If, like me, you are a comic book fan, you may have noticed a plethora of comic book inspired movies and television shows. Some good, some not so good, and some are downright—well, let’s not talk about the Daredevil and Elektra movies…. Last time, I talked about Gotham and the books I thought may have inspired the show. We also have shows coming soon based on DC’s The Flash, Marvel’s Agent Carter of S.H.I.E.L.D., Luke Cage (Power Man), Iron Fist and Jessica Jones (all three of those are Marvel characters coming soon to Netflix).
And then there’s Constantine, an upcoming NBC show based on the Veritgo character. There’s already been an attempt to bring John Constantine to film; a 2005 movie starring Keanu Reeves that we also won’t talk about. Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics, a space where stories and characters can be dark, grim. Where a chain-smoking, hard-drinking practitioner of magic might live. Sort of an anti-Doctor Strange (Or Doctor Fate, if you prefer DC over Marvel). Someone you might call when the thing that goes bump in the night tries very hard to eat you and you don’t know where else to turn for help.
Created by Alan Moore and Stephen R. Bissette, John Constantine, who first appeared in the pages of The Saga of The Swamp Thing, became the featured character in Hellblazer. A Liverpool native, Constantine is a working-class magician in Thatcher’s Great Britain when the series starts.
Hellblazer: Original Sins contains issues 1-9 of the original series, plus two stories from the pages of Swamp Thing. In the first story, a childhood friend of Constantine, who dabbles in magic and illegal drugs, accidentally lets loose a demon, Mnemoth, who infects humans with an insatiable hunger. And it’s spreading, growing stronger. To stop it, Constantine will have to travel from Liverpool to Africa, and then to America. He’ll have to enlist the help of a Voodoo Doctor, and avoid the ghosts of his past who literally haunt him to this day. In the second story, Constantine finds himself caught up in the unusual deaths of yuppies in Spitalfields near the East End and Liverpool Street station, a place where he never thought to find yuppies living, let alone dying. It doesn’t take long for him to run afoul of a horde of demons living in the area.
The third story finds Constantine searching for his lost niece, Gemma, with the help of his new friend, Zed; a woman he meets when he turns a street corner, who appears to have some skill with magic, and whom Constantine desperately wants to sleep with. Here, he meets God’s Warriors and the Damnation Army, two opposing forces who will resurface later. The fourth story sees Constantine drawn to a small town in Iowa who lost many of its young men in Vietnam, but, through a strange twist and more than a little magic, they are about to return home for one, tragic night. The fifth story, Extreme Prejudice, touches on a lot of hot topics including racism, homophobia, AIDS and more, and sets Constantine against local street thugs and a demon. In the sixth story, Constantine learns who Zed really is, and what the Damnation Army and God’s Warriors both want with her.
Last, you have a story balance from the pages of Swamp Thing. Constantine has a plan, one he hopes the Swamp Thing will accept and support. The balance of everything—good, evil, light and dark—is at stake should he fail.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the stories in Hellblazer have an edge to them. Much more so than what you would see in the pages of a regular DC book—hence the Vertigo imprint. The art is dark and moody, setting the tone for the stories, which have just enough horror, just enough of a twist, to make you wonder. John Constantine drinks to excess, he smokes all the time, he sleeps around, he makes bad choices as often as he makes good ones. He is a complicated character. Not everyone will like him for the choices he makes, right or wrong. His world is bloody and violent.
Which makes me wonder how they will adapt him for broadcast television.
I can’t imagine a chain-smoking character on NBC these days. But they’ve done well with Grimm as far as a “dark and gritty” magical world goes, so I have high hopes for the series. I think some of the themes of the comics, like the AIDS scare and mis-information, Thatcher’s Britain, etc., probably won’t be part of the new series. But I hope they don’t completely neuter Constantine, and use him to shine a light on the uncomfortable topics of the day.
Constantine is set to debut on October 24th. Until then, I recommend you pick up Hellblazer: Original Sins and see where the character began.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.