Ray Fawkes has the unenviable task of helping John Constantine make the move from his condemned longtime walkup at Vertigo to his new digs at DC’s New 52. News of Hellblazer’s cancellation after a generation left readers gutted, but DC hopes to give the mangy mage a fresh start in the world of Superman, Batman and his old pal Swamp Thing. Of course, John’s already a charter member of Justice League Dark, but 2013 sees his full debut as a solo star in a brave new world.
We spoke to Fawkes about the controversial project and the challenge before him.
“My initial reaction? Probably a simultaneous wave of terror and excitement,” said Fawkes of the project’s arrival to his desk. “I love John Constantine. I’ve loved him in comics for, I guess it’s close to 30 years now. The very notion that I could be involved in the next stage of his evolution was mind-blowing. Actually, I didn’t know how to respond for a couple hours. Obviously my response was ‘Hell yes! Please! Absolutely! Don’t even think of asking anybody else if they want to do it.’”
Of course, Fawkes is well aware of the uphill battle involved with this task. “My greatest challenge in this transition is making John make sense in the same world as some of the massively super-powered characters that are around. John is essentially one of the DC Universe’s experts on magic, which is incredibly powerful and incredibly threatening, and that would put him front and center on the world stage. But by nature, John is someone who operates in the shadows. So there was some thought as to how to make it work for him, to allow him to do what he wants to do and yet still be this rather important character. He can’t really live the way he lived in Hellblazer. Characters like Superman or Sargon will come across him and they will want to deal with him.”
As for the most significant changes, the new John is of course younger than the 50-something mage in these final issues of Hellblazer. Fawkes describes the younger John as “impulsive, a bit more willing to get his hands dirty personally.” As for the qualities he felt vital to maintain, the legacy of Vertigo’s Constantine, the writer points to his straddling of the gray. “He’s a good guy, but he’s willing to do very bad things to get the right thing done.” He also hopes he’s successfully captured the character’s wit and charm as well as “a healthy degree of his cynicism and bad habits. Without bad habits, John would not be John.”
We asked, too, about that signature Constantine cadence. How important is language? Incredibly. “Because John is such a wit. So much of his survival depends on his wits. People call him a silver-tongued devil. So language is crucial. Everything he says has to matter. Hopefully it’s appealing too. Charming and funny and dangerous.”
If today’s John Constantine of the New 52 were to meet the curmudgeonly Constantine of Hellblazer, would they like each other? “I doubt it,” said Fawkes with little hesitation. Then, after a pause, “I don’t think John would like himself if he met him. I think the older John would think the New 52 John was living too dangerously, maybe. A little too brash? The New 52 version would think the old one talks too much.” Another pause. ”I’m sure they could sit down and drink together.”
That got us thinking. What kind of music does John Constantine like? Fawkes chuckled at this. “It’s really hard to answer that question without throwing my own taste on top of it. John, I think, is into a lot of new wave stuff that would’ve been around while he was growing up in England.” It became evident that Fawkes considered this the most difficult question in our ten minute conversation. This was vital, but elusive. Tough to pin down. “I think he likes stuff that’s really sort of dark. Joy Division. Other post-punk things. As for modern music, I’m not sure John has time to sit down at a computer and listen to a proper satellite radio station.”
We closed by asking Fawkes how he might put the legions of scared, nervous, even angry Hellblazer fans at ease when it comes to this major change for a character the spent their formative years with, grew up alongside. “All I can say,” said Fawkes, “is that I am one of them. That I came up with John. I was buying Swamp Thing off the racks when he first showed up. I was buying Hellblazer back in university when it first came out. I am just as big a fan of the old John Constantine as many of them are. All I can say is ‘trust me.’ I hope that you will be as entertained by the new John as you were by the old one.”
We’ll find out next month when Constantine #1 by Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire and Renato Guedes lights up on March 13th.