Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 50

Issue #61 “She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven”

Writer: Garth Ennis;

Pencils: William Simpson;

Inks: Mike Barreiro;

Colors: Tom Ziuko;

Letters: Gaspar Saladino;

Editor: Stuart Moore;

Cover: Glenn Fabry;

When distilled down to its raw basic themes, Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer focuses on love and loss. The two are often intertwined and along with the lust for power, which is often related with the other two, ultimately present stories much more relatable to the reader than ghostly possession or deals with devils and demons. While Hellblazer is known for its bleak portrayal of life and its titular character John Constantine for his cynical nature, every now and then there is a happy ending to remind the reader and the characters of the happier parts of life, as can be seen in “She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven.”

Taking it’s title from the lyrics of the 1972 Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven,” She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven” serves as the unlauded part three to Guys and Dolls from the previous two issues. In Guys and Dolls the succubus Ellie flees Hell and requires assistance from Constantine less The First of the Fallen catch her, and while we find out why Ellie owes John in the first place from her secret affair with an angel, the actual assistance isn’t included within the two issues. Here we actually do see John provide aid, and upon looking closer there are a number of similarities between the lyrics of the Led Zeppelin song and the the events of the issue. Deemed as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is a nearly 9 minute masterpiece that highlights the cohesive collaboration of the band. According to lyricist Robert Plant the song “was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration. The first line begins with that cynical sweep of the hand … and it softened up after that.” From this Ellie immediately comes to mind as someone fitting this role due to her seductive demonic wiles, but it could also be applied to Constantine, as the aloof man of mystery who in reality has a big heart. However John rarely gets what he wants when it comes to his personal life no matter how many bookies he can pull a once-over on, and instead bears a much closer resemblance to “The Piper” referred to in numerous lines in the song.  Pipers are known through folklore as being manipulators, most commonly in the tale “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” of which John Constantine fits after John enlists Ellie into helping him in his war against Hell, after saving her from the First of the Fallen.

“Stairway to Heaven,” is of considerable length by most popular music standards but the song can be broken down into three distinct different sections that the issue mirrors in its composition. Both start off quiet, slow, with little as far as lyrics or text go, instead focusing on the instrumentation or art. Over the course of the song and the issue both build and build until memorable climaxes of one of Jimmy Page’s best guitar solos, or Constantine displaying the full might of his magic when he reveals that he has etched a sigil of concealment on Ellie’s soul, making it so The First of the Fallen will be unable to find Ellie. Following the defeat of The First of the Fallen, who storms off in a huff, Ellie ponders over the actions of John “sometimes he does things and you wonder,” in regard to the kindness of John’s actions, the tail of the line is repeated again before the issue departs from the pair, much like the lines “Ooh, it makes me wonder, Ooh, it really makes me wonder” is repeated in “Stairway to Heaven” the closest thing the song has to a chorus.

As the issue makes use of a number of establishing shots and textless panels, most memorable being a journey through the abandoned house in which Constantine performs the ritual in, Will Simpson’s art deserves additional recognition here. Providing art for the majority of the first 20 issues in Ennis run, Simpson has stretched his artistic muscles in a manner of ways. Whether it’s the detail in his facial expressions, the bizarreness of his creatures, or the visceral way he draws flayed human corpses, he is amongst  the greatest artists of the series.1 Steve Dillon takes up the reigns of regular artist starting in the following issue, and would go on to accompany Ennis on several other projects, but William Simpson’s last issue is amongst his best work on the series and should be recognized as such.

John Constantine has defeated The Devil yet again, possibly making him even more upset at him than he already was. In this instance the line from the conclusion of last issue in which The First of the Fallen declares John as “His Devil” would have perhaps been better saved for here, but a brooding upset First is never a bad way to end an issue. Although it was a bloody task, Constantine shows kindness in a number of ways in the issue, and it’s one of the few instances where the book has an actual happy ending.

Notes:

  1. On a more personal note Will Simpson draws a better Kit Ryan than anyone else.
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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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