Ideological conflict has played a large role in Jamie Delano’s run on Hellblazer. When looked at plainly, ideological conflicts boil down to people not seeing eye-to-eye on something and the resulting tension it creates. Although it most often ties into the occult, it is conflicts that readers can relate with through the various incarnations throughout the series. Most common, conflicts such as these arise between characters of differing generations, something any reader has experienced in some way (who hasn’t argued with their parents over what they think is right or proper). As the series covers a wide array of subjects, something is bound to be resonant with the reader at some point. The most common conflict that a reader can relate with is living a drastically different lifestyle than their parents, as can be seen in “Man’s Work” and “Boy’s Play”
Although he is the titular character, and being as such much of the conflicts of the series are focused around him, Constantine takes a back seat in these two issues with young vegetarian Martin Acland. Martin’s father, Archibald, is a butcher who disapproves of his sons vegetarianism and believes it’s something that he will grow out of. From the opening scenes of his father cutting meat that he will try to force his son Martin to eat, it is plainly obvious that Martin and his father are polar opposites, from demeanor to appearance. Steve Pugh’s art depicts Archibald as a stoat, violent brute of man who enforces his will by threats of (and at times actual) violence to all, his wife, his son, and his employees. Oppositely, Martin is slender and kind, with pronounced cheekbones that give him a slightly elvish look, further enhanced by his fondness for animals and nature. At this point in the series, Martin is the first young male character who isn’t a jack-booted street thug or a young Constantine, so the character is remarkably fresh to the reader. Squabbles between parents and children over their dietary choices, religion, political ideology, and many other lifestyles choices are all but ingrained in society (sadly) and in some cases leads to being ostracized. As seen before there is a pervasive fear of the future and the unknown from many adult characters, they are unable to let go of their demons and step out of their closely knit snail’s pace world as time surges past them.
Out on the road with their RV broken down, Mercury wanders off as John and Marj attempt to fix it. Mercury’s narration reveals that her tough demeanor from The Dead Boy’s Heart was just all an act and in fact she admits that she knows nothing. Further discussions with John has mended their relationship and where John uses his fear and terror as fuel to propel himself through life as a magical adrenaline junkie, Mercury muses on the notion of using love or hope instead as a driving force, making her a mirror of John in a sense. Hope led Mercury to wander off and ultimately encounter a black-eyed Martin, whom she brings him back to the RV. Before long Archibald arrives to collect his son, whom he is taking with him to slaughter pigs in an effort to “toughen” him up. Archibald exchanges harsh words with John and company and when making jests after the father and son drive away, Mercury is surprisingly defensive of Martin, which Constantine further jokes as “Whoops looks like love.” Admitting that her tough demeanor was all an act and expressing her care for Martin touches back on, John’s comment that Mercury hasn’t seen everything from the previous issue come to light in Mercury’s abilities tie into a more positive aspect of life, giving her a break from seemingly ever present darker parts of life. Not only does this provide interesting character development for Mercury, her internal struggle on how she can like someone despite his horrible father and him going to work with him gives the issue some much needed humor that is largely absent due to the minimal presence of Constantine.
The remainder of the issue deals with Martin at the slaughterhouse with his father and his employees. Archibald tries to explain to his son that man eating meat is natural and just “how things are” along with the the rush that men feel when killing the pigs in a warped father-son moment, but ultimately plays of as another instance of a character set in his ways and unable to see the world in any other light. After Martin accidentally lets the pigs loose he is thrown into the holding pen with them as the slaughter starts, the stench of the death and the inherent brutality of the men who relish in the slaughter making him just as afraid of them as the pigs are.
