Issue #14 “Touching the Earth”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Elitta Fell
Cover: Dave McKean
Fear is a powerful thing. Scientifically, it is an emotion brought upon by perceived threats that causes changes in brain and organ function, which can lead either to the confrontation or the avoidance of the threat, also known as the fight-or-flight response. After coming across an issue of The Sun depicting him as a “Satanist slayer”, Constantine flees his seaside retreat. While readers today may scoff at the idea of a tabloid paper giving anyone legitimate fear for their life in today’s age of the Internet, The Sun had the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in the country until 2013 and was a firm supporter of Margaret Thatcher and her policies until her resignation in 1990. The high distribution, conservative leaning and the numerous editorial disasters (such as claiming it was literally impossible to get AIDS if you were not a homosexual or a recreational drug user) instills the fear that Constantine and many others would experience throughout the second Hellblazer story arc, The Fear Machine. In comparison to Original Sins, which was more or less comprised of a series of one shots with an overarching narrative, The Fear Machine is a nine part story arc that is much more structured and contained than the opening 12 issues of Hellblazer, with “On the Beach” serving as an intermediary issue tying the arcs together thematically. The opening issue of the arc “Touching the Earth” establishes the themes of fear, family, the downtrodden, and man’s relationship with nature that would be the main focuses of the arc as well as introducing a number of characters that would remain throughout Delano’s run.
Hitching across the countryside, Constantine avoids a police cruiser that recognizes him and stumbles through the woods to come across a strange young girl named Mercury (or Merc as John calls her). Merc goes against the time worn parental warning of “don’t talk to strangers” as she apparently can see John’s aura which marks him as a good person. Ironically throughout their introduction Constantine is much more worried talking to her then Merc is to him, giving a different perspective on the interaction between adults and children, namely that some are probably just as frightened if not more than the child due to accusations that could arise. Inviting him back to her mobile home, Constantine is welcomed by Merc’s mother Marj and shamanic friend Eddie, and is invited to travel along with them. Constantine inquires if they were part of the Peace Convoy, a nomadic movement of people who follow New Age philosophies and hippies who travelled with others in a convoy between music festivals and fairs.
Driving past Stonehenge, Eddie laments on then imposed 4-mile blockade around the country’s “oldest sacred site, and beats up those who attend to worship,” referring to the Battle of Beanfield, when 553 of 600 attending people for the 1985 Stonehenge free festival were arrested. As well as putting “Albion in chains,” legislation was passed in the Public Order Act of 1986 severely restricting rights of assembly and the number of vehicles legally allowed to travel together with Marj commenting on how various nomadic cultures have been oppressed throughout history as their nature does not allow them to be easily regulated by the ruling government. Nomadic cultures have existed as long as humanity has, to the point in which Eddie argues the lifestyle is ingrained in them, and while the lifestyle decreased severely over the 20th century due to both political and economic reasons, there still exist in estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world today.
Arriving with the rest of the convoy, known as the Freedom Mob, Constantine observes and interacts with the communal lifestyle that is vastly different from what he has experienced to this point. Since his post-Newcastle life Constantine has always tended towards being a loner mostly residing in the hustle-and-bustle of the city, whereas life with the Freedom Mob is much more communal, almost family like and moves at a much slower pace. The different environment puts Constantine on the edge, as he is not entirely sure what to do with himself, as everything comes off alien to him. The closeness of the people within the group is what Constantine finds most uncomfortable, “too many real people who just can’t be slotted into convenient pigeon holes.” Although living in a squat with a bunch of earth magic practicing hippies who think everyone in the world just need to chill out and love the world hardly seems like the real world to Constantine, the people themselves are more real than the tides of those Constantine swathes through in London. The tension Constantine feels is obvious to the rest of the group, who can see through his usual quips and suspect he is running from something but choose not to pry and let him work through things with their supportive words of wisdom.
Along side placing Constantine out of his element, there is a theme of the hunter and the hunted throughout the issue. Constantine fleeing from the seaside because of the tabloid accusations and the police on the highway are obvious and establish the theme in the urban setting; while throughout Constantine’s journey with Marj and company there are many depictions of animals catching prey. While the scenes in the different environments show that there are prevalent aspects in both urban and rural settings, the duality of the hunt is also briefly explored. In the wild animals hunt for sustenance and survival, while man hunts man for persecution in cases outside of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game in which man hunts man for sport. Throughout the arc much of the conflict arises from different dualities of the world and how they all weave together, but for now this issue focuses on how much of a townie Constantine really is, and the hilarity it ensues.
 Constantine being naked in this situation leads to much of his caution, but Merc does not seem to mind other than commenting on the tree tattoo on his butt that Constantine is still unaware of.
 But there are no Russians in this story arc until next issue