With the recently announced Dark Universe on the way, the DCEU is continuing its foray into its characteristically darker side. There’s little doubt that the human sorcerer John Constantine will make an impact on the film, likely serving as the face of the Justice League Dark franchise, but the Hellblazer has long been igniting fans with his tricky cons and charismatic, foul-mouthed attitude.
Despite serving as an occult hero for nearly three decades, the adrenaline-addicted bloke has only recently made a return to the screen thanks to the short-lived NBC series featuring the witty Matt Ryan. Now an animated feature Justice League Dark is set revisit the character, with Ryan returning to lend his voice.
With such a healthy dose of Constantine making its way into the mainstream, the emotionally scathed detective seems to be making strides once again. He may be a selfish, violent and mentally unstable personality, but without him, the DC universe would certainly be a lot worse for wear. So in preparation for his next adventure on screen, we’ve gather just a few notes on the anti-hero. These are the 16 Things You Never Knew About Constantine.
Depending on who you ask, the first appearance of John Constantine can be attributed to two different issues of the Swamp Thing saga. Speaking his first lines in “Growth Patterns,” the occult investigator is following up on a lead which warns of a large supernatural event on the horizon. Without much to go on, he visits various contacts, all to no avail. His travels eventually take him to the Swamp Thing where he establishes a relationship with the protagonist before departing with the promise to help Swamp Thing learn more about what he is.
From his inception, Constantine was the epitome of cool; a product of England with slicked back hair and a profound resourcefulness. His contacts appeared virtually unlimited, with the specialist visiting London, Wisconsin, and Washington to get the need-to-know facts about the event to come.
A character of his likeness first popped up twelve issues earlier, however, in a story titled “The Sleep of Reason.” While he had no lines to speak of, appearing only as a background character, it would later be confirmed as canon, though many readers still refer to “Growth Patterns” as his true first outing.
Take one look at John Constantine and you can see how much influence potboiler noirs had on creator Alan Moore. The red tie, the chainsmoking habit, the long trench coat - the tropes of the morally ambiguous detective pervades the character. But it wasn’t just the toughened Humphrey Bogart look that had a major impact on the dark magician.
According to Moore, pop artist Sting, lead singer of The Police, was such a visual inspiration that he worried they could be sued for stealing his appearance. The ‘80s heartthrob who recorded such hits as “Every Breath You Take” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” seemed okay with the idea, however, so long as he went by another name, going on record to say, “That character is someone else. It's not me. And thank God. Nice things happen to it, bad things happen to it - fine. Just leave me out of it!”
As for the appearance itself, it’s very clear what Moore’s intentions were. Placing the blame on artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben, he credits the pair with coming up with the idea, believing the singer’s look suited his vision of a streetwise, working-class warlock.
Moore may have retired from writing comics late last year, but his stamp on the fictional world was made long ago. Apart from Hellblazer, Moore’s critical analysis of ultra-conservative politics de-glamorized the comic world through alternate universes in stories such as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, while his esoteric views as a ceremonial magician helped in writings such as From Hell. After a public falling out with DC Comics following a dispute over creator’s rights and merchandising, Moore became much more secluded, working with more independent titles for the remainder of his career.
As a practitioner of magic, Moore believes the word "magic" to be synonymous with "art," that the two are part of the human consciousness’ will to create. For him, magic takes place solely in the mind, the external expression of which can only be seen through creation. It’s through magic that Moore believes we better understand ourselves and the world around us. These beliefs have become a constant subject in the writings of Hellblazer as well as Moore’s other works, which have featured various views on the sciences of the occult.
Comic book readers have had a significant influence over the structure of their beloved characters and the worlds they inhabit, but rarely has the impact been so great that it actually changed the name of the comic book creation itself. Early on in the Hellblazer comics, various characters remarked upon Constantine’s accent, before giving his name a try and forever butchering it with the now popular American pronunciation. The proof is in the pudding, however, and the early issues remain as a living reminder that the name is ConstanT-I-N-E, rhyming with fine and never pronounced T-E-E-N.
