Comic books are the hot s**t of television right now, let’s face it.
From the walker infested wasteland of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” to The CW’s les enfants terrible duo of “Arrow” and “The Flash” starring DC’s “Justice League” buddies, television is taking on a world held in such high regard to fans of the medium usually reserved for film.
Though these shows may take a creative split from their source material, people are on board for the comics-to-TV ride. Fans may look to the CW shows as a play towards mainstream comic fans, and “The Walking Dead” audience for the most part has not read the Robert Kirkman-penned comic series it’s based on.
But what about those comic series that transcend super heroes and their cyclical battles with evil?
Enter NBC’s latest, “Constantine,” and as a huge fan of the comic series Hellblazer, even I have to admit I hold high expectations for “Constantine,” based off of the series’ titular character. “Hellblazer” is, to its core, one very adult comic series.
Notably it presents an anti-hero that chain smokes, drinks and doesn’t really give a damn about a whole lot of the stuff that the larger-than-life suit wearing heroes fight for. He’s a spiky haired trickster magician who solves paranormal mysteries, expanding upon the premise of most religions, good versus evil, and the war between the two.
Not only does he tackle the battles of fictional demons, but the demons that exist in this world that we all face. Prior to this televised effort, a film was made based off the character also titled “Constantine” starring Keanu Reeves in 2005, and when I said based, I mean very loosely (but I will not even begin explaining what is wrong with the movie).
NBC is taking on this visceral cult fan favorite character, and the creators of the show wants to stay as true to the comic as possible… but where do you begin when you enter this new series?
WHO IS JOHN CONSTANTINE?
Born in Newcastle, England, John Constantine was in a world of darkness even before birth.
He strangled his own twin brother in the womb with his umbilical cord. John was then born to dead mother and suffered an alcoholic embittered father who blamed him relentlessly for her death throughout his youth.
From an early age, John explored the world of the occult, learning spells, curses and incantations, and he learned how necromancy and communing with the dead worked, and got involved with the invisible to the naked eye spirit world.
Through his actions, he inadvertently condemns a girl who is sent to hell, thus giving his soul to the eternal fire. Damned and angry, John Constantine combats demons and solves mystery that go beyond what we know and understand. With a silk cut cigarette constantly in mouth, a bit of a boozy and blunt temperament, John Constantine instantly became a DC cult favorite.
Making his first comic appearance in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37, the character was created by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Stephen R Bissette and John Totleben. Constantine got his own series in 1988, Hellblazer, the series then moved to be an official Vertigo (comic imprint owned by DC) in 1993. The series had a run from 1988 to 2013 and now Constantine has been made part of the DC Universe again with his own, self titled series to be a part of DC’s “New 52” canon.
WHAT TO EXPECT FOR CONSTANTINE, THE TV SERIES
Executive producer Daniel Cerone (Dexter) expressed that the show will mirror the Hellblazer series including one episode from the first season drawing heavily from the inaugural issue, that being John Constantine trying to capture the Mnemoth demon.
Constantine isn’t your average comic book hero. “He doesn’t have any powers or real magic. He’s a normal guy, a guy with a f**ked up background… He’s a cigarette smoking, trench coat wearing, spiky haired guy with a bad attitude that makes him a lot fun to work with.” said Cerone. A lot of the elements from Hellblazer will be in play. Constantine, unlike Keanu Reeves’ version, will be more like how the comic series rendered him. Played by Welsh actor Matt Ryan (Collision, Criminal Minds), he will be reminiscent of the blonde haired, Sting look-alike in the tan trench coat. Constantine’s Northern Brit origins will remain the same.
The character Constantine is not the most likable guy, by doing a lot of bad for the greater good and then some bad just for being bad. The main concern is having a protagonist for a series who is generally unlikable.
So, how are people going to relate to a guy who is bit of a dick? And not in that charming dickish Cumberbatch/Sherlock way?
“He [John Constantine] makes a lot of hard choices in the show, and he throws a lot of people under the bus but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it… You see that pain in his eyes when he has to make these decisions where from his point of view he is fighting a war that people on earth are underdogs and he is going to have to do a lot of dirty tricks but you see the weight of it in his eyes,” said executive producer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel).
John Constantine’s not a total bastard, but like the comic, Constantine’s battle with evil consistently pits him into making terrible decisions no hero would want to make, hence making him the perfect anti-hero who makes the calls that no one likes.
The first season locales will take place primarily in the US, with filming still ongoing in Atlanta, Georgia. The series expands its external location menu to Sudan and Mexico for undisclosed episodes further in the season, which fans of the comic series will note strays from the comics’ British setting. But it will present the Constantine story in a more familiar setting to American viewers so it’s a bit more relatable, which is understandable.
Another important difference is the creation of this new main character who acts, literally, as John’s guardian angel. Manny, played by Harold Perrineau, who is an angel sent from heaven to watch over Constantine while he crusades to destroy demons, but he’s not your average angel. He’s not very nice to Constantine and doesn’t take his standoffish demeanor kindly; sometimes he can act like more of an antagonist than a guardian.
The relationship between Manny and John can go any direction, but Perrineau’s angel is the kind of angel that Constantine needs.
“He saw the great flood [from the Old Testament], that gives you an interesting perspective on a character like that, he’s been around since the dawn of time.” said Goyer. So characters aside, the show will showcase an interesting exploration of Christian lore, including angels and demons from multiple walks of faith, but all obstacles in John Constantine’s path.
What is exciting about Constantine is that this series will push the envelope for a network series, Cerone expressed that NBC supports the boundaries that the show will pushed. Since Constantine is a very adult character, presenting this story not only gives the showrunners a chance to present the most authentic Constantine they can, but is laudable for giving network television more adult programming, comic book basis or not.
The first season will present a character, whose origins will take more than the pilot to explain, but taking one of modern literature’s most compelling characters will be no easy feat. As my expectations are high, so are many others, including the minds behind Constantine.
Talking to the executives behind the series gives me high hopes; they want to see the diehard comic fans – like myself – pleased.
Despite on how the show is carried out, no matter how faithful to the source material it may be, will finally give one of the comic book world’s greatest characters the depiction he deserves.
The series will premiere October 24 at 10/9c on NBC.