Oh, Johnny. In trouble? Again?
After being falsely accused of a murder he kinda did and didn’t commit, John Constantine picks up sticks and hurries cross-country to escape from the Old Plod when he comes across and quickly shacks up with a nature-loving hippy community tapping in to their own psychic energies. However, trouble follows the Hellblazer wherever he roams and as he finds out, a shady defence contractor is out to exploit their collective abilities. Is the company’s aim just political, or is it something much more sinister?
What do you think, luv?
The Fear Machine is an interesting case for Yours Truly. On one hand it displays a splendid array of occult gone wild, WICKEDLY nasty acid trips into madness, malevolent murder and mayhem as well as a firm plate of nudity and sexuality of the good and bad variety. Additionally it presents a fascinating story combining the profanity of evil with the alleged purity of hippy culture by throwing Constantine in with a congregation of pagans who are looking for more in a world filled with physical and mental pollution. Witnessing Constantine get in touch with nature is actually a refreshing change of pace given we are so used to seeing him suck on his Silk Cuts like they are mothers’ milk and barking stinging cynicism like nobody’s business. We are bestowed the opportunity to see John find a sense of inner peace and respite that he has most likely never felt as well as joy with the company he finds himself in, mother and daughter team Marj and the fiercely intuitive Mercury (Merc for shot) especially.
We also see John rock long hair and paisley which is fascinating to say the least.
Early in the story, John is getting to know the ropes of the commune and at the end of a long day, resting in his tent in the middle of a rainstorm, Constantine muses on how small and insignificant he is in the world, yet instead of feeling alienated, he feels at peace… before he realises he failed to dig a trench around his tent resulting in a very wet night. Reading this particular sequence, namely the Hellblazers’ thoughts on the human race in comparison to the enormity of the planet, struck a chord in me as it such a personal and simple thought and it’s small moments like these we glimpse the parts of Constantine he mainly keeps suppressed within due to his fear of allowing his vulnerabilities to show. Despite his quick tongue and rougish behaviour, Constantine is a humanist through and through and as he gets to know these people, you can see how deeply his sense of care travels. It truly is endearing.
Ah, but of course, you are probably more curious about the titular Fear Machine (I love saying that phrase FEAR MACHINE!) well, without giving too much of the game away, its function is precisely what the name implies. An insidious construction borne from sick minds looking to push the boundaries of human psychology, it bears some spectacular scenes on the page, one of my personal favourites involving a segment on a train. Good gravy, Miss Daisy, try thinking of the worst possible acid trip your mind could ever conjure and combine it with Freddy Kruger masturbating in your face and saying “You’re welcome”, you have the destructive result of the Fear Machine and then some. The art work of Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Mike Hoffman and Alfredo Alcala is dazzling, mind-slaughteringly starkers that it takes you several looks to fully comprehend every detail and how it meshes together in a improbable horror of imagination and unspeakable phantasma. I don’t know just what type those guys were smoking but a part of me wants some. Generally speaking, The Fear Machine is a well-drawn and coloured offering, which does not shy away from using vibrant colours, but the Fear Machine (FEAR MACHINE!) moments undoubtedly stick in your braincase like a rusty icepick.
However, despite the complexity of the overall story involving Constantine’s rebirth/respite of sorts and the involvement of the Fear Machine (FEAR MACHINE!), I did feel the narrative tended to trudge a little in terms of setting up the jigsaw. Sure, that was the intention of Mr. Jamie Delano, to lure the reader into a false sense of security by disassembling any preconceptions the reader may initially have, but given Delano’s other great work in Hellblazer, the pace felt uneven in comparison to some of his other arcs. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was in the minority for feeling this way, but I am not in the habit of lying to you my dear reader and remember, these are but my own thoughts. Regardless, when the story picks up, it never losest sight of it’s conclusion and I felt ultimately satisfied.
All in all, The Fear Machine is a beloved story in the Hellblazer canon and its impact on the characters cannot be denied. Seeing Constantine strip away his hardened shell to reveal a gooey center devoid of inner demons was a surprisingly effective treat to receive, and when he finally needs to reconnect with his wily Scouser cunning in order to combat those responsible for the Fear Machine and to save those he holds dear, it feels like yet another substansial chapter of the character’s overall mental make up, further cementing why Hellblazer remains one of the best series to ever be published.
I could be a little biased saying that.