statement is mostly true, as Constantine does have strong feelings for Zed and owes her for helping save Gemma, but is looking for information about the Damnation Army and Resurrection Crusade to satiate his high-risk lifestyle. However, at this point Constantine has realized he’s waited a bit too long to carefully plan things out to give him any sort of advantage. Such a realization marks the beginning of times when things spiral out of Constantine’s control, which will eventually lead to the suffering of others, whether he realizes it or not.
Nergal returns to his lair with the remains of the British Boys, he shapes the corpses of the four British Boys into one large four headed, eight-legged, six-handed monstrosity to go and kill Constantine and “The Mary”. He remarks on how he hopes Constantine likes his joke but figures it will be lost on them. The joke in which Nergal is referring to is in reference to the events of Newcastle in 1978 when a botched summoning ritual left Constantine holding a severed hand of a girl he failed to save as she was dragged to Hell, with Nergal being the demon from the ritual unbeknownst to Constantine. As Nergal’s mockery shambles off, Delano and Ridgeway present another scene contrasting the actions of Nergal and Constantine, the act of carnal pleasure. As before with the bathroom slaughter the way the two indulge in sex is displayed here. For Nergal, his followers clamor over him in an orgiastic manner “soothing his carcass with debauchery”, what we do see of the scene is well lit and has hands and mouths exploring the demons body. Conversely, Zed and John indulge in something more poetic and personal, the room is full of shadows and there is an emphasis of the two exploring each other to “synthesize a brief universe of peace” that they find in each other’s grasp, whereas Nergal is trying to free his mind to better direct his British Boy monstrosity. Each scene has the same goal, but for different ends, Nergal wants peace to conduct acts of violence on the humans above, while Zed and John want peace for peace’s sake, to bask in the post orgasmic glow and not worry about their troubles.
Reaching the surface, a full view of Nergal’s monstrosity Ironfist the Avenger is given, with an unsettling misshapen Frankenstein body, but slightly comical with its excess of limbs. There is a narration on how the four British Boys feel closer than ever due to now sharing one body, and that nothing can ever become between them as they are no longer “isolated by fear” as they were before. This speaks to the notion that any male, teenager or otherwise, that is too close or is open about their fears and feelings with another is often mocked as being gay, queer, or any other demeaning term. This is something not just common within British Skinheads, but throughout much of Western society, as males being open about their feelings and admitting to their faults is often presented behavior that should be avoided as it is supposedly non-masculine. Ironfist smashes its way into the building, only to be gaped and laughed at by John at how ridiculous the monster is. Constantine notices one of the arms has a tattoo supporting the football club Arsenal, while another has a tattoo for Chelsea, and tricks the Monster into literally ripping itself apart over this, it is a wonderful scene of irony when remembering the opening of the issue which had the British Boys putting that difference aside in favor of a greater common enemy. Fleeing for safety, John notices his friend’s Ray’s shop has been boarded up due to rumors of him having AIDs and the repercussions of such rumors, which are in fact true, tying into the theme of intolerance that is depicted throughout the issue.
The issue concludes with Constantine thinking about the themes that the issue has focused on fear, prejudice, and it’s victims. Hate crimes are very much still something that exist in the world and the issue touches on the many different people that suffer under them, and that hatred outlives the hateful. A scene with Ray and John is particularly moving and really captures the state of fear that was going through society with the outbreak of AIDs, and the grief that Ray is suffering from because of this. It is human nature to fear what is different and what we don’t understand. It’s how the human race has survived. But history has taught us that fear can’t held on to forever or nothing will ever progress, and eventually things will decay and perish. Frankly, that may be a worse fate than perishing to what we fear.
(1) As can be seen in future issues and in novels such as Frank Herbert’s Dune, with the character of Baron Harkonnen, pedophilia or even implied pedophilia is often depicted as a characteristic of an ultimate evil.