When I first heard the announcement that NBC is planning on doing a live action Hellblazer, I got the same queasy/excited feeling you get when you’re waiting for a blind date to show up. This could be really good or end up really bad…realllllly bad.
Well, I’ve been burned before, by the very same subject matter. Yes. You know what I’m talking about. That God awful train wreck of a movie, Constantine.
If you were lucky enough to not see this film, Keanu Reeves, who did the same thing to the character of Constantine that that large black dude was doing to Otto in prison on the Sons of Anarchy’s season premiere……..Only Constantine was harder to watch.
I was excited back then when they said they were making a Hellblazer movie based on Garth Ennis’ run. Then the casting was announced. Reeves as a 40 something Englishman whose appearance was totally based on Sting (as stated by Alan Moore and John Totlben) made no sense.
This is Constantine:
His affable best mate, cab-driving chauffeur, and confidant Chas, is being played by Shia Le Beouf?
This is Chas:
Oh yeah, and the movie takes place in Los Angeles, not London. Not the home town of our favorite anti-hero for the majority of his appearances, full of ancient magic, political intrigue, hundreds of years of blood and death and souls soaked into its infrastructure.
This is London:
So, I fear a repeat of the above, but I am hoping for the best. Hellblazer was the first non superhero adult comic I collected and continued to collect for 2 decades. I had grown to love the character, emulate him as much as could at certain points in my life, and appreciated the amount of thought, research and creativity each and every writer and artist put into this comic. You know how almost every long running comic has that arc or run that you just hate, or it doesn’t fit, or the creative team twonked it? Hellblazer never had this problem.
And I’m not the only only one to feel this way. There are a Legion of fans, smoking cigarettes, wearing trench coats and swigging pints, just waiting for this to fail. Now NBC, do you really want thousands of amateur black magicians casting hexes and burning your likeness over a pentagram? If not, please adhere to the following:
John Constantine is English and blonde. Or at the very least sandy-haired. His whole look was based on the fact that artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben , both big fans of the Police, and wanted to draw someone who looks like Sting:
This is important. His look, accent, and heritage are key elements to the character. Doing anything else is like saying we’re doing a Superman movie and he’s not kryptonian.
Hellblazer is dark. It’s scary as hell. Not just the art, but the writing. This shouldn’t be a problem in today’s climate, but I was shocked it was a regular network picking this up and not F/X , AMC or even Showtime and HBO. It’s not Buffy or Angel. Its more American Horror Story than it is Dresden Files. The magic in it should seem more Clive Barker than Charmed. It should be visceral. It should be psychological.
John Constantine is a man of the times. Constantine was one of the few characters to age in real-time, so almost all his arcs featured political, social and economic themes of the time. I’m not saying you have to cover these themes exactly, but since history repeats itself, they can be reworked for current issues (the rich are still getting richer, the poor still poorer, and the govt is still taking too much and not giving enough ).
Hellblazer takes place in London. End of story. Sure John’s traveled to South American jungles, Africa, a trip across the good old U.S. of A. (in Brian Azzarello’s excellent run) and countless other dark and disturbing places that aren’t on maps. But at the end of the day, when Constantine comes home, hangs up his trench coat , lights up a Silk Cut and plops on his dirty couch in his seedy flat and looks out the window, he should see a fog covered Big Ben. Anything else is wrong.
His supporting cast is just as important as he is. You need Chas. You need Nergal. The First of the Fallen. Papa Midnite, Ellie the succubus, His sister and his niece/protegé Gemma. You need flashbacks, with Astra, the girl he failed to save, and his time in Ravenscar mental institution. All of these are instrumental in Hellblazer’s success, and keep John grounded in humanity.
I wouldn’t even mind seeing, Swamp Thing (imagine!), Zatanna, Dream or any of the Endless, or even Timothy Hunter (just think of the arguments you’ll get into with Harry Potter fans!) Hellblazer has cast as cool and mysterious as the main lead, so take advantage!
Avoid the ‘monster of the week’ syndrome. I know this will be hard (especially the first season as the show finds its legs) with Constantine being an occult detective. But he’s also a con man. And a man of the people, a blue-collar magician one might say. Play those aspects up, as well as mutli episode arcs with deeper plot lines. Fighting Devil A this week and Demon B next will get old fast. Constantine has gone after corrupt politicians, white supremacists, evil businessmen and assorted bullies and oppressors of the downtrodden with the same fervor. If you find yourself at a loss for story ideas, go to the source material. Pick a Hellblazer trade and do it right.
And finally.. John Constantine is not nice. He drinks. He smokes. He dabbles in things best left alone by man. He hangs out in dirty places full of dirty people, doing dirty things. His enemies are even worse, and he loses friends like its going out of style. He’s sarcastic, aloof, mischievous and manic. You can’t trust him, and if he is helping you out, you can guarantee there is something in it for him. Don’t water down John, he’s like a good whiskey, best served undiluted.