It’s an easy mix-up that has for lasted the majority of the character’s story, most likely due to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, whose name is commonly pronounced with the accented long double-E sound. Given the corrections in the comics, one would think somebody would have contacted Hollywood to let Keanu Reeves and Matt Ryan know how to say the name correctly, but alas the media latched onto the Americanized version of the word, leaving all those who remember the proper pronunciation banging our heads in frustration.
Origin stories aren’t always the happiest. For our hero, you can see how his wise-cracking, cynical persona came to be. Every day is a painful existence for Constantine. He wakes up to the consequences of his actions. In order to come out on top, he lies, hurts, and betrays the people closest to him. It’s a necessary sacrifice which leads to a lonely road of isolation. Of course, his life of binge-smoking and heavy drinking didn’t just develop in a vacuum.
Growing up in Liverpool, he entered the world of hard knocks in the worst way: strangling his twin brother while still in the womb. His mother would die delivering John, leaving him to be raised by his drunken father who blamed him for his wife's death.
In 1978, following the Newcastle incident, wherein a young John tried to exorcise a young girl but lost her soul in the process, he was committed to Ravenscar Secure Hospital. He was mistreated by the orderlies and subjected to electro-shock therapy when word got out about the incident. He would stay there for two years before escaping the nightmarish facility, carrying every moment with him wherever he went.
Though he was first mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy series The Sandman in issue #2, Constantine wouldn’t show up until the third installment. In the story, he is mentioned by the three fates, who say the conman had come into possession of Dream’s pouch of sand during his time of imprisonment. Escaping in the modern day, Dream sets out to rebuild his kingdom and undo the sins of his past which he has known for billions of years. He tracks down the British bad boy in London, and Constantine joins him in a pursuit to retrieve the pouch that has been stolen by his ex-girlfriend.
An ancestor to the anti-hero, the 18th century aristocrat Johanna Constantine also played a part in Dream’s history, crossing paths with the anthropomorphized entity in 1789. Called upon to recover the head of Dream’s son Orpheus from the dead bodies of the French Revolution, she would encounter him several times afterward. It would later be hinted at that she was one of several referred to as “the constant one” who, like John, have served as recurring incarnations of the Constantine, a sorcerer who possesses the spark of magic.
It took threes words; one casual reference to a man’s past flings to radically shift viewers’ perceptions of Hellblazer. In “Count to Ten,” writer John Smith briefly hinted at Constantine’s sexuality, referring to his past girlfriends and “the odd boyfriend” who always had a habit of walking out on the anti-hero. The revelation wasn’t sensationalistic. There was no big out of the closet moment. With that one line’s nonchalance, LGBT comic readers were left feeling empowered by the blond-haired bloke and all fans learned something new about our protagonist.
Since revealing his occasional fling with other men, Constantine has become more comfortable expressing his sexual preferences. In the five issue arc “Ashes and Dust in the City of Angels,” it’s revealed that the detective was once the gay lover of Stanley Manor, a homosexual wizard who later holds a grudge against John.
For both live-action adaptations of the characters, Hollywood would opt to not make the character bisexual. David S. Goyer, executive producer of the Constantine television series, would later get defensive about the subject, saying that while the Matt Ryan version of the character was never depicted as bi, it was never ruled out either.
With the exception of John’s best friend Francis William “Chas” Chandler, not many people stick around long enough to get to know him. The sad truth is that Constantine, despite his own self-pitying ways, is a humanist. He believes the world will learn to overcome its woes through ingenuity and reason, even if he can’t see past his own disillusioned view of society. That’s why when someone he knows bites the dust, it weighs heavier than ever on his conscience. Those people come back to haunt him and he expresses the guilt by retreating to the nearest pub and drowning his sorrows in liquor.
