One could say that we as a comic book community have seen what could be argued as the Golden Era of Comic Book live-action media over the last two-decades. From seeing on the BIG screen three different actors who’ve portrayed Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT Trilogy, Iron Man, Captain America, the Avengers, MAN OF STEEL, the highest grossing female lead movie directed by a female director — WONDER WOMAN — ever and the “Dark Knight” RETURN in the form of the greatest live-action portrayal (in my opinion, and many others) of Batman by Ben Affleck.
Then, to flip the coin to the other side, we’ve been lucky enough to see the multiple comic book characters brought to life on the “small screen” and interweb like Green Arrow on ARROW, and the Flash in his self-titled series to Daredevil in his own self-titled series on Netflix as well as Jessica Jones in yet another self-titled. BUT there was one series that outdid all of the rest in casting, acting, stories and the look/designs… CONSTANTINE.
John Constantine, a demon hunter and dabbling master of the occult, must struggle with his past sins while protecting the innocent from the converging supernatural threats that constantly break through to our world due to the “Rising Darkness”. Balancing his actions upon the line of good and evil, Constantine uses his skills and a supernatural scry map to journey across the nation to send these terrors back to their own world, all for the hope of redeeming his soul from eternal torment.
The series was announced not long after ARROW’s success — which as of late there is lack there none of — and CONSTANTINE only got better from there, as they gave us the best cast of a lead character I’ve seen in any CB TV series yet with Matt Ryan.
Every now and then you get an actor/actress who dives into the character they’ve been cast to portray, and I’d say 1 out of 5 actually end up embodying said character. Ryan was one of those, as he looked, talked, walked and smoked just like good ol’ Johnny boy. He managed to turn a lot of people I knew who were skeptics of him being cast as John Constantine, and whenever that happens it’s a great sign of an actor’s ability. If there was one specific thing about the series that separated it leaps and bounds above the rest of the pack, it was Ryan’s perfect portrayal of the “Hellblazer”.
The show itself was also one of the more comic book accurate of all the rest.
Right out of the gate with the pilot “Non Est Asylum” we were thrown directly into the mix, and exposed to all of the supernatural elements and the darkest of forces. Unlike Marvel who has eliminated true magic from their cinematic universe by saying, “magic’s just science we don’t understand yet,” (which came right out of THOR) while DC threw the House of Mystery’s front door wide open and told us to go wild exploring.
As a comic book fan, and especially of the occult characters, I get very offended by a company attempting to dumb down its stories, characters and canon so the mainstream audience — people who don’t read comics — can understand the material in front of their faces. That was one thing I loved about CONSTANTINE was that they didn’t “dumb” anything down for the audience. They instead allowed for the material to speak for itself, which any great storyteller does.
And so the writers kept with magic’s canonically accurate premise, that no matter how little of magic you use, you have to pay a price. In the comics, every Mage has a different price they pay over and over again for using magic, or that price could be something different every time. For example, Zatanna Zatara — daughter of Zatar Zatara, and most powerful Mage in the DCU — can’t listen to music anymore, magic has corrupted it for her and the powerful Mage Mr. E’s — founding member of the Cult of the Cold Flame — eyes melted within his head all so he could perceive magic better than any other.
In the series Johnny boy’s cost is people close to him die, as it is in the comics. It’s one of the more severe costs for using magic, and it haunts his soul, which would’ve been the series long plot (or at least until a reasonable point) since he lost the soul of a young girl — Astrid — to a demon called Nergal, and banishing her to eternal damnation.
“Non Est Asylum” introduced us to the essential driving force of the series as well as our main cast of characters — Johnny boy, Manny, Chas and Liv — although it also showed us a goodbye to one of those same characters, Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffith). In the pilot it was very clear that Liv’s character was meant to be the female series lead, but due to the show runners wanting to move the show in a slightly different direction, they used her to lay an important foundation — the scry map — for the show before bowing her out at the end of the pilot.
Then cue episode-2, “The Darkness Beneath,” when we were introduced to CONSTANTINE’s new female lead… Zed. Anyone’s who’s read HELLBLAZER knows that Zed is a very big character to the mythos, and that the show runners reasoning for taking the show in a direction away from Liv had to be due to wanting to continue with Nergal as a constant force in addition to the Astrid plot. That being because Nergal plays a huge factor in the Ressurection Crusade, which Zed has direct ties to.
Zed also sets up a romantic vein in the show between her and Constantine, one that couldn’t have been accomplished with Liv’s character as it was pretty clear in the pilot that he would’ve been more of a teacher to her.