“Boy’s Games” focuses on the aftermath of the slaughter, when “man’s work” is done and play can begin. Opening with Mercury prowling around the slaughterhouse, who came upon the place at the conclusion of the last issue, she compares the energy of the place to that of The Fear Machine, exhuming a feeling of fear and dread so powerful that Martin sits paralyzed in the now empty pig pen. Archibald and his employees cruelty then turns to Martin whom they hang from a meathook likening him to a sow. While it is much too common that male insults towards each deal with the perceived masculinity of the recipient, to the butchers Martin’s lifestyle makes him not only a man but not even human. Sadistically Martin is shock prodded, splashed with buckets of entrails, threatened with a knife by his father, and finally hosed down for the pure amusement, all because he wants to live a life that is against the norm. Mercury stops the torture and when Archibald sicks his dog on her, she subdues the otherwise vicious animal baffling the onlookers, enraging Archibald. Upon being released, one of the workers tries to justify Martin’s mistreatment claiming that they were just hazing him to make him “one of the boys.” The presence of a woman, especially a young outspoken woman challenges the inherent masculinity of Archibald and his coworkers and the otherwise close knit group starts to fray, with Archibald lashing out at his followers (verbally and physically) who until now obeyed him without question.
Taking a shocked Martin back to the RV, the reader is treated to a scene reminiscent of Marj comforting John, something Mercury does not fail to notice. While the emotions this evokes initially troubles her, Mercury finally understands why Marj comforts John ultimately accepting her mother’s choices. Mercury’s discovery of this is reminiscent to a moment of clarity and understanding that the reader has undoubtedly had throughout their own life: humanity is quick to judge and question the acts of others and it is often only when placed in a similar situation do we understand why people live their lives the way they do. It is through acts such as these that we see the courage of humanity, as people who live compassionately and that are highly empathetic of others (whether they have mental abilities or otherwise) often take the problems and concerns of others to heart, which can put them in harm’s way depending on the situation. In Hellblazer this is particularly true with people often suffering mentally, physically, emotionally, or even spiritually as is plainly seen throughout the series.
Enraged and intoxicated, Archibald comes across the RV with a dump truck full of pig remains and dumps it into the RV, further assaulting his son. Broken out of his somber state an enraged Martin tries to beat his father to death with a leg before being calmed by Mercury to not become like his violent father, and that there are better ways to punish him. Showing him his true fear Archibald returns home to sexually brutalize his wife, but unable to find her, drunkenly stumbles into the meat freezer and encounters an anthropomorphic pig dressed in fetish gear. He tries to apologize for being a “bad boy,” playing into the idea that the most outwardly dominant men are actually the most submissive at heart, and ultimately the pig takes him into her in a grisly scene invoking the vagina dentata (a series of folktales in which unknown women’s vaginas filled teeth to dissuade rape). Archibald also possess an Oedipus complex, a term coined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, referring to repressed emotions and ideas of someone having sexual attraction to their parent of the opposite sex and inherent aggression towards the other. While the argument can be made that these are just images that Mercury planted in Archibald’s head, in all prior cases Mercury just brings repressed thoughts and memories to light, making these fears and implications legitimate. Ending on a light note, John and Marj return to the RV with the parts to fix it to discover the grisly scene at the bus. Only commenting that “things got a bit wild last night,” which ends with a series of “John please ask my daughter” “John please tell my mother” exchanges between Mercury and Marj, the group sets on the road again. Coming across Martin’s mother on the road, we find out that she has left her husband who was found pantless in the freezer inside a pig carcass, freeing Martin from all ties who decides to tag along with Mercury.
Focusing more on the character development of Mercury as well as an observation of the western notions of masculinity, “Man’s Work” and “Boy’s Play” shows that the series can adequately tell a memorable story even when John is largely absent for entirety of it. Despite his overall absence, the “Boy’s Play” in particular has some of the most memorable moments of Delano’s run, which may be attributed to the “shock” moments of the later half of the issue. An inherent trait of the horror genre, Hellblazer is rife with horrifying reveals over the course of the series, and how they are handled are largely dependent on the writer. While the constant bombardment of reveals can be desensitizing eventually Delano’s sparing use of them opting for more gradual reveals instead, or at least in comparison to some other writers, makes instances of them all the more memorable.