John Constantine isn’t your typical magician. Bitter and grizzled, he wouldn’t mix well with Gandalf or Houdini, but nor would he want to. Created by Alan Moore and artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben as a supernatural adviser to Swamp Thing during their run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Constantine took a life of his own once he got his chance at an ongoing series — coming the de facto pillar of DC’s Vertigo Comics line. In 2005, the blue-collar wizard got his own series in the maligned Constantine movie starting Keanu Reeves, but it failed to create a positive impression on the mainstream public or the hardcore fans that made him popular in the first place. Sorry, Keanu.
We’ve seen other heroes successfully fight back from a poor initial outing outside comics, and John Constantine seems to have the grit and the drive to do the same. Here’s how we’d do it.
While movies seem to be the dream destination for most fans and their comic book crush, television has really changed in what can be done. And in many ways, what can be done better than movies. With dark thrillers like The Walking Dead, True Blood and Breaking Bad making a hit (and making big money), John Constantine could be an ideal wellspring for a new series. It wouldn’t hurt that Time Warner, the company that owns DC Comics and Constantine, also owns HBO and Cinemax.
Imagine a John Constantine series featuring this working-class warlock haunted by the sacrifices and mistakes he’s made for what he thinks is the ultimate good. Liverpudlian accent and cigarettes in tow, Constantine could dredge up demons, monsters and succubi — and see them come to get him for past misdeeds. A key part of this could be Constantine’s constant companionship in the form of ghosts of friends who died because of him, but on the side of the living he’d have his erstwhile mate Chas. There’s a wealth of material to comb through; imagine a season devoted to Delano’s “Original Sins” arc or even his far-future “Bad Blood” one-shot. I’d love to even see Constantine on a road trip across America as seen in Brian Azzarello’s brief run.
There’s not that many people who have the expertise, the writing ability and the free time to jump on a project like this. The best man for the job in my mind is House, M.D. creator and showrunner David Shore. Born in Canada and a former lawyer, Shore bounced around TV writers rooms for decades before he came up with House. That lead character has a similarly acerbic personality that I see from reading Hellblazer comics, and Shore has the weight of being a multiple Emmy winner and House, M.D. on his resume to get a lot of things a less accomplished showrunner could get from the studio.
John Constantine – Christopher Eccleston: This actor made his name when he revived Doctor Who and will be playing a major character in the second Thor film, and the time seems right for Eccleston to step out on his own in a big way. His portrayal of the Doctor was darker than anyone before or since, and he has a big acting presence like fellow Brits Ray Fiennes and Gary Oldman. I’d love to see Eccleston bring all he has into this role, and make people forget Keanu Reeves.
Papa Midnight – Yasiin Bey: Djimon Hounsou wasn’t bad in Constantine, but I’m hoping for something better and more nuanced and the formerly known as Mos Def would be just the thing. He’s been great recently in Dexter, and he was a bright spot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie. Bey could portray this shaman/businessman with ease, balancing between being a hated enemy of Constantine to sometimes a friend.
Nergal – Philip Glenister: Nergal really grew on me as a character, and he could be an interesting addition to a John Constantine television series. Later on you could even go back to Constantine’s origin and Nergal’s part in that. Taking Philip Glenister into this might be a bit surprising, but I think he could really sink his teeth in his. He was great as Gene Hunt on Life On Mars, but I’m recalling his role as Gunner Hobbs in the Hornblower movies for a real case of villainy.
Chas – Marshall Lancaster: Try as I might, I can’t help but bring in a second Life On Mars alum in casting Lancaster as the cabbie Chas. Shia Labeouf was a bit vanilla in the Constantine movie, and I think Lancaster is more equipped — a bit better, age wise — to play Constantine’s ever-present aide.
Chantinelle – Winona Ryder: Surprised you with that one, huh? This is one place I’d take a different path than in the comics, and give Elle here a bigger role in the series. And seeing Ryder take on a role like this would be interesting, especially opposite Eccleston.