Staring At The Wall, Part 1 of 5
Annotations By : Adrian Brown
Click Here for issue synopsis
The Cover : John looks to be praying in a rather half-hearted way. Tim Bradstreet commented that he was trying to portray John's desperation to come in this story. I think the skewed cigarette adds the cockiness that we associate with Constantine. The symbols suggest that he's not putting all his prayer eggs in one basket.
It's interesting to see the suggestion of angelic wings made of bones in the background.
I've analysed magical symbolism on Tim's covers before, so check that issue for an excellent source of reference for the meanings of symbols. With the lower circle, I am reminded of something Grant Morrison wrote in his Invisibles letter column. Morrison described the composition of sigils when he was trying to boost readership by getting us all to do magic. The characters inside the circle seem to be the letters E P H A L R A ( & T?).
The title of this arc comes from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall", a poetic monologue about lost love. This may a literal presaging of John's relationship for Angie, but I wouldn't be so sure.
Here's the relevant section:
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.
Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
No--she never loved me truly; love is love for evermore.
Comfort? comfort scorned of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.
Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.
Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.
Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
To thy widowed marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.
Thou shalt hear the "Never, never," whisper'd by the phantom years,
And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;
And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow; get thee to thy rest again."
This is from Giordano Bruno: De Umbris Idearum ('The Shadow of Ideas')
The full text is:
Translated via Italian:
Panels 2, 3, 4, 5
These panels are reminiscent of the effects portrayed in the first Sandman arc when Morpheus is trapped.
Two of the three examples seem to be based in fear, the third is unclear.
I don't believe there is a Finchley Petting Zoo, although Mike can prove me wrong. There is one at Regents Park Zoo and there is a Childrens' Zoo in Battersea Park. Note how proud Wandsworth Council are of the zoo they recently tried to close.. Happily they were defeated by popular support.
The hotel looks more like a US one, but I like to think there are some such oddities in North London.
"Blue Thistle" suggests it was a scottish-owned hotel, probably a Rangers fan. Completists may like to note that it is also known as "Blue Devil".
We are not yet introduced to John's team of experts. (Although Clarice is in the final panel.)
Unlike Alan Moore's Swamp Thing arc "American Gothic" they are thankfully free of the trappings of DC continuity and primary-coloured costumes.
"Evening campers" is a reference to Butlins or Pontins holiday camps that were so popular in the Sixties. Working class communities would uproot themselves to seaside towns for two weeks of living in prefabricated chalets. There would be announcements of entertainment over a public tannoy system, usually beginning "Hello campers ..."
"you're probably wondering why I've called you here today" is one of those repetitive cliches often seen in detective plays or haunted house movies, just before the sleuth exposes the killer. John's plainly using it in his ironic sense.
THE SHADOW DOG AT LAST !!
Oh... wait a minute... it's an advert for The Howling on DVD.
St Peters Hospital, last seen in #183 at the end of Black Flowers.
Note that Angie refers to those events as a riot.
The doctor refers to Jason's "delusions" which were probably an account of what actually happened !
Birkenhead is "over the water" from Liverpool, ie on the south side of the Mersey.
Jason's "recovery" would not be enough to fool any proper psychiatrist. There are plenty of diagnostic clues in this issue to see that he's not quite right (check that painting !). However, he's a voluntary patient, and Angie's probably convinced by the need to get a message to John.
He also knows that John and Angie are an item, which is significant.
Famously, The Phantom (or "Ghost who walks") swore on a skull of a pirate who murdered his father that he would avenge the death of his father by fighting evil. Among others, King Arthur had his men swear an oath on his dagger.
The skull and dagger oath might also be a reference to the Jesuit oath, supposed secret campaign of the Catholic Church - "It is just to exterminate or annihilate impious or heretical Kings, Governments, or Rulers".
I wonder if John is actually testing his team's motivations by seeing if they take the dagger (a weapon) or the skull (a victim).
This man Chalice has pointy teeth. He says his control might break, but he seems quite tense anyway.
Comments have been made on the Straight to Hell forum, that John's red eyes here suggest that *he* is not who he says he is.
So the skull and dagger are something called "sooth sifts" ie they sort out the truth. Of course, this being John, they may not be.
The intros begin.
Nat Kuhn, alias Nathan Arcane. (Dagger)
He says he's the sane one of the family, but both Abigail and her father could be said to have started sane.
Note that he holds the dagger like he means to use it.
We first met him in "Sandman: World's End" where he was a stowaway on Hob Gadling's boat bound for Liverpool. It was in 1912 and they encountered the sea serpent. Sure enough, he was an Indian King who ate a charmed apple that gave him eternal life. (Thanks to Jeremy Henderson on rec.arts.comics.dc.vertigo), he then turned up in Paddington in the Love Street miniseries.
