Staring At The Wall, Part 5 of 5
Annotations By :
Adrian Brown

Click Here for issue synopsis

Cover : Angie, Swamp Thing, Constantine set in a skull background. Notably, Swampy is framed in an ourobouros - the snake eating (or chasing) its own tail - a symbol of the eternal cycle. The Latin inscription "Finis ad origine fedet" loosely means, "the end will be seen at the beginning". Whether that refers to the visit to Eden or the first episode of this arc is open to interpretation. I think it means the latter.

Page 1

The first three panels are a recap of the moment leading up to page 21 of issue 192.

Panel 1

Paris : This looks most like the Arc de Triomphe, which would be quite appropriate for the Beast's imagined moment of triumph. At the other end of The Champs Elysées, near the Musée du Louvre is The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Shame the Beast did not know that.

Panel 3

London: Possibly London Bridge. This was rebuilt in 1973 after the previous version was sold to Americans ... and now sits in the Arizona Desert.

Panel 4

Last issue's "WHUMP!" mystery is resolved ! Angie is at the door.

Page 2

I dunno. This doesn't work for me. The perspectives are all wrong.

Page 3

The Beast realises that Angie is hidden by the wood, but does not yet realise what the wood is.

Panel 3

"You can't kill a vegetable by shooting it in the head." Jason Woodrue, in "The Anatomy Lesson" Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, February 1984.

Happy 20th Anniversary Alan Moore's Swamp Thing !

Page 4

Remember, John is "brain dead" not dead.

Angie says John told her that Gemma would be there. She does not say so, but he seems to have used the same channels he used from his connection with The Beast in the last issue. It's possible he set the whole thing up before Angie left "Plan A" back in #191.

Pre-lapsarian means before Adam & Eve's sin, as Angie said, but has been used in a metaphorical context "before the fall". Swamp Thing does not recognise the wood because it came from Eden. This is puzzling since he should have been connected to the garden from the very beginning. "After" he met the "Founding Fathers" of the Green (Swamp Thing #89), he went further back to a barren Eden and effectively created the Green and therefore the wood.

Perhaps there is only a tenuous link between the Green's evolutionary perception of Eden and the religious one.

In any event, Swampy thinks he understands John's plan (or is it the angel's plan ? qv Hellblazer #185, page 13)

Page 5

"Whip-grafting" is a horticultural term pretty much as shown, but normally the host would not take on the characteristics of the graft. This is Swamp Thing though, and he is adding to his stock.

Note that it is Angie who answers Chas.

As she says, Swampy is a Nature God and the wood comes from before nature, which answers my comments about the link to the religious Eden.

Panel 4

There've been debates about the superheroic nature of this arc. Swampy in uniform, Constantine using more magic than he is accustomed. Now, do you think this is a conscious thing from Mike Carey ?

"Could've been spandex" indeed.

Page 6

John's disembodied struggle with The Beast continues.

Although he's not quite disembodied is he ?

The way John has been presented in this spiritual form is rather less flowery and poetic than many of the previous episodes.

"By the hair on my chinny chin chin" was what the Three Little Pigs said to the Big Bad Wolf.

Two early versions of that story can be found here where it seems that the story was first published by James Orchard Halliwell, in Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Tales (London, ca. 1843)

"Smoke and mirrors" is one of those phrases that has dropped almost into cliched use, Mr Neil Gaiman used the term for distraction and illusion for one of his anthologies. It derives from the smoke and mirrors of a stage magic show. The phrase was popularised by newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin c.1975, and has been said to derive from carnie slang.

Of course John has made his name by using more trickery than magic.

Page 7

John continues goading the Beast.

"Dancing with the Devil" - top heavy metal drummer, Cozy Powell, had a hit record called "Dance with the Devil". Despite its appearance, the Beast is not the Devil.

"Careless talk costs lives" was a World War Two slogan intended to stop people talking about potentially dangerous information in public because you never know who might overhear. It was also the name of a popular music journal.

Page 8

Now, you see, it is not the form of Swampy's appearance that puzzles - since Alan Moore's cultivation of the story, he has always taken on characteristics of the plant material he's used. Why does the connection from the Garden of Eden (pre-Lapsarian, remember?) have such a martial appearance ?

Note about photo-reference. The lock-up is almost certainly in the arches of a railway line, not as depicted here.

