Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 20

Issue #23 “Larger Than Life”

Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Dean Motter, Ron Tiner
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Letters: Elitta Fell
Cover: Dave McKean

Without a doubt, the most memorable aspect of fiction are the characters—figures that transcend the page and remain within the minds of the readers long after the story has finished book has been put down. Famous characters tend to outlive their creators, in both notoriety and popularity in some cases. While you would be hard pressed to find a random individual on the street who doesn’t know who Peter Pan and Captain Hook are, would those same people be able to tell you who came up with the character? Some would say Walt Disney due to the 1953 animated adaptation of the original play and subsequent novel, or some would probably say they didn’t know (It’s J.M. Barrie, which I’ll admit I had to look up). Nevertheless the image of a boy in green tights with elven ears is immediately recognizable as are many other colorful literary characters in “Larger Than Life.”

As is typical of the medium, the supposed status quo changing events of The Fear Machine have in fact done nothing to the status quo. Constantine cynically comments that maybe humanity is too slow or stupid to take the chance to write the brilliant future that could have been, but shrugs it off with a thought of “better luck next time.” It’s a brief scene tying the events of the prior arc into the larger narrative of the series, and pokes fun at how there shall always be another world threatening event that shall have to be dealt with by someone. For now, the larger problem facing Constantine is an empty wallet, so he heads to sell off some of his demonic tainted blood to Jerry O’Flynn, a collector and dealer of rare occult items. As Constantine reaches his door, a blind figure with a walking stick barges past him to give O’Flynn a black spot on a piece of paper. O’Flynn and Constantine realize that this is in fact Blind Pew and that this encounter foretells the coming doom for O’Flynn just as Blind Pew did for Billy Bones in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. O’Flynn laments that many of his acquaintances over the years have been authors that have wrote him into their books, and that the fictional versions of himself have become more “real” than he has by stealing his persona and making money off of it[1]. In comparison to Constantine’s dialog, which has a casual and informal meter to it, as if an actual person was talking with a close friend, O’Flynn’s dialog is much more structured and formal, feeling out of place and “literary,” denoted by phrases such as “I had arisen a little after noon, having celebrated well the successful conclusion of my previous day’s business” when recalling how Sherlock Holmes had visited him seeking cocaine, his first indication that he is being haunted by fictional characters.

Realizing there is nothing to do about this absurdity, Constantine suggests O’Flynn wait out the storm and try to act less literary. Fleeing O’Flynn’s house after an encounter with The Big Bad Wolf, the pair end up in a bar only to slowly realize it is packed with fictional characters. Most notable is Hamlet who is drinking at the bar while mourning over his dead father. At first it is not entirely obvious this is Hamlet, just some begrieved Scandinavian man, but after some clues in his dialog and the obvious “Ophelia…Ophelia” it becomes fairly obvious, with the reader going “Ah ok Hamle, very clever.” This scene and much of the issue brings up how we think of the fictional characters as Hamlet or Tarzan, not as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan (the character immediately comes to mind, with the author commonly as an afterthought)—not to say that we don’t know whom the author of these characters are, but these characters have surpassed their creator and become figures themselves with the many different interpretations over time. The issue concludes with a surreal kangaroo court in a library, in which O’Flynn is sentenced to remain in Book Limbo until the possibility of his character entering the public domain. While the precise ruling varies from country to country, copyright tends to expire 70 years after the death of the original author.

After the conclusion of The Fear Machine, “Larger Than Life” comes as a welcome humorous change to the world-threatening nine issue Masonic plot that came before it. The issue is packed full of nods and references to well-known stories in nearly every panel and makes the reader consider how characters are in fact larger than life that have the possibility to long outlive their original creators, which many writers certainly hope that they will. Will Constantine survive long enough to make it to the public domain? Given the legal disputes that have risen in the comics industry over the years it may seem unlikely, but only time will tell.

Notes:

1. Ironically, Jerry O’Flynn’s appearance and mannerisms closely resemble British actor Brian Blessed, continuing the British Invasion trend of basing characters off real people.

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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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