Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 13

Issue #15 “Shepherd’s Warning”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Elitta Fell
Cover: Dave McKean

Throughout Hellblazer, Constantine remarks how weirdness is attracted to him, how no matter how much of a normal life he tries to live at times, a bug infested junkie or a prophetic girl with Bride of Frankenstein hair just happens to find its way into his life resulting in some sort of supernatural adventure of sorts. Mind that Constantine does not lament this intrusion into his life because of his general interest in the supernatural and the bizarre that is sometimes referred to as an addiction. Thus it should come to no surprise that the weirdness catches up to him in “Shepherd’s Warning” and the overall story of The Fear Machine begins to take course.

Normally Constantine is displayed as a pretty trim and clean fellow when in his natural environment of the city. His appearance in the first issue of the series has him cleanly shaven with well-maintained hair and a clean suit despite just returning from abroad. However, when put into situations where he is either out of his element or under great duress is when he takes on a much more unkempt appearance usually indicated by his facial hair. When visiting Gotham in issue #9 after being infused with demonic blood and facing the repercussions of it, his clothes become dingy, his face is covered with stubble and his hair is greasy mess, his physical presence matching his emotional state. From his appearance in issue #15 some time has passed since the previous tale as he now is sporting a full beard and longer hair, he doesn’t display the depression of his prior shabbiness but instead has a more relaxed look about him, as he is growing more accustomed to his new lifestyle, a lifestyle that he is growing to like.

Awakening one morning, he approaches a member of the Freedom Mob named Myra by a pond who he thinks fancies him. She immediately tells him to keep her distance, as she “knows about him” explaining that she saw the tabloid cover he was on featured last issue, and that she thinks he is here to steal Eddie’s shamanic powers. Not believing that the story is a lie and believing that Constantine already charmed Eddie, Constantine tries to calm her down via hypnotism which works to an extent but not without her being aware of his mental intrusion. Constantine’s narration shows his cynicism that something will spoil living with the Freedom Mob eventually and after his failed attempt to hide his background he wonders if perhaps he is that something. Reflecting on his actions towards Myra he realized that he had no right to do what he did, that he “was taking advantage, not much better than rape” and acted out of fear, despite that Myra and Eddie have known for some time about his Satanic accusations and have not yet confronted him about it in the time he has been with the Freedom Mob.  Given that his friends have had the tendency to die from association with him, his cynicism may not be misplaced.

Seeking to cool off and clear his head Constantine takes a stroll through the countryside with Mercury in tow. The two end up following a ley line through a field in an effort to absorb some of the positive energy that flows through it to better them spiritually. Although the term was first used by British archaeologist Alfred Watkins in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track in 1921 in his attempts to identify ancient trackways in Britain during the neolithic times that have persisted throughout history, in the context of The Fear Machine Ley lines are being used more in the sense of John Mitchell’s use from his book The View Over Atlantis (1969). Drawing on the Chinese concept of feng shui, in his book Mitchell associates ley lines with spiritual and mystical theories about alignments of land forms, giving the term the New Age association that ley lines are mostly known for now. Constantine and Mercury come to a closed off site of megalithic stones on the ley line they are following with the logo of Geotronik Research and Development on the surrounding barb wire fence. Mercury feels fear permeating throughout the site and enters and is grabbed by a security guard. John feigns being Mercury’s father to the guard’s superiors to get out of the situation, which Mercury later tells him she really liked being called his “little girl.” The scene marks the first time we see Mercury acting like an actual child, as opposed to the child “who could be any age between one and a hundred” when first encountered. Particularly how she bats her firsts against the security guard and asks John the very childlike yet haunting question of “why are there always bad people in the world?” Before John can interact with this childlike Mercury to a great extent she brushes these feeling off returns to her more aloof mature nature.

Back at camp Constantine tries to apologize to Myra for earlier, in which she feigns acceptance and gives John fly agaric mushroom[1] laced tea as payback. The following 10 pages document the drugs onset, trip, and come down, with the art getting more chaotic as the trip progresses. Throughout most of the issue various hues of green are used extensively to represent the natural surroundings but under effects of the mushrooms pink, purple and yellow hues replace the greens. Constantine spends most of the scene trying to get a grasp on the drug as he wanders off once again along the ley line. He encounters a Russian speaking scientist who hooks up an electronic device with a set of neural trodes to a megalithic stone. The scientist starts convulsing and bashes his head against the stone while Constantine experiences horrific visions from his past and of things awaiting him in his future. The scene is great in displaying the harshness of the mushroom trip and the power of the ley lines when accessed but the inclusion of the Russian scientist is perplexing until much later in the arc. Constantine returning later to see the blood is in fact just lichen adds to the confusion of the scene, but given the length of the arc and the psychedelic trip, it makes sense from a narrative standpoint that not everything makes immediate sense at this point.

Returning after his drug trip, Constantine stumbles into Marj’s RV “The Heart of Gold” seeking a warm place to sleep. The name of the RV is fitting considering how Marj immediately takes in John which ultimately leads to John and Marj making love. Mentally comparing the emotional impact of this sex to sex with Zed, John remembers overhearing that she is still alive as he was coming onto his drug trip. Like the Russian scientist it’s a throwaway line meant to slowly build up the various plot lines of the story, as the Zed we eventually see is much different than the Zed last encountered. The post-orgasmic bliss interrupted by the presence of Mercury, Constantine and Marj chide the girl, all the while Constantine thinks about the familial sense that the place evokes, and how it’s worth fighting for. While ending on a primarily upbeat note as far as issues of Hellblazer go, “Shepherd’s Warning” plants the first seeds of the weirdness that one expects from the series, subtly introducing antagonists while matching Constantine’s cynical expectations that things have to spoil eventually, as the police lurking outside the RV in the final panel of the issue clearly show.

[1] Narration indicates fly agaric is what Viking berserkers used to take prior to battle to get them into a bloodlust, but they also have a striking resemblance to the mushrooms in the Super Mario Bros. series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Nestorowich is a Michigan Technological University graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering. To keep his sanity in the perpetual winter of Houghton, in his free time he dove head first into exploring all that comics had to offer, which worked to a certain extent. He eventually started writing about them at every opportunity, settling on a blog at some point. When not reading, watching, or writing something, Max can be found in the Analytical Chemistry Lab in which he finds employment, doing science.

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Also by Max Nestorowich:

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