It may be a minor point, and only niggles those obsessive continuity freaks ... ahem ... but it would be SIMPLE to keep these in line.

Page 9

As far as I am aware, there are no such grassy knolls near railway arches in Streatham, but it is quite a hilly area, with plenty of green areas.

People paying too much attention have observed that Swamp Thing's codpiece looks rather suggestive.

But then, don't all codpieces ?

As it happens, Swampy is wrong here. John is fighting a very risky battle and Swampy is at the very most going along as reinforcements.

Page 10:

Gemma's tee shirt, showing a pair of lips, put me in mind of the 80s version of Wonder Woman for a moment.

She has a cunning plan.

"Kumbayah" is most likely an African American spiritual made famous in the Sixties when hippy folk stuff was all the rage. It might be seen as a plea to God to come along in an hour of need, and Chas is making ironic reference to that.

Page 11

For someone who has sat around getting bitter for all these centuries, the Beast sure has a contemporary vocabulary. I suspect that it has picked up some choice words from the humans it has been possessing.

"A big friendly dog. Scooby Doo's charisma, Lassie's brains, Krypto's ..."

... superpowers, Dougal's coat, Muttley's snigger, Dill's energy, Hong Kong Phooey's martial arts skills, Timmy out of Five Go Mad in Dorset's friendliness, RinTin Tin's last minute rescue technique ..." but absolutely not that irritating Scrappy Doo! Oh no.

Page 12

"The last of Adam's kin." It's all about jealousy for the Beast. Adam tried to exercise control by giving it a name and it rebelled against that. But here comes Swampy to save the day ...

Page 13

The Beast is in some sort of discorporeal realm, so John and the Swamp Thing are in spirit form to attack it.

Something worse than death ? A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH ?

Oh no, he's going to Doglick again !!!

Page 14 & 15:

For those who came in (very) late, Swamp Thing's human soul is that of Alec Holland (blah blah blah, bio-restorative formula, blah blah blah, secret plans, blah blah blah, reanimated muck-encrusted mockery of a man, blah blah blah, Alan Moore.)

Len Wein's origin had Swamp Thing as the reanimated Alec Holland, with connections to Holland's past life.

Soon into the second volume, Alan Moore told how Swamp Thing was actually a plant elemental force linked to The Green (collective plant unconsciousness) which had absorbed the memories of Alec Holland, and was tenuously linked to the man. At the climax of the second volume of Swamp Thing, Mark Millar had the spirit of Alec Holland laid to rest. Some time during volume three, Brian K Vaughn has the spirit returned to Swamp Thing, but did not say how. Now it is out again, and the new volume has just begun with Andy Diggle's six issue arc establishing a return to the early Moore status.

Andy Diggle also adds of the difference between the soul and the Holland Mind (aka spirit ?) "one you are born with, one you grow".

It is worth remembering that, when the Parliament of Trees (all the previous plant elementals) wanted to kick humankind's arse off the planet, Swampy's connection to Holland stood in their way.

Page 16

The Beast being distracted by Swamp Thing has left the rest of humanity connected in what was intended to be their mass suicide, Gemma takes that connection and everybody thinks of the Sta Puft Marshmallow man !

Page 17

So, why does the Beast have such power over Holland's soul ?

Let me speculate that The Beast has NO IDENTITY, and as such has a peculiar ability when it comes to human identities. This includes the humanised (anthropomorphic) names that Adam gave the creatures.

"Now, where were we ?"


Page 18

Now, let's be clear here.

Angie got the stick from an Angel in Eden.

The Shadow Dog was created by Adam in Eden to keep the beast under control.

He chose Man's best friend.

As the human soul passes down through the generations each of us gets a bit of it.

That's what Gemma is reuniting here.

That bolt of lightning is an act of God.

Kua i'ipa was the term that was used to refer to the Shadow Dog back in Tasmania.

Now that particular red herring has been exposed, it may be that the name is a pronunciation of "keeper" !

Page 19

Sure has been a dog of a day.

And it looks like being a dog of a night.

Looking back to Red Sepulchre, Gemma was naive and insecure about her magic, but still felt slighted by her Uncle John. Well, he's given her a chance here, and she seems buoyed by his trust in her. This could be the start of a very fruitful relationship - at the very least, John can steer her away from some of his mistakes that she seemed to be heading for.

