Alex Yarde looks at all things Constantine before the October 24th premiere.
John Constantine was the protagonist of a horror comic book series, originally published by DC Comics and Vertigo imprint since March 1993; he was introduced during the early days of the Modern Age of Comics, and so its themes were as dark, edgy, and politically and morally complex as its contemporaries The Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Hellblazer (also known as John Constantine, Hellblazer) mixed supernatural and real life horror, akin to contemporary gothic, with noire, surrealism and occult detective fiction elements and the story unfolded in real time in its span of 20 years, and its protagonist Constantine aging in every publication. Because of this, writers of the series often drew heavily from the era’s distinct culture and topical issues in their runs.
The shrewd streetwise English magician and erstwhile confidence man John Constantine, was created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette. He first appeared as a supporting character in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 (June 1985), during that creative team’s run on that title. Hellblazer had been published continuously since January 1988, and was Vertigo’s longest running title, In 2013, the series concluded with issue 300, and has been replaced by a DC Universe title, Constantine.
When Jamie Delano first wrote the series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his issues were heavily inspired by the era such as punk rock and the British economy. As such, much of Hellblazer’s horror stories often came couched in the crisis and controversies of the day. Being set in the UK, many famous British personalities have appeared or made cameos such as Sid Vicious, Margaret Thatcher, Aleister Crowley and Alan Moore. Delano would be the first to put his political views in the series, such as his negative views of P.M.Thatcher’s regime and by 2005, included Bush’s War against Terrorism. When Garth Ennis took over writing, he included racism, drugs, and religious fanaticism. The most controversial writer, Brian Azzarello (Wonder Woman) tackled issues such as Neo-Nazism & prison rape. During Warren Ellis’ run, he included American school shootings in a one-shot issue, which led to major controversy. As stated by Ellis, Hellblazer’s major themes were cynicism, nihilism and “sudden violence”, with the protagonist oftentimes narrating the story in dark prose with occasional breaking of the fourth wall.:
“In many story arcs every victory Constantine makes has a negative side effect and often leads to tragedy. His friends, family, and others would be sacrificed or be caught in the crossfire, many of them dead or have left him. John tries his best to make something good in his life, but most of it leading to failure.” [Citation Wiki]
As part of the DC universe reboot in September 2011, Peter Milligan started the title Justice League Dark, which featured an alternate version of John Constantine as a prominent part of the team. Milligan explicitly stated that the continuity of the two series would be mutually exclusive, and that there would now be a Vertigo John Constantine, and a younger DC Comics Constantine (twenties instead of fifties). Milligan wrote eight issues of Justice League Dark, with writer Jeff Lemire taking over on issues nine to present.
The NBC show is based upon this younger character, a seasoned but younger incarnation. (I think they split the difference and he’s thirty something) Here’s the NBC official breakdown:
“Demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine (Matt Ryan, “Criminal Minds“) is armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and a wickedly naughty wit. He fights the good fight – or at least he did. With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to abandon his campaign against evil until a series of events thrusts him back into the fray, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the innocent. With the balance of good and evil on the line, Constantine will use his skills to travel the country, find the supernatural terrors that threaten our world and send them back where they belong. After that, who knows… maybe there’s hope for him and his soul after all? The cast also includes Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) as Manny and Charles Halford (“True Detective”) as Chas. Writer Daniel Cerone (“The Mentalist,” “Dexter”) serves as executive producer with David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel,” “The Dark Knight Rises”). “Constantine” is produced from Bonanza Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television. The show is based upon characters published by DC Entertainment.”
Check the official trailer:
As an aside, the visually stunning but mixed bag guilty pleasure of Director Francis Lawrence’s 2008 film of the same name (Constantine), Tilda Swenson’s take on the Angel Gabriel and Peter Stormare’s (‘The Blacklist’) oily Lucifer, are worth a look see alone. Terminal cancer-ridden occultist John Constantine (Keanu Reeves, “The Matrix”Trilogy) exorcises demons back to Hell in a bid to earn favor with Heaven, but has become weary over time. With death looming, he helps a troubled police detective (Rachel Wiese, “The Mummy”) learn the truth about her twin sister’s death while simultaneously unraveling a much larger and darker plot. Dijon Honshu’s Papa Midnite and the somehow famous Shia Le Boeuf as Constantine’s sidekick (that guy was in everything in ’08) round out the strong cast. The film is seriously flawed, mainly because in my opinion it lacks the political and social relevency of Moore’s Hellblazer (and it’s not even a terrific police procedural), but it’s polished, fun and holds up effects-wise even today.
If you are interested, hunt down the old Vertigo issues and read the new 52 take as well. The original book had longevity for a reason. Constantine is a terrific character as a reluctant hero and the origins of the Hellblazer series are a touchstone to the politics and controversies of their day. Hopefully, the producers of the new NBC show keep some of Moore’s Hellblazer noirish, social commentary-time capsule edge and less “monster of the week” in the new series. I’m hopeful that the producers feel that way too.
Check out this video from SDCC14 and the Constantine panel:
For the second year at NYCC, Warner Bros. Television will host preview night screenings Main Stage 1D at 8:30 PM Thursday, October 9. Fans will not only view the complete pilot episode of hotly anticipated series Constantine (series premiere Friday, October 24, 10/9c on NBC), but also the season two premiere episode of The 100 (season two premiere Wednesday, October 22 9/8c on The CW) will be screened. The NYCC14 Constantine WBTV Panel Session is Saturday, at 7:00PM October 11th Empire Stage, I’ll see you there!
Fun fact: Constantine was the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity, and proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which decreed tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. Ha-Ha! Made you learn!
All Art ~ DC Comics, Warner Bros. Television