Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 14

Issue #16 “Rough Justice”
Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Elitta Fell
Cover: Dave McKean

During the opening issues of The Fear Machine, we have seen Constantine adapt to a new communal lifestyle that is very much the opposite of Constantine’s previous life. After being ingrained in the dingy urban lifestyle for so long, Constantine sees his new rural dwelling as a welcome change of pace that he is growing to like. When recalling the events of the first 13 issues of the series, and all the death and destruction associated with them, it is clear to see why. Whereas Original Sins dealt primarily with the establishment of Constantine’s character and dealing with the anguish that his actions have caused, intentional or otherwise, The Fear Machine is more of a plot driven storyline. While the first two issues primarily serve to setting the stage and introducing the concepts that the storyline will deal with, “Rough Justice” serves to propel the characters forward into the plot of the arc.

Picking up immediately where the previous issue left off, the issues opens with Mercury having a dream of Fulton, the scientist from Geotroniks that she and Constantine briefly encountered in the previous issue, being killed pushed off a bridge and hung. A panel shows a round portly face as the person who is executing Fulton, but the reveal that this is in fact Webster, the main adversary of the story arc, is slowly done over the course of the next 4 issues. For now, like the Russian Scientist who bashed his head against the megalithic stone in the previous, the issue stands only as a mystery. Awoken by the nightmare, police outside raid the Freedom Mob’s encampment under supposed charges of trespassing. The police, who lack badges, names, or insignia, capture Marj and Merc under direction of Fulton and a character only referred to as The Director. The scene is reminiscent of the treatment that Peace Convoy members faced at Stonehenge in 1985, with the lack of identification to signify that these are not normal riot police. Throughout the entire raid, Mercury acts again in her wise-beyond-her-years way, despite crawling in bed with John for comfort minutes prior. She wishes John would stop fighting as he will only get hurt more and tries to hide the fear she is experiencing. Mercury is still very much a child but faces the fear she is feeling with love as opposed to succumbing to it, an overarching message and theme of The Fear Machine.

In the back of the a van with Marj, Mercury wonders if the riot police have eyes behind their visors, or if they are even human. While riot gear serves primarily as protective gear, the blurring or removal of the wearer’s identity dehumanizes the wearer while also acting as a source of intimidation. The dehumanization of authority figures in fictional portrayals, often lead the observer to not really care too much about how many faceless guards are mowed down in the process of defeating the evil authority figure, as for all we know they aren’t even human, even if the “heroes” end up killing more of them than the villains in the story are ever shown. But most of the time they are in fact human with their own stories, who may not be all too proud of what they have to do to survive in the world.[1] Based off this, the unmasking of one of the guards who “for a second looks guilty. Like a boy caught at mischief” causes him to lash out at the reinstatement of his humanity by his oppressor. Saved by the intervention of Fulton, Marj is drugged and left to wander the streets and Mercury is taken away in the van, the entire time more worried about the fate of her mother than of her own, her selfless nature and psychic abilities being why she is captured of course. Arriving at a facility where she is to be held, Mercury is troubled by more dreams of death, this time of a man stabbing his eyes out with scissors, screaming in terror as she awakes. Fulton tries to calm her with his own mental abilities, not unlike how Constantine is apt to do, but Mercury pushes back by showing him how he will die.

The rest of the issue deals with the aftermath of the police raid. John ventures into town to gather information and notes other weirdness that coincided with his mushroom trip of the prior evening, all of which follows the leyline. Finding a dazed Marj in police custody, Constantine returns with her while the Freedom Mob decides what to do next. There’s an argument to go against the oppressors with “lawyers” and stuff, but the majority view being to use magic to assist them with the help of an eco-guerrilla group known as the Pagan Nation is dominant. Marj voices on who is going to “magic” her back to which Constantine responds, freshly shaved with short hair, sunglasses, and wearing a black variant of his signature trenchcoat. A hero’s outfit often reflects his mood and style with black variant costumes usually signifying that things have gotten extremely serious, meriting greater violence. As Constantine’s trenchcoat is the closest thing he has to a costume, his mental and physical state are often reflected by it.[2] Constantine remarks on how he has chosen a side to fight for and what to fight for, “the right of every living thing to live a life in peace and free from interference.” Constantine cynically jokes that the odds are slim, but always liking it when hope is all but lost due to it making things more exciting. If anything it makes for good storytelling.

[1] Grant Morrison  would devote an entire issue of his masterpiece The Invisibles looking into the life of one of the faceless guards killed in the first issue. It is regarded by some as one of the best issues in the series.

[2] Constantine’s trenchcoat would itself become a character in The Devil’s Trenchcoat storyline by Peter Milligan starting in Hellblazer #283.

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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:

Judging Dredd: Examining the World of Judge Dredd


The Mignolaverse: Hellboy and the Comics Art of Mike Mignola


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