Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Fear Machine

by Jamie Delano

“You could bet your soddin’ life if I was one of those poncy, media-darling super-heroes and a couple of civilians got creamed in the crossfire, no one’d even mention it. Christ, somebody would’ve bought the movie rights by now.”

Written by Jamie Delano with covert art by mostly by Dave McKean with Kent Williams credited for the final cover, this run collects the individual comics of Hellblazer #14 – #22, all part of The Fear Machine story arc. Most of the interior art is by Mark Buckingham with guest artists Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman and Alfredo Alcala. The arc tells the story of a powerful group of individuals attempting to create a new world order by assembling psychic energies and channeling them into an ultimate destructive force.

“Touching the Earth” – Constantine is on the run from the law and is nearly captured when hitchhiking. He escapes into the woods and runs into a hippie, Mercury, a psychic child who invites him to her commune to rest and recover.

“Shephard’s Warning” – John’s beginning to enjoy life in the commune. A member recognizes him from the newspaper and he enters her mind to make her forget, which she repays later by dosing him with a hallucinogen. John and Mercury are chased away from a fenced-in stone monument. After he’s dosed John witness a man doing strange things with stones along the local ley lines. At the end of his trip he winds up in bed with Mercury’s mother, Marj.

“Rough Justice” – Fake police raid the compound and kidnap Mercury and her mother. John recovers a drugged and confused Marj from a local police station and returns her to the compound which is packing up to move. He decides to go to war to get Mercury back to her mother.

“Fellow Travelers” – The people who kidnapped Mercury are after the partner of the man John saw in his trip. They use one of their psychics to track him to a train that John also happens to be on and use a Stonehenge-like structure to magnify the power of one of their psychics to induce fear and stop the train so they can capture the man.

“Hate Mail & Love Letters” – John is back in London, gathering information on the organization that kidnapped Mercury, Geotroniks. He runs into an acquaintance from the police and learns he’s no longer a suspect. Mercury begins a diary where she explains the psychic training she’s undergoing involving gathering, trapping and storing fear.

“The Broken Man” – John saves the life of a journalist found hanging in the closet and learns he’s been investigating Geotroniks. Mercury learns her kidnappers are creating a fear-machine that they don’t understand and she threatens to release the monster within. An escalating campaign of suicides sweeps the nation and a homeless man who’d been following John stuffs a note in his hand as he jumps in front of a train.

“Betrayal” – John begins connecting the Geotroniks organization with the Masons. The lead scientist who’s been training the kidnapped Mercury allows her escape and suffers the consequences by a leader who is readying to unleash his world-toppling forces on everyone.

“The God of all Gods” – The Masons have withdrawn support of their plan, but Webster, who’s been running the operation, continues to release the monster with ritual sacrifices. John encounters Mercury and returns the child to her mother and astral-projects to find the terror-thing, which threatens to overwhelm him. Mercury pulls him out of the spirit world.

“Balance” – Webster continues the sacrifices and the god nears its release. Constantine, Marj and the leader of the pagan community the commune moved to when ousted by the police perform their own ritual to balance against the elemental force releasing into the world.

The nine-issue arc deals with Earth awareness in addition to the occult. The magic of ley line energy is heavily featured as well as psychic energy with formations such as Stonehenge serving as focusing structures. The mild police-state we’ve all grown accustomed to is also targeted a few times with things like people expecting to be beaten by police and John lamenting Stonehenge, one of the world’s oldest ritual sites, chained off to the public and regulated to the point you’ll be physically assaulted if you visit without proper permission. We also see the recurring theme of our relative size to Earth, with our biggest plans as just so much dust, paling to the forces of the planet. You can tell John is whipped at the beginning of the story and gains strength and perspective by his rest in the woods despite being a die-hard city boy.

Complete arcs like this are compulsive reading, so if you pick it up expect to finish in a sitting or two. It’s a solid collection of issues with excellent, heavy writing and great artwork, with stepped-up environmental and social themes and with less focus on Constantine’s own magic.

“Sometimes frozen centuries can elapse while all you do is scream, wondering if you’ll take another breath.”

4 stars

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