Out of all the characters taking the small screen by storm, there isn’t a single show this season getting me more excited than Constantine. Hellblazer has always been a decidedly dark comic, with very few ties to the traditional DC universe, but DC is moving Constantine into the mainstream with a television series, and hoping the character’s lack of recognition as a mainstream character wouldn’t hurt the show. It’s not like putting Superman or Batman on the small screen. This is a guy that no one really knows about, and after the terrible Keanu Reeves film that I will never mention again after this article (it didn’t really happen, as far as I’m concerned), it was a sure thing that no one ever would.
But who is Constantine? Why is he such a big deal? Well, let’s start with that first question. Constantine was conceptualized as a Sting look alike. In 1984, he first showed up in Saga of Swamp Thing, written by legendary comic scribe, and all around crazy person, Alan Moore. Alan Moore was still relatively unknown at the time, but was gaining success for his work on Swamp Thing and his decision to move the book in a decidedly supernatural direction. Artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben were the artists on the book, and they practically begged Moore to create a character that looked like Sting. They were obsessed! The character was created after a character Sting played in the 1982 film Brimstone and Treacle.
Moore, who would later become a “practitioner of magic himself,” saw more potential for Constantine than a nameless character in a crowd. Instead, he showed up a year later in Swamp Thing 37, and set the tone for character for years to come. He first appeared as a chain smoking mentor of sorts to Swamp Thing, but would behave very much so like he does to this day.
Neil Gaiman, another prolific name in comics, pitched a Constantine series, but it was too late. Alan Moore handpicked his replacement. Jamie Delano. Jamie claims to have seen Constantine in real life, as most other Constantine writers have. They claim to have seen him out of the corners of their eyes and on busy street corners. But who would chase Constantine down? It’s dangerous business, knowing Constantine.
Delano’s 40 issue run on Hellblazer was as prolific in character creation as John Byrne and Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men almost a decade prior.
Garth Ennis would replace Delano on the book for the Vertigo line, and take the character in decidedly far darker places. Constantine was no longer aimed to be the “loveable rogue,” but more the guy whose girlfriends keep dying, and you should just stay away from. By the time Warren Ellis got the book, Constantine was under a lot of pressure in the real world. It was definitely pushing the envelope. And Warren Ellis, with his being an archetype of British fiction and the weird (Just read the synopsis for Crooked Little Vein, Planetary, or Transmetropolitan), he took the character in a direction the book couldn’t survive. He wrote a story called “Shoot,” which was about a school shooting in America, just months before Columbine, and in it, John witnesses multiple school shootings and concludes that the shooters and their victims are victims of social, political, and cultural forces that have hollowed them out. The book was not to be released as written. Editorial staff refused. Ellis, after weeks of arguing, told Karen Berger, head of Vertigo, that if they wanted to change the story they could, but they’d have to take his name off the book. And he resigned.
The original version of the story leaked, and the comics community rallied to Ellis’ defense, but it was too late.
Over the years since, during Brian Azzarello’s run on the book, they allowed Constantine to age in real time, something that is rare in comics. So by the mid 2000s, John Constantine reached his mid to late-fifties. And by 2012, it became time for John to die. They wrote the most interesting final issue, after allowing John to get married, die, escape death, and then into the ending.
After years of being affected by John’s life, Gemma, his niece, expresses her hatred for him. In the end, John tells her to shoot him with a supernatural gun that would erase him from existence.
And she does.
The final three pages are the most ambiguous in Hellblazer history, and I won’t spoil them here. It’d be wrong. Go check it out! Itt certainly would never be the end for John Constantine. DC decided that all of it’s intellectual properties would be rolled into one in the New 52. Wildstorm, Vertigo, and all imprints of DC would be closed, and the New 52 would see all DC’s owned characters together in one universe. And Constantine would join the Justice League. Sort of. The series would disappoint long time Constantine fans, by shying away from how dark the series typically would be, but overall was a success.
But why is Constantine such a big deal? No I didn’t forget that question. Constantine is a big deal, because he is the side of DC that you don’t see. The fire and brimstone, the magic, the darkness, and all the elements of comics that for all intents and purposes, were killed in the 1950s with the dawn of the Comics Code, but DC wouldn’t have it. They created Vertigo in a step in the direction of doing away with the code, and since then, the Code has disappeared entirely. The censorship that hung heavy over comics for decades, was killed. And it was in part due to Constantine, and Vertigo, and all titles similar, including Gaiman’s Sandman and Books of Magic.
Constantine is one of DC’s biggest supernatural characters, having battled Heaven, Hell, and everything in between. With Guillermo Del Toro wanting to do a Justice League Dark film, and DC announcing that an iteration of the team would appear on the show [I’m hoping to see Deadman!] Constantine has a big future ahead of him, and he’s paving the way for other projects, like Sandman and Swamp Thing and any other dark title DC has been keeping on the back burner.
But does this show spell the end for Justice League Dark? It’s hard to say. Considering DC left Sandman off the announced films list last week due to it not being related to the Justice League film universe, there’s still hope for Justice League Dark.