Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 04: Hellblazer #25-26, 56

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer #25 ("Early Warning"), 26 ("How I Learned to Love the Bomb"), and 56 ("This is the Diary of Danny Drake").]

"Early Warning" and "How I Learned to Love the Bomb" comprise the two-part story Grant Morrison wrote for the book. They were reprinted in Rare Cuts primarily on the strength of his name, not being the most amazing comics ever published. They're not bad issues in any sense and they show some of his interests coming to the surface. John heads North to Thursdyke, a town afflicted with poverty after a mine shut down, and, now, is holding a pagan carnival celebration as a sort of town spirit, let's all pull together thing. John only goes because he was invited by Una, a woman he knew from Ravenscar. She's a journalist now, no longer hearing voices when she takes her pills. The story revolves around an American military base in the area that no one really likes, but the people of Thursdyke tolerate because it means some jobs. There's a scene in a bar where a protestor from London and a local get into an argument over the base, while the story has numerous references to Margaret Thatcher's term as Prime Minister. This clearly fits into Morrison's period of social activism in his writing, of exploring issues that meant a great deal to him personally openly and directly in his writing.

At the same time, we get a glimpse of something going on in the base: a doctor running certain experiments and turning on his machine. The dialogue here is suggestive and creepy with implications about science being the new religion/magic. The doctor turns on his machine, which sends out an audio signal at a frequency that unleashes all human desires and inhabitions. The town goes wild with people killing, raping, torturing, what have you. (On a side note, this sort of thing happens a lot in Hellblazer. I'm quite glad I don't live in this universe for all of the times that entire populaces just go crazy and do this sort of thing.) This happens during the carnival parade, which means these gortesque masks that make for great visuals. The first issue ends with John joining in by putting on a Thatcher mask.

In the second half of the story, we learn that the doctor is somehow powering his machine without any technology. Budget cuts, you see, necessitated him to do something else. Meanwhile, Una stops John from leading everyone into the water to their deaths as she wasn't affected because of her headphones (Sonic Youth on her walkman). They realise what's going on: the local priest has become Archbishop Bomb and is leading a group of people to the military base to blow up some of the nuclear weapons there. John rushes to stop them, using a van with a PA system to broadcast Sonic Youth and drown out the signal. He's too late, though, as Archbishop Bomb steals a plane and bombs the town. The issue ends with John surviving, making sarcastic comments to a newscaster who was putting forth the party line that anti-nuclear protestors were responsible, and heading back south.

The magic connection is tenuous, but that's not essential. John isn't much of a presence here and doesn't have a distinct personality really. He's more a supporting character driven to action by events. Which is fine. It's a perfectly fine, inessential story. It has a good, creepy style because of Morrison's writing and David Lloyd's art.

"This is the Diary of Danny Drake" is a similarly inessential story where John sees a man on the subway just blurt out that he likes to have sex with prostitutes. He's curious and discovers that the man, Danny Drake, thinks he's being haunted by his diary. Turns out that it's just a demon having fun with him as the end of his contract with her approaches. He sold his soul for success and, then, killed his pregnant wife (selling his unborn child's soul) for an extension five years previously. John stops him from sacrificing another baby, having figured it all out, leaving Danny Drake to be taken to Hell. A good little self-contained story in that typical Hellblazer way. Usually, for these one-off stories, John is just a presence in something outside of him, getting to be a guy who knows shit, and solves the problems. There's often a twist like this guy selling his soul and being a right bastard.

All three of these issues were drawn by David Lloyd, most well-known in the US for V for Vendetta with Alan Moore. There's a soft, suggestive quality to his art in the Morrison two-parter. I don't know entirely how to describe it, but it's a soft encroaching of shadows around the edges of most of his figures. His art has a harder edge in the Ennis issue. That he colours himself gives the art a strong presence. He really plays with the absurd imagery in the Morrison story with the carnival masks. Those drawings are just flat-out funny while also being horrific. In the Morrison story, he also uses layouts well, switching to diagonal panel borders when the signal takes hold of the town. A pretty simple but effective visual trick.

In 30 minutes, we start Garth Ennis's run proper with Dangerous Habits, which many consider to be the best Hellblazer story of all...

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