Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 16

Issue #18 “Hate Mail and Love Letters”

Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Mark Buckingham, Alfredo Alcala
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Elitta Fell
Cover: Dave McKean

As stated previously, The Fear Machine’s main focus is on dichotomies. Most prominently is that of fear and love, but also of man and woman, control and freedom, urban and rural, and the oppressed and the oppressors. “Hate Mail and Love Letters” touches on all of these dichotomies, and as the title of the issue suggests, does so through a series of letters that stand in for the usual style of narration. From a narrative standpoint it gives the scenes a natural flow in terms of pacing, and each letter and accompanying scene directly opposes the previous in either tone or setting.

Picking up 2 months after the previous issue “Hate Mail and Love Letters” open with the suicide of Joanie Talbot, wife of respectable police officer Geoffrey Talbot, who serves as a narrative linchpin for the rest of the story arc set in London. Joanie has been secretly hiding threatening hate mail her husband has been receiving because of internal investigations he has been conducting. Not wanting to see him quit the force because of her, she succumbs to the pressure and fear ultimately taking her own life. Whereas some characters endure because of the love they hold in their hearts to overcome fear, Joanie succumbs to it, afraid of the man he would end up becoming should he resign from the police force. It is a bleak depressing scene that like other opening scenes in Hellblazer comes off a little perplexing but is of great importance later in the issue and in the storyline.

Going from the dreary rain of London to the bright cloudless skies of Scotland, the transition to Marj’s letter to John is so stark that is almost makes the reader forget that an elderly woman just slit her wrists in the bathtub on the previous page. Marj’s heartfelt letter describes the idyllic setting of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and its inhabitants, all the while expressing a profound longing for John and Mercury to be there with her. The scene also reintroduces Zed, who aside from the piercing eyes appears as a different character entirely, the Bride of Frankenstein hair replaced with an otherwise shaved head and top knot. Zed’s prior inclusion in Hellblazer established her as a magically attuned character and her reintroduction as a tribal leader of sorts foreshadows her coming importance to the story. Marj’s letter ties together the environmental harmony theme with that of sexuality and fertility. Across the camp, lush fruit grows, statues of womanhood and fertility stand across the grounds, and the inhabitants of the camp openly display their sexuality and passion in front of others, with acts of fornication being “dedicated to the earth.” Marj and the Freedom Mob live by the “love the earth” mindset, but the Pagan Nation actually love the Earth in a sense beyond living an environmentally conscious lifestyle. It is an idyllic peaceful scene in an otherwise dark and depressing issue.

Returning to the dark rainy streets of London, John’s letter is more of a somber tone than Marj’s. The main focus of John’s letter is his encounter with Detective Chief-Inspector Geoffrey Talbot, who reveals that John was never wanted for the murders that The Sun accused him off, just that the police needed to give the press something. The first time back in London since the events of Original Sins, Talbot is the first police officer John is seen to be on somewhat good terms with (also, the first named member of the police force in the series). He is the closest thing John has to a friend, other than Chas, in London. The encounter mostly serves for exposition of Talbot’s background as a man loyal to the law, and how he’s been hiding the hate mail from his wife do to the corruption he’s uncovered, ultimately concluding with the discover of his wife’s suicide. Returning to his hotel, the gay couple running the desk laud over how one of their tenants, Simon Hughes, had a piece published in The Guardian about suicides in connection with Geotroniks. Constantine decides to pay him a visit only to discover someone has tried to hang him in his closet.

The final text is the journal that Mercury keeps while imprisoned by Geotroniks, which serves mainly as exposition further giving clues to Geotroniks’ goals. Like Corporal Morgan from the previous issue, Mercury’s psychic abilities are being used with the megalithic stones. Her deeds however are much more kind and noble than the actions Morgan performed under Webster. Mercury is acting as a psychic surgeon of sorts going into the minds of people suffering from extreme terrors that have caused them to be institutionalized and temporarily removing the fears from their minds. The fears are then stored in a Ghostbusters-like mental storage facility, of which Mercury remarks that something is growing inside of[1]. The issue also shows the difference in operating styles between The Director, and Webster, who is absent this issue. Although it is revealed that both are Freemasons, their personalities could not differ more, with Webster being a brutal demanding overseer while The Director behaves more like that of a meek low level manager, someone with aspirations and end goals, but loathing having to answer to his own superiors.

Set once again in the familiar streets of London, Part 5 of The Fear Machine continues to add more characters and subplots to the story arc with the introduction of Talbot, Hughes, Freemasons, and the extraction and containment of fears. While The Fear Machine is the longest storyline in the series equaled only by Death and Cigarettes (the final Hellblazer arc), and because of such a length can feel a little overwhelming due to the varying art team and scope of the story, “Love Letters and Hate Mail” starts connecting the dots and progressing the story towards its conclusion, albeit slowly.

Notes:

1. The patient Mercury treats in this issue suffers from a fear of “Bombsite Bill,” a figure who lived in bombed out houses in London during World War II, and sold “black market bacon” to the citizens of London. If tales can be believed this person actually did exist, reportedly being a large gaudily dressed Roma man residing among the bombed out streets of Spitafield and Whitechapel who reportedly always had the freshest meat in the city.

2. Davis and others of Geotroniks are excluded from this statement due to the fact that they are impersonating police force members.

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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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