Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 66

Issue #79 “Rake at the Gates of Hell: Part Two”

Writer: Garth Ennis;

Artist: Steve Dillon;

Colors: Tom Ziuko;

Letters: Clem Robins;

Editor: Stuart Moore;
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg;

Cover: Glenn Fabry;

Picking a mere few hours after the conclusion of the previous issue, part two of Rake at the Gates of Hell continues to set up the various rows of dominoes before knocking the various pieces down and everything goes to hell before it all meets up at the conclusion of the arc. Being the final story arc of Ennis’ run, the pacing of each issue and of the arc overall does not feel rushed, everything feels deliberate but also without feeling drawn out. Each issue has a part of the overall story it seeks to tell and most scenes only take up 4 pages before changing to a different set of characters. This narrative structure makes the arc constantly moving and progressing and while it may come off as chaotic with all of it’s moving parts when looked at as a whole you realize that Ennis has crafted this complex multicomponent story that effectively captures just how out of control things have gotten in the life of John Constantine and his friends. Being that “control” is an overall theme of Ennis’ run on Hellblazer it seems only fitting that his run finish focusing on this.

Opening with Helen going through a violent withdrawal from heroin after quitting cold turkey, she assaults Constantine with a pair of scissors demanding she get her fix before being sedated by Jo, a doctor sent by Lucy, the sister of Constantine’s current girlfriend Sarah to help Helen recover. Jo suggests that Helen be taken to a hospital for proper treatment but Constantine insists that she remain in his apartment as it is supposedly safer. Here we see Constantine try to remain in control of the situation that is growing increasingly out of control, as as we will see in this issue Phil is on the hunt for Constantine and Helen, and by the end of Part Two has found his way to the apartment after removing some fingers and teeth. There is also the male vs. female power struggle between Constantine and the newly introduced women of the story arc, Constantine’s demeanor, behavior, and actions are much more aggressive and “masculine” at times in this arc particularly when things start to slip out of control. It’s like someone desperately trying to fight against a tide or a current, but as later events of the story shows, sometimes you can’t win that fight.

Across town Constantine meets up with psychic prodigy Nigel, last seen in “Forty,” currently lamenting over the fact how he has “sold out” for accepting money to write a music review, and wondering why he is receiving Evangelist literature. A lot of the small throw away jokes that have peppered various issues of Ennis’ run get their punchline in Rake at the Gates of Hell after being se tup and otherwise forgotten, such as Constantine subscribing Nigel to the Evangelical mailing list, or what Rick the Vic uses a jar of angelic semen for. Like when they originally set up the appearance of these jokes or gags help alleviate the mood of the issue, albeit briefly, and makes the characters more “real” just as circles of friends or families have their favorite puns or gags that they come back to, no matter how cheesy or corny they can sometimes be. Constantine’s visit to Nigel is to use his friends talents to find the now homeless former angel Gabriel, who was last seen at the end of Fear and Loathing after being cast out from heaven and having his wings chainsawed off by Constantine, whose heart is currently in posession by John. The events of his fall occurring over a year ago within the nearly real time progression of Hellblazer, Gabriel wears the same clothes as when he wandered onto the streets, combined with the fact that his wounds on his back have not healed, it is a stark sad state the angel is in that evokes pity from the reader. Here we finally find out Constantine’s plan of why he duped the angel into falling as apparently even in this state Gabriel is still a match for the First of the Fallen, and Constantine intends to use Gabriel as an enforcer, using his heart as leverage. It’s a low despisable act, as from his appearance Gabriel appears to be the farthest thing from what one would want to fight of The First of the Fallen, but John would be the first to attest that appearances can be deceiving.

Returning to Tower Hamlets we have a brief but important update on the progressively worsening situation that George has found himself in after the death of his mother. Hiding out in a garage, he is visited by his friends Will, Shelly, Zap, and Frank with an update on the situation. Reportedly the cop he had shot and fell out his window has died and the police are beginning to mobilize a search party for him, as would be expected the death of his mother is not mentioned in “official news reports.” His friend Will states that there is talk of a riot starting when the police do enter the neighborhood as it is apparent to the community that this was a racially motivated setup due to George’s outspoken nature against the British National Party. George states how he doesn’t want a riot started over this and that he wants to deal with this problem on his own, but Will proclaims that this was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back and this was “bound to happen eventually” the events that are about to unfold are out of George’s hands. Here we can see how George and Constantine’s conflicts mirror each other: Constantine surrounds himself with others for aid while George wants to deal with this on his own, Constantine’s aggressor is an individual who is solely focused on him, while George faces down a society that is focused on seeking widespread control over a group of people rather than an individual. What they do have in common is how both of their problems have begun to escape their grasp and move unfettered, which will ultimately get many people hurt or killed as we have already seen.

Part Two concludes with The First of the Fallen accompanied by the soul of Astra meeting with his two “brothers” in Limbo, to reveal the fact they are in fact not his brothers at all. Supposedly The Three Fallen have been duped by God into believing that they are a checks and balances system for Hell, preventing the realm from becoming too powerful due to the conniving nature of devils. But in truth The Second and Third of the Fallen are just powerful devils, and while The First of the Fallen may be referred to as The Devil he is not one, due to his existence being from before the creation of Hell. Supposedly coming to this conclusion after  “[putting] two and two together” The First of the Fallen decides to end the lives of his two brothers to become the sole ruler of Hell. It’s a shocking rug pulling moment of revelation to show how Constantine is no longer safe due to his soul selling loophole from Dangerous Habits and based off how much Constantine has pissed The First of the Fallen off since his introduction it should be clear just how much trouble Constantine really is. As The First of the Fallen flies off to go torment Constantine, Astra materializes an occult looking dagger declaring her intentions of claiming Hell for her own after Constantine has been dealt with.

Part Two of Rake at the Gates of Hell continues to increase the severity of the events in and surrounding the life of John Constantine. It’s akin to a balloon with the word “trouble” painted on the side that his currently hooked up to an air compressor and the balloon is rapidly filling to the point where a reasonable person would turn it off, but in this case is unable to. Live’s have already been lost, some directly from the actions of the characters of Constantine while others are not, but there are more to come coupled with vast amounts of suffering. “When will these terrible events occur?” one might ask, fear not as we will see next issue that things are about to go horribly for everyone and that balloon pops.

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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:

Judging Dredd: Examining the World of Judge Dredd


The Mignolaverse: Hellboy and the Comics Art of Mike Mignola


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