“If the bright’s so bright, you sure as hell don’t want to see what lives in the dark.”
Despite the unfortunate cancellation of NBC’s “Constantine” and a comparatively short run for DC’s New 52 reboot of the “Hellblazer” series, the snarky, ruthless cult cynic John Constantine survives — albeit ever just barely. But is he the Constantine of old? Or some curious admixture of recent incarnations diluted to stand side-by-side with the likes of DC’s legendary heavy hitters?
Well… he’s a bit of both. Under the guidance of artist-turned-writer Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV, who with Scott Snyder created Talon, the New 52’s first original hero, “Constantine: The Hellblazer” captures the intellectual horror of the original series without sacrificing the magical action and demonic spectacle showcased in both the show and the 2005 adaptation. John Constantine is still a blonde, punk handful of cunning and grit, chain-smoking from job to job, spell to spell, corpse to corpse, in a grotty brick-and-neon world, which is still filled with the same sin and sex and selfishness, Heaven and Hell still not much better, but in fact even worse.
So where do we find our eponymous hero now, in this reboot of a reboot of a spin-off? Much like Jamie Delano’s approach to the original series, “Constantine: The Hellblazer” begins with an already established John Constantine, his past just as dark and dangerous and full of regrets — regrets that literally follow him around, making up what he calls his “ghostly entourage,” a strange assortment of souls whose living counterparts Constantine in some way damned ethereal.
Now, the makings of a great hero often lie in his or her sacrifices: the struggles demanded and defeats earned, the downfalls and revivals just as important as the triumphs. But what made Constantine so special — what made him a hero as compelling as he is complex, unique as he is familiar — is not his sacrifices, but rather his failures. When NBC released the first trailer for its doomed TV adaptation, immediately viewers likened the eponymous hero to The Doctor from BBC’s “Doctor Who,” comparing the two characters’ penchants for deadpan wit, female companions, and otherworldly hijinks. But this comparison goes beyond the superficial. Like The Doctor, Constantine is driven to adventure as much by circumstance as he is by a need — a “bloody trick,” according to his demonic acquaintance Blythe — and that need is driven by loss. Great and bloody loss. Loss more aptly defined as a statistic than a tragedy. Loss that never dies.
“Going Down,” the first issue in the new ongoing series “Constantine: The Hellblazer,” is an alluring addition to the character’s mythology, well-written and well-plotted. DC’s beloved occult detective seems to be in capable, loving hands. And with the gorgeous visuals of artist Riley Rossmo and deliriously delicious coloring by Ivan Plascencia, “Constantine: The Hellblazer” may just come to redefine a character even as storied and dear as John Constantine.