Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 28

Issue #32 “New Tricks”

Writer: Dick Foreman
Art: Steve Pugh
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Cover: Kent Williams

Following The Family Man Jamie Delano hands the title off to Dick Foreman before returning to finish his final eight issues. Another British writer, Dick Foreman is best known for his contribution to AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) a book meant to combat the controversial Section 28, which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality by local British government, and for his work on Black Orchid following Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s miniseries that relaunched the character, and like Hellblazer would help to form DC’s Vertigo imprint. Foreman’s contribution to the series is minor in comparison to others but his visceral storytelling in “New Tricks” aided by Steve Pugh’s artwork makes it a certainly memorable encounter.

“New Tricks” as the cover and issue title clearly communicate focuses on dogs, and a string of missing persons that has caught the attention of Constantine. Again this shows Constantine’s danger-junkie lifestyle, as nothing tips him off to anything supernatural about these disappearances other than rumors of  bodies being mangled with torn clothing. In actuality the murders are being done by a gigantic bulldog who has been possessed by the soul of a retired policeman, Drummond. Inspector Drummond  (who bears a resemblance to British actor/bareknuckle boxer Larry McLean) angered by how the police force is being managed, seeing younger officers promoted to positions he “deserves” tries to use magic in an effort to transfer his soul to a younger body. Unable to end up in a younger man’s body, or even in a baby, he ends up inside a bulldog that grows monstrous and demonic looking. Living in a junkyard, Drummond has become “Top Dog” over a vast pack of dogs that have turned to eating human flesh. His plan of course being for dogs to take over the world, of which he shall continue after eating Constantine’s brain. Making Constantine “fetch” an empty dog can, Drummond proceeds to chase him through the yard. In the end Constantine assumes the submissive dog position, which forces Drummond’s hardwired dog brain to stop despite his desire to consume him. Constantine then “cheats” by throwing a peppershaker into his eyes before bashing his head in with a steel pipe, saving the world from a British bulldog overlord.

Despite the grizzly depictions of half devoured bodies and human organs, the issue is surprisingly upbeat. Constantine never really feels at danger and can not stop making quips at Drummond as he’s running for his life. Steve Pugh manages to include a dog at least once on every page as an easter egg of sorts making them whimsical to find once the reader catches on to what he is doing. Also noteworthy of the art is the reveal of Drummond himself. The bulldog is accompanied by a half eaten corpse of a punk rocker lying on his stomach with no flesh below his midsection and the shadowy outline of the bulldog’s genatalia. This position of submission before a demonic canine is not the first instance of this within the series, as was seen before in “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come” in which Constantine’s friend Benjamin Coxis is raped by the Norfulthing that also had canine like features. Man is regarded as the dominant species of the Earth and it is instances when the dominance of man is subverted that it’s shown to be not true within Hellblazer.

While the issue is fairly straightforward from a narrative standpoint, over the past 10 issues and four different writers there has been an underlying theme of basic instincts and suppressed desires. Jamie Delano’s The Family Man has Constantine toying with the notion of what it is to be a murderer and how it affects the individual,  if when the “fight” overtakes the “flight” response killing your adversary can  be justified as well as the hidden desire of Reed Hackett to be part of The Family Man killings. Grant Morrison’s “How I Learned to Love the Bomb” has the hidden and suppressed desires of a town brought forth which leads to their inevitable destruction, while Neil Gaiman’s “Hold Me” touches on humanities basic need for companionship, and how humans acknowledge it when it is genuine or false. “New Tricks” has Drummond being unable to overcome the natural instincts which in the end causes his downfall. Whether or not this was intended it makes the series flow seamlessly from one creative team to another.

Issue #33 “Sundays are Different”

Writer: Jamie Delano
Art: Dean Motter, Mark Pennington
Colors: Tom Zuiko
Letters: Gaspar Saladino
Cover: Kent Williams

Like any character in a story, Constantine has traits and characteristics that he is known for, attributes that define whom he is that and how he acts throughout his adventures. In such instances when these characteristics are either subverted or acted against that we take notice and pause to reflect on what exactly is going on in the story presented. Such is the case of “Sundays are Different” one of Jamie Delano’s most optimistic and at times bizarre issues of Hellblazer.

Instead of the dreary weather that undoubtedly comes to mind when thinking about urban Britain, Constantine awakens to a bright sunny morning hopeful and optimistic, switching off from the dark rampant cynicism of his soul for a while. Walking to buy a bag of apples as opposed to his usual Silk Cut cigarettes you can almost imagine hearing “The Village Green Preservation Society” by The Kinks playing in the background and birds chirping. It’s a scene entirely unlike something we’ve seen in Constantine. While it’s true that the beginning of The Fear Machine had a similar sunny disposition, this was only while John remained in the country, turning to rain immediately as he returned to the city. Traversing the city streets John muses on viewing the ugliness of life as background noise as there is nothing stopping him from doing so. Eventually he encounters Destructo Vermin Gobsmack AKA Martin Peters last seen by Constantine in Hellblazer Annual #1. Now going by his “real name” of Patrick McDonell, Patrick is a much different person from the Coke Dealing, “Nuke Buenos Aires” T-Shirt peddler of the 1980’s. Grabbing lunch with him and his wife Elise at a trendy organic restaurant, we learn Patrick is a man that is defined by the decade, by what is hip and trendy, and what will gain him the most social status with all the right people that people of the ‘70s/’80s/’90s should be associated with. While he expresses his guilt over how he made money off of Constantine the last he saw him, Constantine and the reader know better, knowing he is just trying to save face.

