on 3 September 2012
The third volume of the chronological reprinting of the entire `Hellblazer' series is a peculiar tale, and a difficult one to pin down in a review. A cursory glance of other reviews (from this collection and from its original publication) show that opinions vary from one extreme to the other, with reviewers either championing it as one of the best stories in the series, or decrying it as one of the worst. At first, I swung closer to the side of the latter, but as the story went on, I found myself quite enjoying it for what it is. But there's no way of getting around the fact that this is a rather poorly crafted piece of writing by an otherwise highly respected writer.
I'm sure that the only reason I slowly became drawn to this story, despite its many shortcomings, is because I'm partial to a little bit of "conspiracy theory", a strong theme of this book. The main story itself it pretty intriguing, and contains many of the hallmarks that make Constantine such an enjoyable character to follow. However, the writing itself is pretty atrocious. I've mentioned in my reviews for the previous two volumes that Jamie Delano stifles the series with some seriously cheesy and overblown narration and dialogue. But, in this volume, Delano seems to take hold of the cheese and let it rip to his heart's content, particularly towards the frankly embarrassing end.
The story opens up strongly enough, as Constantine goes on the run after he's framed for a murder. But it soon becomes apparent that this potentially massive catalyst plays absolutely no part in the main narrative whatsoever. It's basically just an elaborate excuse for Constantine to get out of London and is barely mentioned again; in fact, midway through the story this plot point is swept under the carpet in an entirely unconvincing way. And this pattern is basically the main problem with the whole book. Things just happen for no real reason, and John Constantine and the new friends he meets after going on the run just happen to be in the right place at the right time. You don't need to have studied the art of fiction writing to know that this is a recipe for a bad story, and it's even more surprising coming from the writer Alan Moore himself hand-picked to write his own character.
But, problems aside, there are definitely enough good points in here to make `The Fear Machine' a worthwhile read. The occult "conspiracy theory" stuff is quite good, with some pretty disturbing elements thrown into the mix. We see a more tender side to John Constantine, and the character retains his unique personality and wit throughout. But, ultimately, I can't help but feel that this is a rather shallow effort, and I'm glad to be done with it. There are still a couple more Jamie Delano collections to come before the highly revered Garth Ennis run begins. I just hope that this is the one blight in what could otherwise be a very good run, and that there isn't more of this kind of thing to come.