Back in the dim and distant, I had a few issues of Hellblazer. To be honest, I was too young for them. Not in the don’t look at the nudity and smoking and blood and slashy knives and naughty words kind of way, but in an I don’t get it kind of way. I was barely twenty, and the comic was just about four years old at this stage. I wasn’t ready.
Skip to about... Ooh, five years ago. I happened to catch sight of a cover to Hellblazer #300 (the last ongoing issue) on Tinternet. And I thought, wait a tick, that bloke looks familiar. It wasn’t till a while later that I realised it was the end to something I had started long before.
I was older, I was more cynical, I was deep into comics and constantly looking for ‘new’. Bored of the usual straight white American dude saving the world, my weekly Thursday Shop consisted of titles like Saga, NextWave, Captain Marvel, Trillium, Young Avengers, and the like. Faced in this climate with the prospect of finally getting to grips with John Constantine, I thought I might as well.
It’d be more accurate to say that John Constantine got to grips with me. The sweeping story arcs, the way he was so down-to-Earth Scouse, the one-liners that covered a desperate lurch for salvation, the constant threat of losing everything if he just let the facade slip enough for people to realise he didn’t actually have all the answers; it was intoxicating. I went through nothing less than five issues in a sitting. Sod work and getting back late from a lunch break - there were literally hundreds of issues on my iPad, goddammit, and John wasn’t going to read himself (except that one time with Ellie and the priest with the talking door).
As poor John lurched from one skin of the teeth pyrrhic victory to the next, I slowly fell in love with the comic. So many issues, so many artists, so many writers, so many subtle differences in how they saw his character - there was a never-ending Pandora’s Box of adventures. Once it was opened, and I ripped through three hundred issues, I realised that one thing had indeed been trapped inside: Hope. All I wanted was to believe that there was more, that what transpired in Hellblazer #300 (the last scene of which I still debate), was not the end. It couldn’t be, right? There had to be more.
I found graphic novels. I found specials. I found DC’s attempt to fit him into their Justice League line-up. Sadly, for me, these DCverse comics were just not right. They did not gel. It was the fact that John was no longer the focus of the book - now it was him against a pantheon of DC people, set against DC places and names. Gone were my trips to Liverpool, or Australia, or Northern Ireland. Gone were my Kit, Epiphany, Gemma. In their places were things I did not know because they were not of Hellblazer; the comics took me twice as long to read, as I spent equal parts reading the comic, and searching Wikipedia to find out who the apparently famous person was that John was up against. It became a chore - like their New 52 Constantine title. It wasn't John; it was a shiny ret-conned blonde bloke who occasionally talked like him, but shared none of the actual real secret of magic with him at all.
It was not my John.
So back to John Constantine.
Skip to late last year. I had seen new series come along - caught up with Game of Thrones, tried watching The Flash (no-go - who wants yet another secret identity secretly in love with his best friend but can’t tell her oh and did I mention they stuffed his mother in a fridge to give him daddy issues about rescuing him from prison? Blah blah blah.), tried Arrow (yeesh - but I have been told to ignore season one and head straight to season two. Seeing as I stuck with it for about seven episodes and then decided I was done torturing myself, I don’t know if I’ll bother) and Forever (really good, but in such a nice quiet way, it’s sure to get cancelled). Gotham started, and I’ve enjoyed that more and more. Agents of SHIELD continues to improve, so I’m glad I stuck with that one. Supernatural has come back with a triumphant tenth season, which I’m still addicted to and still enjoying. So what was I going to get with Constantine?
Firstly, the pilot was pretty bloody shaky. I’m glad that they decided to drop the companion-cum-storyline there and go with Zed a few episodes later. However, two things struck me from the outset: one, they’d picked a winner with Matt Ryan, and two, they weren’t going to shy away from certain subject matter, even on their timeslot.
One thing I will say is that he’s Shakespeare trained. So when you ask him to act like he’s possessed by a demon and just wants to terrorise and hurt people, then that’s what you get. He is a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of actor. He puts his back into every scene he’s got without having to chew scenery, often accomplishing more with a single shifty look than lines of dialogue. I cannot stress enough how much he deserves an Emmy for his performance in episode nine’s ‘Saint of Last Resorts, part 2’.
The episodes themselves do not back down: you will see kids possessed and people in the wrong place at the wrong time dying, and other people scammed into a plot twist you didn’t see coming. You will get more bodily fluids than a Farscape snot-fest. You will get John giving people lip (apparently insults like ‘wanker’ and ‘tosser’ and ‘pile of wank’ get past US censors. It makes me wonder if they know what they mean), you will get Angry!John raging at people, and Zed being quietly amazing, and Chas just trying to hold everything together. You’ll probably enjoy it, too.
Understandably, I’m upset that it’s going to get cancelled. We can vote online and petition and beg and make noise about this show as much as we like, but I know it’s going to get cancelled. Because the good shows always are. I will still keep making noise and telling NBC how much I want the show to continue, but seeing as all they look at is instant ratings, I have my doubts about it working.
My parting shot? Watch this show. Watch it before it disappears. You’ll be glad you did.