Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 46

Issue #56 “This is the Diary of Danny Drake”

Writer: Garth Ennis;

Artist: David Lloyd;

Letters: Elitta Fell;

Editor: Stuart Moore;

Cover: Glenn Fabry;

A friend of mine once told me over beer that “the quality of a series can be determined by the filler episodes.” In this instance she was referring to a TV series1 but there is something to that notion to consider. Comics are often remembered for the critically acclaimed story arcs telling a cohesive narrative over several months or in some extreme cases years, but often it is certain moments or scenes that stick in our memories long after we’ve finished reading them. In comics these are most commonly panels easily shared with others and recalled, but also as one-shot issues that fill the gap between story arcs. Issues such as these often help segway the overall narrative: tying up loose ends, acknowledging the repercussions of Constantine’s latest debacles, and foreshadowing future events. From a business standpoint (which we have to remember that comics are both an art and an industry) it’s a great place for readers to jump on before the series starts up again, but it also allows the creative team to tell short quick stories that can reveal much about the characters of the series. The issues independence from a story arc allows the issue the breathing room to deliver the message the team wants without also having such scenes along a arc narrative. That’s not to say the two can not go hand in hand, but at times it’s easier to focus when there is no larger focus.2 “This is the Diary of Danny Drake” is such an issue, showing much of Constantine’s character amongst the horror of a man’s lost humanity.

Although Hellblazer features a variety of supernatural adversaries from the vast array that horror stories can offer (but the series does not limit itself to them) one thing stands out, the human connection. The most memorable Hellblazer stories often feature a human connection to the creepy otherworldly force that threatens humanity, this can at times be John Constantine himself as Ennis does in Dangerous Habits, but not always as Brendan Flynn was at least partly responsible for The First of the Fallen’s hatred of Constantine. This threat is also flexible in it’s scale with Jallakuntilliokan from The Fear Machine threatening humanity as a whole, or in the case of “This is the Diary of Danny Drake” the humanity of an individual being at risk. The issue opens with the image of the diary in question before cutting to Danny Drake himself. Drake is a thin man with long hair and a slightly disheveled look to him. David Lloyd’s return to the series (last seen alongside Grant Morrison in issues #25 and #26) is spectacular in how he draws the expressions of Drake and Constantine, often entire panels just focus on their faces, showing the wide array of emotions that Ennis packs into the issue. While on the subway, Drake starts shouting his misdeeds for all to hear, uncontrollably according to him, in this instance how he is “a whoremonger” and how he once caught an STD from his adulterous behavior. Constantine overhears Drake crying out about how his wife found out about it and his Grimorium and follows the raving man off the train Lloyd’s art capturing the curious nature of Constantine masterfully.

Constantine tracks Drake down and revealing that he knows what the book contains, Hell and it’s denizens, demands Drake start talking. Venturing to Drake’s home, the man reveals to Constantine that he is being haunted by his diary. As the reader knows Constantine has been around enough that demons ghosts are nothing to be surprised about, but the notion of a diary haunting someone produces this blank look of perplexion on Constantine’s faces that provides a brief scene of humor in an otherwise grim issue. Drake tells Constantine the story of how he used to be an avid diary keeper, putting all of his secrets in them that he would never dare tell anyone, and something he found solace in when his wife Daphne left him. Later he would meet a woman named Ophelia, whom he could be open with, revealing some of the diary’s secrets to her, and he found shelter with to the point where Drake burned his old diaries. Afterwards she promptly left him saying he was feeble, and needed someone to kick him in gear as opposed to a shoulder to cry on. Afterwards the outbursts started, of which are things that Drake only told his diary, hence his belief that he is being haunted by them. The idea of writing things down in a diary is regarded by many as a  good therapeutic way to get thoughts out of one’s head or keep track of things. However  as diaries are meant to be truthful not fictitious, it also makes what is written down in them real in the sense, as the writer is admitting to their existence. Up until now Drake’s dilemma could be just seen as someone having a nervous breakdown from losing all stability and familiarity in his life, but once Constantine demands to know how magic is involved the story takes a much darker turn.