Which means he's survived knowing John for a long time!
He refers to being known by different names, and knowing a previous owner of the skull (this might not be the *original* owner !)
Donatus Chalice (Skull)
"A man of God" and a member of a closed order of monks. He might also be a vampire, perhaps one who sought safety from that curse in his religion.
The tales of St Donatus include one where a communion chalice was broken and he repaired it, all but one piece which the Devil ran off with.
Name means "white" or "dawn".
Apparently this part may have been played by Zed from earlier Hellblazer issues.
She holds the dagger minimally.
Ken Ondaatie aka "Map" (Dagger)
He holds the dagger by its blade. He's not scared.
I believe this is the first time that we've heard Map's full name, and Mike has almost given him the surname of the Sri Lankan writer, Michael Ondaatje. You might have seen the dreadful film of one of Ondaatje's books "The English Patient". If you haven't, think yourself lucky and go and look at sandpaper for three hours instead.
Clarice Sackville (Dagger)
Also holds the dagger by the blade. I wonder if the recent involvement of Map and Clarice with John makes them more confident in him ? Her name is probably derived from Vita Sackville West who wrote Orlando, the film of which starred Tilda Swinton (...)
(There now follows a two page product-placement exercise that does not help me in my quest not mention the unmemntionable ...)
Jason knows stuff. Don't you think he looks rather like another scouser caught up in the occult ?
"The Dog That Hunts in Dreams" ?
"Just for once he didn't want to leave it till the nick of time."
That's a perfect way to sum up the way John operates. Although he usually has cards up his sleeve, he usually leaves it late to play them.
These vignettes may well be what was lacking from the Third Worlds arc. Imagine building the momentum with a few of these in each issue ? And I like the past tense account.
The number behind the girl's head on the blackboard can only be 184. The three numbers not visible are therefore 16, 23 and 24. Or P, W, X. Of course the girl would be thrown out of school for this.
Why Bethlehem ? Is this poetic licence or a suggestion of the anti-Christ ?
It is the end of the world, as John says.
And Swamp Thing works quite slowly but surely.
(It seems "poetic licence" was right. Funk and Jeremy Henderson point out thsi is from WB Yeats' "The Second Coming")
Ah, the dramatic rain fall !
"If you're all sitting comfortably, then I'll begin" was the introduction to the children's radio show "Listen with Mother" where stories would be read out for the young uns.
"We do not require the slow build and the meaningful pauses" - does anyone else echo Ravi's words when thinking of the story so far ?
John recounts some of the information he has gathered so far.
Recent plot synopsis for those who came in late because of (...) recent publicity for Hellblazer.
And more of the info that John gathered that the reader was not allowed to share earlier.
See here, especially 21:13.
In case anyone does not know, Nostradamus was a prophet who made vague poetic-type statements that people claim predict the events of modern society.
There was an old TV quiz show called 3-2-1 where outrageously convoluted riddles had to be solved to win prizes. And there was a bin as a booby prize. Contestants had to guess the riddle and select just one prize.
Thus "It's made of metal, you put stuff in, to take it away, if you want to win" would be interpreted as follows:
"Made of metal", well a car is made of metal, but so is a bin.
You "put stuff in to take it away", again, you can put stuff in a car, and also a bin.
That last line says "take it away if you want to win", well if you had taken it away, you would not be the winner because it's Dusty Bin !
That's what Nostradamus is like.
So Fredericks' spell weakened the doors from the land of the dead.
"A flock of old souls" - remember the soulherds from "Black Flowers" ?
"Babylon 1750 BC"
1763BC Hammurabi, the Amorite King, conquered all of Sumer. He wrote a "Code of Laws" that contained 282 rules including the principles of "an eye for an eye" and "let the buyer beware." It was one of the first codes of law in world history, predated only by the Laws of Lipit-Ishtar. (eawc, p.3)
1750BC Hammurabi established a code of laws. One of the laws was that if a married woman was caught lying with another man, both should be bound and thrown into the river. (WH, 1994, p.13)(SFEC, 10/20/96, zone 1 p.2)
1750BC Hammurabi died but his empire lasted another 150 years when the Kassites, a non-semetic people, conquered most of Mesopotamia with the help of light chariot warfare.
"China c.1200 BC"
The Late Bronze Age saw a great flowering of cultures across Europe and Asia. In Crete and Greece, the Minoans and Mycenaeans built palaces. In Egypt, the New Kingdom brought huge stone temples and statues, and the Egyptian pharaohs conquered far to the south, into modern Ethiopia and Eretria, and to the west into Libya, and to the north into Israel. In West Asia, the Hittites and Assyrians traded and built great palaces also. In China, the Shang Dynasty also used bronze and built palaces.