Any great hero, or in Johnny boy’s case any protagonist, needs an archenemy. Michael James Shaw did a phenomenal job at portraying Johnny boy’s constant buddy who would stab him in the back the first chance he got, Papa Midnite. The two characters in the comics have a very strong love-hate relationship, as they’re constantly trying to get ahead of the other, but when it comes down to it and they need the other’s help, they do it… for a price.
Shaw’s Papa was another diamond in the series. And despite being in only a few episodes, his character shined every time he was on-screen. He and Ryan played off of one another quite beautifully, and sold the two characters’ chemistry well.
Another character that showed up, and got me instantly hyped, was none other than Jim Corrigan (portrayed by Emmett Scanlan.) The character is an extremely important one, because he’d eventually become the host for the one-and-only Spectre. We were introduced to him in episode-5, “Danse Vaudou,”
In New Orleans, Constantine’s unusual knowledge of a string of crimes gets him into trouble with Detective Jim Corrigan (guest star Emmett Scanlan). He must form an unholy alliance with Papa Midnite when a voodoo ritual to help people communicate with their dead loved ones takes a deadly turn.
This episode had explored Johnny boy’s relationships with Zed, Papa and Corrigan, which the latter was a foreshadowing of the relationship between John and the Spectre, as the Spectre “hates” the “Hellblazer” with a passion. But the biggest thing this episode did was give us our first look at Corrigan as the Spectre when Zed received a vision of him shot dead, and with a green cloak-like haze over him entirely while his face was a skull (picture to right).
Yet another thing the series did a wonderful job at, planting A LOT of easter eggs for down the line stories to be told, with Spectre being one of the biggest.
Another massive easter egg was the shot of the Helm of Nabu from the pilot episode when Liv picks it up and Johnny boy warns her, “Oh, I’d put that down, luv, before it puts you down.”
His warning was a well deserved one, as the helm belongs to the ancient Egyptian Mage, Nabu, who before dying put all of his power and his conscious inside the helm. Anyone who dons the helm would be given access to his nigh infinite magical power, but also Nabu’s conscious, which meant if you’re not mentally strong enough, he could easily overpower your mind. Though, notably those who don the helm become the hero known as Dr. Fate and the show runners had confirmed that if the show had got a full season extension order (or a season-2 order) there would’ve been an episode revolving around the helm.
This is one of the places where the series’ cancellation cuts so deep, because of the open doors for amazing stories to be told, and possibly one of the BIGGEST cliffhangers of all time (eh, I might be hyperbolizing again. You watch the series and decide).
In the series finale, “Waiting for the Man,” we got an ALL-STAR episode with Papa and Corrigan returning. The episode saw Johnny boy and Zed coming back to New Orleans to help Corrigan on a case, all while Papa was planning his revenge on Constantine. The episode was one of the best, and a well deserved 9 out of 10. The thing that knocked it out of the park was the revelation that occurred at the end.
After Johnny boy had defeat Papa, the ending few moments of the episode shows us John going to a bar where Zed and Corrigan are, and he walks in on them kissing. A plot point that would’ve surely added a rut (as well as a love triangle) into the Constantine and Zed relationship. We then find Johnny boy under a bridge talking to Manny — his angel guide that first came to and warned him of the Rising Evil in the pilot — about how they’re winning the war. Constantine assures him, “Of course we can. You know me, I don’t play if I can’t win.” Now flash to a cop car driving Papa, which unexpectedly stops. Papa was unsure, and especially so when his door pops open on its own. We come to find that the Brujeria — the evil force behind the Rising Darkness — is working for Manny, and he tells Papa that Constantine is off-limits.
To me, that means that Manny can be only ONE character… the First of the Fallen. From the beginning of the series when he was first introduced in the pilot, we didn’t know who he actually was, and it was thought that he was just an angel made to be a pushing force to Johnny boy. Though, in hindsight, with the things that occurred like when he ripped out a fallen angel’s heart to save Zed, and when he referenced he was there for the “Great Flood,” it makes sense that Manny is actually the First — first being created and the first to be banished to Hell — and makes the series’ cancellation that much worse.
The series (in my opinion) was THE best CB TV series there was at the time, and still stands up against the best currently out now. It’s a shame that the executives over at NBC wouldn’t take a chance on it, and give it a second season even with a 13-episode order. I do remain hopeful that a miracle will happen, and a channel like AMC revives it and gives it the justice it deserves, but if that never occurs, I’m glad we still got the original 13-episodes and I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen them to watch them.