Dave and Jay continue their journey back to the roots of John Constantine with a re-read of the entire Hellblazer series that started way back in 1988…
What Happens in This Issue:
It’s Election Day in the UK, and John Constantine is contacted by an old friend, Ray Monde, to investigate a series of strange yuppie deaths in Spitalfields. He discovers a group of trendy yuppie demons who are trading on the souls of yuppies who are so afraid of the election outcomes that they’ll do anything to ensure their continued success. John visits Blathoxi, the demon lord of Flatulence, and cons him into believing the election is going to go to the left wing, and the UK soul market is going to crash. But it doesn’t and Blathoxi goes broke and takes it out on his fellow demons, leaving John hanging… literally.
So, What Did We Think?
Dave: After two issues of fairly straightforward occult horror, we get the first unapologetically political issue of Hellblazer, with a clear commentary from Delano. I’m dying to know what you think of this one, Jay — it’s from 1988, but the politics in play seem pretty in tune with something you might see today. Though we don’t use the term “yuppies” anymore.
Jay: I loved it. It’s a bit too heavy handed, really – or at least, it’s more heavy-handed than I would choose to do – but it worked. And it fits very nicely with what was going on at the time. TV shows like Spitting Image were lampooning the state of politics, and it seems every comedian, writer and social commentator were lining up on the left to say that Thatcherism needed to end. It didn’t, though. They kept getting votes from somewhere, and I think that’s the sly fun of this issue; it actually provides a plausible way for such a hated government to keep winning elections.
Dave: Ah, see that’s a great bit of insight I wouldn’t have really understood when I read this originally. The good thing is that even without getting into the British zeitgeist of the time, the commentary plays out pretty universally.
And while there’s a clear authorial commentary in this issue, I think it works because it’s in line with John’s own beliefs, and his background. At least as I read it.
Jay: I agree. Of course, so early into John’s ‘life’ in comics, pretty much anything could have been passed off as his view. But between Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, there’s a clear common ground, and that means that it fits John very well. I wonder if some of the more-in-your-face attacks on the Tories slipped through because it was an American comic. Would they have been able to be so stridently anti-Republican? And would a British publication have been able to be so blatantly anti-Tory?
The fun thing is reading this now, as we gear up for another general election over here, and all the same themes are on the table again. An unpopular government who, nevertheless, seem to have enough in the tank to win.
Dave: The yuppies from the opening really set a different tone from the first issues. And unlike Mnemoth, Blathoxi is mostly played for comedy here. Mnemoth was pure hunger. In contrast, Blathoxi is a belching, corpulent, cigar-smoking, suit-wearing, sauna-taking businessman of hell. Looking to corner the UK “soul market.”
Jay: Yeah this was very much more a satire, played for very dark laughs. I enjoyed it. I wonder what American readers at the time made in the tonal shift from the first story to this one? I also think it’s why the TV show struggled sometimes with the elements lifted from the comic – and more on this next time – when they lift the story but not the context.
Dave: Agreed. And it’s hard for me to imagine an American broadcast network show getting away with such an overt and specific satire. It’d have to be watered down and very generalized.
I like the demon yuppies, too. Slumming it, listening to CDs with titles like “Tears of Atlantis Re-awaken the Desiccated Souls of Hiroshima.” (I think I heard that on a college radio station once.)
Jay: I think I was in that band….
Dave: There are a couple of more horrific moments in this issue. The moment where John is in the demon yuppie club and realizes that the lampshade has a tattoo.
Jay: And, you know, It didn’t get that at first. I was like, “oh, okay, so that lampshade has a pattern on it. So what? OH WAIT……”
Dave: And as that realization sets in, we start to realize John is trapped in over his head. It’s only happenstance that an innocent bystander takes the attention off of him (at the cost of her own life).
Jay: Really effective scene, that.
Dave: I’m impressed that the whole issue pivots on a simple con from John. It’s maybe OVERLY simplified to fit the single issue format and the heavy commentary, but I feel like something like this could have worked on the Constantine TV show. John convinces Blathoxi to make a move that works like the climax of the film Trading Places — and Blathoxi goes broke.
Jay: I loved it. And it makes sense in the story, character sense, plot sense. It marries the text and subtext together. Almost like bringing down Bearings Bank, all he needed to do was devalue “stock” and place a big bet on the market. There was no need for an “artefact of the week” fix, a simple con did the trick.
Dave: Finally, as if the meaning weren’t clear enough, John is left hanging upside down, watching Thatcher win the election and noting that “There’s more than one road to hell.”
Jay: Watching the Prime Minister who said, “there is no such thing as society.” If only John had seen what was coming. Something else that really impressed me again was the visuals. The colour palette of these early issues is really interesting and exciting. If someone says “Hellblazer” to me, I tend to imagine a scruffy guy in a coat, sitting in a dark pub or walking down a grimly-drawn street. But these issues have such bold colours and interesting layouts.
Dave: Yeah, good call. We’ve mentioned Ridgway in the first two issues, but I think we really need to call out colorist Lovern Kindzierski — these colors make a huge difference. And I think you’re right, much of what we think of as “classic Hellblazer” comes down the line a little later — with a more muted color palette.
That’s it for this week! Are you reading along? What did you think of this issue?
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