But by around 1200 BC, all of these kingdoms collapsed. We don't know exactly why, but people think it may have something to do with a general economic recession about this time. A Dark Age followed.
"Karnata" (aka Karnataka, India)
The Chalukyas rose to power in Karnata or the Canarese speaking country in the 6th century AD with Vatapi (present Badami) as capital. The real founder of the dynasty was Pulikesin I who performed 'aswamedha yaga' to access to power. His sons extended the empire in all directions. Pulikesin II (609-642) consolidated his power in Maharastra and conquored nearly the whole of Deccan. By 753 AD, Vikramaditya II, the Chalukya king was overthrown by Dandidurga and laid foundation for a new empire called Rastrakutas.
"Tasmania" we know about from Hellblazer 186.
"The Saxon Reich" would probably be Hitler's Germany, or the Kaiser's Empire ended by the Great War. Or both.
And it seems that all of these societies came to an end, as a result of something often unspecified, around the time that the three doors were opened. Chances are that during each event, a similar group of mages, occultists and wideboys fought against the "Shadow Dog" and managed to minimise the damage. Although history tells us what caused the end of the Saxon Reich, there are plenty of tales about mystical involvement.
See previous paragraph for my answer to Arcane's question.
Another one of Marcelo Frusin's creature features. As the cockroaches witness John's meeting.
John says the atrocities were edited out of history, yet all the times mentioned above have some sort of catastrophe, making it easier to hide what happened.
Does anyone know the one about Michael Jackson and the nun ?
The closest I can get is:
A confused novice nun goes up to Mother Superior and asks, "Is God male or female?"
After thinking for a moment, Mother Superior responds, "Well, God is both male and female."
This confuses the nun so she asks, "Is God black or white?"
The Mother Superior replies "Well, God is both black and white.
" This confuses the novice even more, so she asks, "Is God gay or straight?"
At this the Mother Superior is getting concerned, but answers none the less, "Honey, God is both gay and straight."
At this, the novice nun's face lights up with enlightenment and she triumphantly asks, "Is God Michael Jackson?"
Arcane's point would be that John must be joking.
Pages 15, 16 & 17
I really like the colouring on these pages. Very dreamlike. And a great debut for the actual shadow dog.
When Angie and Jason are leaving the asylum, the Sun is low on the horizon, and it has almost completely set now. That's perfect timing. Note that Angie says they can walk from King's Cross, which locates the Blue Thistle fairly near the Clerkenwell Hotel that John was staying at when he returned to London (#177).
Angie uses a ward written in her own blood. Is the dog after her or travelling in Jason's dream ?
The symbol that Angie uses is one for Saturn, but also relates to a plant with a life cycle of many years.
As I mentioned earlier, Clarice seems prepared to help John - but then he recently saved her life.
The others seem unwilling to get involved, we can see Arcane, Chalice and Alba walking away.
The "seance" Clarice is referring to is that at the climax of the American Gothic arc, where denizens of the DCU magical society were called together to "save the world". That seance involved Zatara, Zatanna, Baron Winters, Sargon, Mento, and Dr. Occult. Sargon and Zatara died, Mento was sent mad. Sargon returns later in another body.
Baron Winter has been seen since in the short-lived DCU series, Night Force (1997).
"Little is known about the history of Baron Winter, the mastermind behind the Night Force. Many of Winter's claims are suspect; he is known to tell lies as a means to an end. He is certainly long-lived, claiming to be over 300 years old. He met his first love, Katina, centuries ago when they were young and studying the occult. (Night Force v.1 #13). It is also said that he fled Russia in 1917 for the United States."
More evidence that Ravi has lived longer than a normal person.
Alba's sudden loss of control around Chalice is surprising. Either she is unstable, or has something living inside her or the approaching Shadow Dog is affecting her. Chalice summons bats to help him. But he does not heed John's warning. Now, if he were a vampire would the swords kill him ?
I wish to commend Marcelo Frusin on his restraint in drawing Alba's bottom.
Alba says "trap me and tempt me and snare me".
They are currently locked in the house by Map's spell.
There is a book about women spiritual leaders in the US called "White Fire" but I can only find one vague derivation for the term.
From the Liber Juratus -
Map's powers seem linked to places. Which would be appropriate. He's calmed her down anyway.
This power of suggestion reminds me of Derren Brown.
Is the appearance of blood on Alba's chest relevant ? Or an error ?
And I see that the door may be locked from the inside but Jason and Angie could get in.
Jason's matter-of-fact delivery of the threat of the Shadow Dog is still in keeping with someone deluded, but undisturbed by the seriousness of their delusions.
Anyway. Nine people on the team, one probably dead, one unconscious or uncontrollable, one mad.
And more importantly, one Constantine.