Sifting Through the Ashes:

Analyzing Hellblazer, Part 68

Issue #81 “Rake at the Gates of Hell: Part Four”

Writer: Garth Ennis;

Artist: Steve Dillon;

Colors: Tom Ziuko;

Letters: Clem Robins;

Editor: Stuart Moore;
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg;

Cover: Glenn Fabry;

Last we left John Constantine and the other characters in Hellblazer everyone was having a rather poor time. John’s carefully constructed plan of gaining leverage over the archangel Gabriel by keeping his heart was crushed (literally) by The First of the Fallen, not to mention how occult confidant Rick the Vic had been paid a visit by the The First which resulted in the preacher shooting himself to escape the torment that was coming to him. Additionally , Constantine’s friend Helen was assaulted by her former pimp Phil the resulting brutality of the attack sending Constantine into a helplessness induced spiral downwards as everything around Constantine falls to pieces. Elsewhere George Ridley alongside the Tower Hamlets African population stare down the approaching riot-gear adorned police force come to arrest George. Acting upon already high racial tensions the standoff turns violent almost immediately before breaking out into a full scale riot. While part three of Rake at the Gates of Hell showed the pieces come crumbling down, part four instead focuses on the aftermath and how John and George are choosing to handle their situations.

Almost entirely focused on George and John, both in their own personal hell, the issue opens with Phil the Pimp being violently and repeatedly beaten by some toughs before shifting to a church in which Constantine has taken to hide out in. Guarded by sigils in the basement he is discovered by Father Kellaway an initially jittery priest who manages to calm himself once he discovers that it is not a gang of ne’er-do-wells but instead a sulky and terrified John Constantine. Upon hearing from John that he is hiding from The Devil, Kellaway acts how one would expect a priest to behave, as he believes that Constantine isn’t referring to the actual literal devil and that John has just come to seek sanctuary to escape from some mundane real life problem.  Upon being informed that it is infact the capital “D” Devil that John is hiding from and hearing about some of the things Constantine is up to he believes the drunken Constantine to be insane as any rational man would should they say that they “had the archangel Gabriel by the balls for a while.” Constantine uses Kellaway as a counselor of a sort in that he vents his frustration with himself at the priest. Constantine realizes that he has been acting in a very un-Constantine like way, in that he has been abusing his power and connections for what he initially thought was the best, but instead has crumbled around him as we’ve seen. In short he has become like many of his adversaries that he has faced his entire life: control freaks in positions of power who are trying to “make the world a better place’ no matter who gets hurt in the process.

Seeing Constantine nearly break down after this declaration Kellaway goes to pull out his bible (which he apparently keeps in his jacket pocket but hey he’s a priest) before Constantine stops him by referring to the text as a “bog roll.” Vehemently defending the text as The Word of God Kellaway incites an argument with Constantine after Constantine brings up how the text was locked away and how changes were made to the original text over the years by men. What Constantine proclaims does have some historical fact to it as the Vatican did go to great lengths to destroy 2nd century Jewish texts documenting the life of Rabbi Jesus in 1415. Additionally the King James Bible, considered by many to be “the genuine bible” was edited over a period of two years 1607 by 40 some individuals before being handed over for a final edit by Sir Francis Bacon in 1609 before being presented to King James I of the newly united English and Scottish crowns. As there are a reported 14,800 differences between it and the Sinai Bible now housed in the British Museum, Constantine’s denouncement of the text does have merit. Based on this and how it thinks it entitles him to judge despite what people have been saying throughout Ennis’ run, Constantine declares that no matter how bad his life gets, he will never turn to “this bollocks” in an attempt to the fix it. By using Constantine’s drunken state of despair, Ennis’ views on organized religion and the Bible blast their way through this scene before Constantine eventually calms down and apologizes for his outburst and harassing the priest for his beliefs. It’s an additional commentary about having opposing views on religion, you can not believe or think that it’s stupid, but your own beliefs by no means allow you to go around and calling other people’s beliefs foolish. As it is easy for forget that last part it’s an important thing to remember otherwise you are no better than those you are trying to decry.

Across town the violence in Tower Hamlets has escalated tremendously with several deaths having already occurred both on and off panel. The riots depicted here are a reference to the real life Brixton and Broadwater riots that occurred in the fall of 1985. Both of these riots focused on racial tensions between the predominantly white London police and the local black communities in low income areas of the city and share a number of similarities with some of the plot pieces in Rake at the Gates of Hell. The Brixton riot was sparked by Dorothy Groce being shot by police in an unannounced raid on her home while they searched for her son Michael Groce, who was in possession of a sawed-off shotgun for protection like George Ridley has. The police were assaulted with knives and machetes in the Broadwater riot which led to the death of one officer, which can also be seen in the chaotic landscape of the riot here. Eventually George and Zap break away from the main location of the riot in an effort to escape and survive, and come across Deacon the local drug dealer who is in the process of moving all of his gear because of a riot he infact helped plan. After losing his Jamaican accent upon being told that everyone knows he’s actually from Handsworth and that Aston Villa is a terrible football team, Deacon and his crew move in to kill George and Zap, but are set upon by the police. Deacon and his gangbangers opening fire on the police gets the Territorial Support Group called in, bringing guns into the riot as the TSG are Authorised Firearm Officials, whereas the majority of London Metropolitan Police force are not. The TSG gun down Deacon and his crew as George and Zap have made a run for it. However the pair do not get far before the TSG catches up with them and Zap is gunned down while holding George’s sawed-off while George checks behind a plank fence for an escape route. Seeing his loyal friend whose name he always messed up sends George off the edge as he flees into the night. While the riots of Brixton and Broadwater occurred over 20 years ago, American readers at the time could have related to the events somewhat due to the LA Riots which occurred only a couple of years before the release of this story arc. Sadly American readers today can relate even more to the events displayed here based off the sheer number of riots that have occurred in the past few years based off the deaths of individuals at the hands of police that many deem to be racially motivated in least some manner.

Part Four of Rake at the Gates of Hell is mirrors the actions and situations between John Constantine and George Ridley. John starts the issue off alone and in hiding with his problems being one of personal significance that he has taken to running from. George is in the thick of it with his friends and community, many of whom die in this issue confronting a larger societal problem that’s bigger than one individual person. By the end of the issue the two’s positions have switched, with John setting off towards the Tower Hamlets to go find Nigel for a last hope ditch plan, while George runs off alone in the night to escape from the death and destruction around him.

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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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