Many dead acquaintances pop up in Hellblazer to give the hero a hard time. All victims of misfortune, they often criticize John’s methods, mocking him in the process. Among the notable names to follow the character around are Sister Ann Marie, who witnessed John’s failed exorcism at Newcastle; Emma, an ex-girlfriend thrown from a window; and Gary Lester, the drummer in John’s band who he sacrifices to capture a demon named Mnemoth. The ghosts were all the end result of careless mistakes that continued to plague the British cynic throughout his journey.
Before the reset of DC’s New 52 initiative, Constantine had the honor of being one of few comic book characters to age with his readers. In “Intensive Care,” published in August 1988, the punk occult sorcerer’s age is said to be 35 years old. Five years later, in issue 63, aptly titled “Forty,” John sulks about after hitting the big four-o. He proceeds to waste the night away with some old acquaintances, including Chantinelle, the Lord of the Dance, Zatanna, and Nigel Archer.
The 63rd issue would be the last to celebrate John’s birthday, but time would take its toll. Although John’s age was never clearly visible through his face, he did appear grungier over time, adopting his signature rumpled trench coat look and smoking more than 30 Silk Cut cigarettes a day. John would attribute his lack of wrinkles to the demon blood in his veins, which he received from a blood transfusion from the demon Nergal.
With the rebooted DC universe, Constantine’s age was reset to a fresher late-20s, early-30s appearance. He was said to be in his 60s before the transition, keeping in sync with the timeline of the series.
It’s common for certain writers to become so involved in their work that they may see their influences all around them, but to actually claim to have met your own creation may be going a tad off the deep end.
According to Alan Moore, the occult detective isn’t just a figment of the imagination. Talking to Wizard magazine in 1993, he claimed he ran into Constantine while sitting at a sandwich bar in London. The man in question was said to have nodded at him before walking off and disappearing behind a corner. Moore claims to have met him a second time, an encounter which is recounted in the 2001 book Snakes and Ladders.
Moore’s run-ins would have been the end of it, had it not been for other writers coming forth with their own stories. Original Hellblazer contributor Jamie Delano said he walked past him outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury; writer Peter Milligan saw him at a party in 2009; and Brian Azzarello spotted him at a Chicago bar, choosing to avoid him. None have seen him since, but if he’s really out and about, we’d wager he’ll come back when he’s needed.
In his three decades of existence, Constantine has survived a bout with cancer, a telepathic serial killer, and more trips to the underworld than he would care to admit, but none of that compares to the time he spent as a married man trapped inside forty years of bliss.
The unholy matrimony came at the request of Rosacarnis, the demoness and daughter of Nergal, one of Constantine’s most persistent enemies. Blaming her father’s supposed demise on the protagonist, she first appears to him as a little girl, luring him in only to frame him for a murder. Having recently lost his memories, Rosa appears again, offering to restore his mind so long as he agrees to give her a day of his life in return.
A reluctant approval from John leads to a four decade-long torture as the demoness traps him in a bubble reality. He sires three children with her: Adam, Saul, and Maria. All three would age at different rates, going on a murderous path to kill Constantine’s friends and family. Adam, Saul, and Rosa would later die at the hands of The First of the Fallen. Only Maria would survive, with her whereabouts never being discussed again.
Ditching the supernatural elements of the past, writer Brian Azzarello veered in a new direction in the five issue arc “Hard Time.” Thrown behind bars for reasons unknown to the readers, the Hellblazer finds himself outside of his normal world of demons and ghosts. Navigating an ecosystem made up of murderers, rapists, and madmen, he learns to operate under a new code, establishing himself as one of the most respected inmates in the prison populace.
The violence in “Hard Time” is what many would expect from a grimy prison story. John leaves a group in a bloody mess after an unpleasant encounter in the showers. He has run-ins with multiple gangs. He also finds himself in bed with a killer who frames him for the murder of a high ranking officer.
Before his eventual escape, it’s revealed that John’s incarceration was an effort to alleviate the guilt over a former friend's suicide. The con man came to John for help after working over a man of significant wealth, but takes his own life when the pressure becomes to much. As it would turn out, the man responsible for the suicide was Stanley Manor, a former acquaintance of Constantine’s.