Drake goes on to tell the story that his financial success in “the markets” during the 1980s wasn’t entirely from hard work. He dabbled in magic in his university days and continued on with it summoning a demon named Triskele and trading his soul for luck 10 years prior to the events of the issue. The name Triskele comes from the motif known as a triskelion (also called as a triskele), represented by three interlocking spirals (or human legs) extending from the center. Although the triskelion has various depictions worldwide, the oldest depiction of the symbol can be found at the Newgrange monument in County Meath, Ireland, the monument is thought to have built around 3200 BC predating Celtic culture but has since become ingrained in it. In Celtic culture the symbol is used to represent the three realms (land, sea, and sky) but can represent the Triple Goddess: (Maiden, Mother, Crone) as well as a fertility symbol representing the joining of man and woman to make a child. Given that Ennis hails from Ireland and the context of the story being told, Ennis’ choice is appropriate here once Constantine finds out more about the demon. Constantine finds out that amongst Triskele’s titles are “Wyrm Queen of the Succubae” and “The Bitch Spirit Who Killed a Hundred Seraphim” and that the demon wears the face of the archangel Dariel as her own. Along with cementing that this is not a no-name demon that Drake is involved with, her title of Wyrm Queen and that she wears the face of an archangel goes along with the triskelion representation of the triple goddess, as it is implied she is the mother of the succubae, and hides her hideous face behind the young beautiful face of an angel, fulfilling each role of The Three-in-One. Constantine’s digging also reveals that the demon reveals that the demon never let’s a contractee live longer than five years and since it has been 10 years since Drake summoned her, John returns stone faced and impassive demanding to know why Drake is still alive.

Throughout Hellblazer the reader usually is meant to empathize with the humans under attack, often they are innocent or have been tricked by demons, and while they will undoubtedly suffer by the end of the story, it is not often that we want to see them suffer. Even if The Prince from Royal Blood was an occult practicing hedonist, as the storyline implies, you didn’t want to really see him suffer under the control of Calibraxis, pulling his own fingernails out and eating the corpses of his victims. Here it is different, as Drake reveals that to extend his life on earth he killed his wife and unborn child and offered up the soul of his innocent son to Triskele to take his place. Realizing that Triskele is messaging Drake that she is coming for him unless he delivers again, Drake has stolen a baby of which Constantine recovers from the house before it can be offered.  Constantine instructs Drake to stay within the house that night, or else he will kill him. Constantine often makes boastful threats to those that annoy him, but they are not threats of physical harm. Here we have seen what it takes for Constantine to get that point. Grim faced you can tell that he is completely serious in his statement, and as he leaves with the child in tow, we see Triskelion to come and claim Drake, joking that it was her who was making him have the outbursts, that she found hilarious. In this instance, the reader feels no remorse for the demon’s victim.

“This is the Diary of Danny Drake” is a grim reminder that not all of the monsters in the world have fangs and claws.  The issue shows the cruelty of man when he has cast aside his humanity, and what he will do to achieve power and success without it. Although we know Triskele is a demon, her actions seem less deplorable in comparison to what Danny Drake did over the course of 10 years. Demons can’t take innocent lives (under normal circumstances) according to the rules of Hell, so whenever they are aided by Man to do so, it makes the act all the more horrendous. But the issue shows that even the cynical bastard John Constantine has a good heart that comes through when it really needs to.

Notes:

  1. Cowboy Bebop if you’re curious, which has very good filler episodes.
  2. While this series of articles will eventually reach issue #300 if I were to try to take material from 2012 and apply it to what is going on in 1992, not only would I probably lose my mind, the analysis would be rather scattershot and unfocused given the breadth of time.  Maybe someday.
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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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