Page 20

"Five billion people dreaming about a dog"

The population of the world is over six billion now, so who do you think the missing billion dreamers are ?

My guess is that Gemma was thinking back to her schooldays when that figure was more accurate.

The idea of plugging things into the collective unconscious comes from Carl Jung (see notes for Hellblazer #191, page 6), but also has resonance in the way that "popular" themes change with the times. Back in the days of witchcraft persecution, eg Salem, everyone began to imagine they were having spells put upon them, even dreaming, as the threat entered people's subconscious. Many years later, we have very similar stories but about alien abduction (and yes, the witchcraft stories are still out there, just not as common) and even ritual abuse.

Page 21

Now that the Swamp Thing has no human soul, he can behave very differently.

But that's another story... over to Andy Diggle and Enrique Breccia.

Page 22

The streets are on fire, and now we have to clean up the mess.

If it's not too much to say, I have seen a picture of a crowded hospital from the next issue of Hellblazer.

This sort of event ought to have far-reaching consequences in the human psyche, but in the past (Crisis !) there's been a memory wiping climax. I hope not this time.

Musical accompaniment to this issue "It's The End of The World as We Know It (and I feel fine)" covered by Julee Cruise.

Now, here's that fate worse than death that TBWNN mentioned -

John does not remember anything.


The foundations for this arc were set up previously throughout Mike Carey's run. In Red Sepulchre, Fredericks knew of the Shadow Dog from his dreams - most likely because the Beast was feeding him that line. A Game of Cat and Mouse continued the duping of John, and Black Flowers has the Beast performing some smoke and mirror work of its own.

Of course, the Third World stories are steps one two and three in John establishing his battle plan.
Swamp Thing is enlisted, heavenly back up plan is drawn, and the connection to dreams is indirectly shown.
What is lacking from these three tales is any indication of what is going on with the Shadow Dog.

It has been suggested that the Gruinard story was brought forward to give the art team more time to catch up.

As it sits in between the set up and the climactic Shadows on the Wall, it serves to delay and damage the ongoing story line. It could actually be placed anywhere in continuity after Red Sepulchre, and my preference would be for the episode to come now, after John has been cut loose in the world with no memory of who he is. Gemma's attitude to John in Gruinard seems less spiteful. It would also add to the mystery of what happened to John.

Into Staring at the Wall, and another Red Herring.

There's a superhero thing that some folks have observed about this arc (and I wish to bludgeon some of those people with a whole history of fiction of which superheroes are a subset). In part one, Constantine assembles the Doomed Patrol of supporting characters. But this time (in part two) they mostly walk away, knowing his reputation. There was speculation about who the Beast could be - was it also some evil super villain from John's past ? With Swamp Thing and an Arcane involved, we were taken dangerously close to crossover territory, and by part three they were joined by The Phantom Stranger, Lucifer and Mazikeen and Tim Hunter. That was my least favourite part really. In part four it is back to the bones of the story, with Gemma, Chas, Swamp Thing and eventually Angie being the all-new Doomed Patrol. Chas is Snapper Carr, super-hero fans !

As for the Swamp Thing versus tge beast fight ... when was the last time we had two page "action" fight scenes in an issue of Hellblazer ?

Finally, the plan(s) come together. Plan A is actually the one that we are not shown in the story so far. Critics allege the solution was a Deus Ex Machina. ie an all-powerful or improbable solution coming out of the blue. Except the plan has been clearly established throughout the tale if not boldly stated in Constantinian voice-overs. Hints about the connection of the Shadow Dog to Adam and therefore to the human collective were strewn throughout the tale. This probably works better with the arc read as a whole. One aspect of the final battle that disappointed me was the confrontation between Constantine and TBWNN in that stereotypical infernal spirit realm.

Overall, the story may have been a slow burner, but the final arc works well with the earlier establishing shots.

I *like* the lack of mind-reading inner monologue from John, because that makes those hints and clues more challenging to spot. The relationship between John and his main supporting cast has shifted seismically, but now we have to wait and see what will happen with John's amnesia.

It's potentially a good time to show flashbacks and shift the story between the supporting characters. There are several characters from the archives who might be interested to know that Constantine has had his memory and identity stripped from him. If we are in superhero territory, I want to see a Josh Wright, not dead, but with a crushed neck, coming back from his hospital bed !

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