Patrick explains his views on decentralization as the future aided by the “communications revolution”, how more people are leaving the urban areas for greener spaces while still being able to keep track of what’s going on in society, describing the process as “deconstructing the monoliths.” While blazingly hopeful and a bit naive on this, Patrick has a certain insight on the possibilities of the future even though it is only 1990. Currently I am writing this piece in Michigan, before I send it off to Sequart’s webmaster in California, which will then be uploaded to a server that is somewhere and then can be read online by people everywhere. Decentralization happened, but not in the “refined ‘60s” view that Patrick proclaims is coming. Patrick asks if Constantine would house-sit in a blossoming artists community while he and  his wife finish business in the city, Constantine considers being part of it’s a nice sounding world, a quiet peaceful one even. Given the personal conflict of The Family Man and the apocalyptic The Fear Machine one that would be a nice refreshing break for John. However, before Constantine can answer the rich food of his lunch causes him to leave the light of day and head underground to find a restroom.

As Constantine descends into darkness the setting returns to something much more familiar then the quaint streets of only a page prior, eventually coming to a dingy bathroom being cleaned by a janitor that feels more at home for the series. A ying-yang with the word “Turbulence” drawn in a stall starts to warp and the letters become jumbled marking the turning point of the issue.  Ascending from the underground Constantine enters a dark reflection of the world he was just in. Unable to remember what he was doing in the first place Constantine shambles through darkened city streets, the words of signs jumbled like the graffiti of the restroom as is his own speech. Whereas the first half of the issue focuses more on the positive aspects of organized society with the negative aspects hiding in the background, this world flips the perspective with the ugliness forefront for the remainder of the issue. Constantine’s encounters mirror that of the first half with the opposite results, each instance met with adversity and spite.

Eventually Constantine encounters others who are like him, cast out from this society and trying to survive. Following them into a parking garage he sees them throwing electronics onto blazing pyre. When asked what these people are doing the janitor from the bathroom reappears holding what looks like a Rod of Asclepius. The Greek deity Asclepius is associated with healing and medicine and his snake entwined rod is still used in modern times in various medical organizations around the world[1]. The Janitor, who may or may not be Asclepius, remarks that they are “destroying the monuments” as Patrick did, although these people are actually destroying materials goods as opposed to the ideological change that Patrick would like to see. Constantine remarks that he doesn’t understand to which the Janiot says “Why should you? it doesn’t make any sense.” It’s a catchy phrase that those seeking to communicate their beliefs use on others and is vague enough that it can mean various things to those who utter/hear it. Symbolically setting fire to household electronics and expecting some profound change in the world makes as much sense as taking a group of artists and having them live off the grid while still influencing it. Those who partake in such acts would like to think that either of these would have a large effect on society to improve it in one way or another, but in the grand scheme of things life is all about balance. Which partly explains the presence of The Janitor/Asclepius, medicine and healing is all out the balance of the body, making sure everything is in the proper amount, and the world/society in this sense is one giant organism that needs the same kind of balance to progress and evolve. The Janitor converses with Constantine and proclaims how John is a “rider on the storm, one who turns his coat at will, who is not trapped by ignorance of possibility.” Whereas people like Patrick rage against what was/is in effort to stay afloat and make the world a “better” place, being defined by what is happening around them, Constantine flows with the passage of time, influencing the world around him rather than the other way around him. The Janitor remark on “possibilities” is also a bit of foreshadowing to a theme that would show up in the final issues of Jamie Delano’s run involving a world in Constantine’s life turned out differently. Guiding John through a glowing doorway John appears in a crowded pub, with various conversations around I’m, some happy, some sad, and with drink in hand Constantine gives a wink to the reader that this surreal event is just how life is.

“Sundays are Different” is one of the of the more perplexing issues of Jamie Delano’s run. On the surface it just seems to be an interlude between story arcs (which it very much is), but digging deeper and figuring out what is being told through the light and dark world you have a rather more thought provoking story than at first glance. Hellblazer like real life also succeeds because of the message of balance that is conveyed throughout the issue. At times you want to read issues like “New Tricks” filled with visceral horror and dread, easily digestible and entertaining, while at other times issues like “Sundays are Different” are a good break from the blood and guts and get the wheels in the brain spinning. But If the book were to only have one or the other it would get stale after a time, and would not have lasted for 300 issues. Like has been said before, balance.

Notes:

  1. The rod is commonly confused with the caduceus, which has two serpents entwined around a staff with wings. This staff was carried by the god Hermes, which historically was associated with commerce.
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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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