Fifteen years and three hundred titles later, it all came to an end. The weathered Constantine, now in his sixties and still going at it, was rebooted as part of the New 52. The final issue of Hellblazer was written by Peter Mulligan, a veteran who brought significant changes to the character, including the loss of his thumb as well as his eventual marriage to Epiphany Greaves, the blue-haired daughter of a notorious London gangster. In the “Death and Cigarettes” arc, he would finally make his exit, learning of his impending death following several strange portents predicting his demise.
After being shot in the chest by a shotgun, Constantine dies in Epiphany’s arms. The final story sees him trying to once again cheat death, posthumously using his ashes to create a new body for himself. In the last pages, we see him in a pub, surrounded by bottles of boozes with all the names of the contributing writers over the years. The ambiguous ending leaves viewers wondering about Constantine’s fate, but his indelible mark as a progenitor of the gritty anti-hero movement in comics remains as unquestionable as the day the first issue was released.
The creation of the Justice League Dark would come from the threat of a power greater than your everyday superhero. When the Justice League suffers a defeat at the hands of Enchantress, they fear that her supernatural abilities give her too much of an edge. While runecasting in Brighton, Constantine has a powerful intimation that Zatanna may be in trouble. Unbeknownst to him, she has gone after Enchantress, who continues to wreak havoc everywhere she goes. They soon join forces with Deadman, Madame Xanadu, Mindwarp, and Shade the Changing Man to take down the enemies deemed unfit for the JLA.
As the new writer of the series, Jeff Lemire made Constantine the face of the group in issue #9. The Master of the Dark Arts wouldn’t last long, however. When he abandons the team during a fight against the Sons of Trigon at Nanda Parbat, he fails to live up to Zatanna's expectations. She soon takes charge of the group as John seeks comfort in a nearby pub. While the Liverpudlian still remains a recognizable favorite, his own inner demons became too much, making him an unfit candidate to lead the JLD into the fray.
Some people have probably forgotten about the 2005 adaptation loosely based on Hellblazer and if they do remember, many have probably tried to forget. Still, even with the miscast Keanu Reeves in the title role, Constantine has had a small cult following thanks to its impressive special effects and an ensemble which included names like Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, and Shia LaBeouf.
By now, it’s well known that a Constantine sequel has no chance in hell. With the Arrowverse still going, Matt Ryan has stayed open to the possibility of reprising the role so long as he’s wanted. Likewise, the DCEU is already hoping to erase all signs of the film, but there was a time when Lawrence and company wanted a darker, lower budget follow-up that would see Reeves returning to star.
Written by one of the movie’s original writers, Frank A. Cappello, the script was given the working title “Through the Eye of the Needle” and was reportedly based on an original idea. The movie would be given a hard R rating and would feature more horror elements. Alas, it never came to be, despite Keanu admitting he would’ve liked to see it happen.
With the cancellation of the NBC Constantine series, fans united online, petitioning to see Matt Ryan’s return. At first, a sign of hope seemed to come from a potential revival of the series from another network, but those flickers of joy soon disappeared. Then came Ryan’s guest star appearance on season four of Arrow, which sparked a buzz about him possibly joining the Arrowverse on a show like Legends of Tomorrow. Those dreams soon died as well. Now with the Justice League Dark animated movie dropping soon, we’re happy to learn that he will be making another appearance, only this time in a short cartoon web series.
The CW announced at the Television Critics Association winter press tour that they will bring Constantine back as part of the CW Seed, the home of their online digital series. The show will come after the success of Vixen, another cartoon series connected to the Arrowverse. There is no word yet if there will be any crossovers with the CW’s live-action shows, but with Greg Berlanti attached as an executive producer, things appear to be looking up once again. Here's to hoping this version of Constantine segues into a greater role for the lead star sometime in the immediate future.
Justice League Dark will release digitally on January 24th and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 7th.