He’s blonde, he’s British, he’s back. Nine years on from the film adaptation in 2005, Hellblazer’s trench coat-clad, chain-smoking, irascible John Constantine looks set to return to our screens – albeit the smaller ones. America’s NBC, home of many successful character reinventions such as Hannibal and Dracula, has recently announced its intents to pick up the DC/Vertigo franchise for a pilot episode and, if all goes well, a full series. Backed by Warner Bros, with Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones, The Descent) at the helm as director and the freshly unveiled Matt Ryan (Criminal Minds, Layer Cake) in the titular role, it’s time to start frothing at the mouth with excitement.
John Constantine was introduced by Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette in 1985 as a secondary character in Swamp Thing, though quickly became such a favourite he was granted his own spin-off. Hellblazer ran from 1988 to 2013, when it was replaced by a DC Universe title, Constantine. Irreverent, cynical, and selfish, John may be on our side, fighting the hidden world of malevolent angels and demons and everything in between as a kind of magician/supernatural detective, but that doesn’t stop him from being a complete bastard. Sick of both Heaven and Hell, he rejects all forms of authority and does what he can to save the world – while, shall we say, not always going about it the best of ways. He outwits ancient deities, flips off the Devil, actually blackmails God… He is, in a word, a complete badass.
We love him for it.
Needless to say there was a great deal of excitement nine years ago when the film adaptation, named simply Constantine, was released under the direction of first-timer Francis Lawrence, now of I Am Legend and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire fame. The film, while commercially successful and (in my possibly unpopular opinion) hugely enjoyable, was sadly lacking in loyalty to its origins: the Sting-modelled Constantine became raven-haired Keanu Reeves; the London backdrop and Liverpudlian accent succumbed to Californication in dusky Los Angeles; the cocky yet still somewhat loveable jerk became a cold-eyed and colder-hearted deadpan snarker, seemingly bored even as he orchestrated his own suicide. Though not without faults, the most vocal complaint came from this deviation from canon; indeed, had the film stood alone and been appreciated for its original ideas and defiance of overused tropes within the genre, it may have been better received. There were rumours a few years back of a possible sequel, with Reeves having since admitted Constantine is the only character he would be willing to play again, but time has since stubbed those out like so many of John’s omnipresent Silk Cuts, and for the longest time there was little hope of a flesh-and-blood Constantine return – until now.
Six months ago it was rumour. Three, it was hope. And now, it is reality.
Fans to the original graphic novels breathed a collective sigh of relief several days ago when Welsh actor Matt Ryan was cast in the title role of this now very much confirmed and very much upcoming series, which will begin filming in March. NBC’s John has been promised to be a ‘working class Londoner with rakish good looks, scruffy blonde hair, deadpan humour and signature trench coat, who has been studying the dark arts since he was a teenager’ (source). So far, so good; at least he’s from the right side of the Atlantic, and he does indeed have a magnificent scruffiness to his person.
Furthermore, already we have word of a storyline, both for the pilot and the possible series, and one certainly feels inclined to place their faith behind anything joint-authored by The Mentalist’s executive producer Daniel Cerone and DC’s go-to-guy David S. Goyer. The pilot of Constantine will see John come to the aid of his late friend’s daughter after she is targeted by demons, and the two form an alliance to fight the Hellish creatures that are passing through to our world at increasingly alarming rates. Fans of both the comics and the film will be delighted by the inclusion of voodoo witchdoctor Papa Midnite (played by Djimon Hounsou in 2005), as the series’ overarching villain, and there is promise of more familiar faces such as friend and sidekick Frank William ‘Chas’ Chandler (Shia LaBeouf in 2005) and indeed familiar locations, such as Ravenscar Psychiatric Hospital, in which several storylines including the film’s have centred around.
After the success of several other comic-to-series adaptations including the ten season long Smallville, CW’s Arrow, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (though the success of that is more personal taste), it is no surprise that television producers are turning to other popular and long-running titles to re-energise for the small screen; other up-and-coming shows include a The Flash spin-off from Arrow, and Gotham, the Batman prequel series following Ben McKenzie as a young Commissioner Jim Gordon. The relatively esoteric Hellblazer might have appeared an unusual choice if not for the sudden spurt of attention the series has been receiving since 2012, after Guillermo Del Toro announced his intentions to include our abrasive antihero in his Justice League Dark, set for 2015. Though rumours conflict about the film’s present health, Del Toro seems highly enthusiastic and is apparently unfazed by the impending Constantine series, saying he believes the two are capable of co-existing.
For fans old and new (and those who don’t quite know it yet), this is indeed an exciting time: not one, but two new Constantine media. There is no word on Del Toro’s casting as yet (and don’t hold your breath; it may be some time), but again we can safely assume he’ll be blonde. NBC’s Constantine looks likely to reach our screens and souls this autumn, but it remains early days yet: in the meantime content yourself with the top ten Hellblazer story arcs, the trailer for the Keanu Reeves film and Empire’s excellent review of it.