When I heard about a new TV, series based on John Constantine I was excited. Back in my teens, one of my best friends was heavily into the Hellblazer comics and I’d read a couple myself (I got the best dodgy looks from old people on the bus when I did), so I knew a good chunk of the mythology. The first images of the character looked like he had walked off the page and the trailer looked great. Then my warning light went off. It became apparent that John in the show would be portrayed as heterosexual, despite being bisexual in the comics. The situation wasn’t helped when writer/producer David S. Goyer said that the sexuality wasn’t a factor at this time as it wasn’t introduced when the character was in 1984. By this logic, Superman in Man of Steel should have only been able to jump since he didn’t actually fly until a few years after that character’s comic introduction in 1938. Personally, I think this was something that was slightly mishandled and that it would have been a good thing to keep John bisexual. Representation is important in today’s popular culture and to have a major network put out a show with a bisexual lead character, and not just any character but one of the most popular comic book anti-heroes, would have meant a lot. Maybe the situation will change in the show’s future but, for now, it is a sore point.
Even with reservations and problems I did enter Constantine with an open mind, and I’m very glad I did because I think there is good potential here. From the opening scenes where we meet John in Ravenscar Asylum and supernatural forces cut his treatment short, the pace is entertaining and zips along. The mood is great: dark without being overly “gritty” and over the top. Director Neil Marshall is no stranger to horror–Dog Soldiers is a great werewolf flick and I’m still too scared to try and watch The Descent–and he is a very good fit for the material.
The real treat of the show, however, is Matt Ryan as John Constantine. A sarcastic arse with arcane skills, he does the right thing because he has to make right for his wrongs rather than a noble vocation for justice and goodness. He’s good fun and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ryan does with the character.
That said, the plot is fairly thin, the usual pilot show setting up the characters and what’s to come. An old friend of John’s (via a possession) asks the maladjusted magician to watch out for his daughter Liv (Lucy Griffiths) who is being plagued by a demon and John, in the interest of squaring his debt with said friend, looks into it. From there we are introduced to John’s very troubled past, his sidekick Chas (Charles Halford) and a slightly annoying angel named Manny (Harold Perrineau) who turns up from time to time to offer cryptic hints. It’s all kind of what you expect from a pilot, nothing too surprising. It also gets a little clunky towards the end as Lucy Griffiths, who does perfectly fine with a very typical woman in need/audience surrogate character, was dropped during production and instead we’ll be getting a comic book character Mary “Zed” Martin from episode two played by actress Angélica Celaya. It is a shame in the sense that Griffiths isn’t a bad actress and maybe over time the character would be have been something other than kind of bland, but if there’s potential for a character that’s more than someone new to the supernatural who then gets dragged along on John’s misadventures, then I’m all for waiting and seeing how things play out.
Overall, the episode certainly isn’t dull, but also isn’t ground-breaking. There’s even a couple of little comic references that eagle-eyed fans will enjoy. If the rest of the series could just sand over the rough edges Constantine will be a great watch.