I am not sure how I feel about this. A long time ago a fantastic comic called Hellblazer was born from the pages of Swamp Thing and ran for forever. It featured the only character in comics to age in real time EVER. It built a rich and detailed world that was complex as it was adult. Then it was canceled to make the way for a PG-13 version in the New 52 called Constantine. I tried to love the new book. The writers claimed they would honor the source material, but I am tired of seeing John Constantine teamed up with super heroes and being portrayed in a way that feels like a betrayal of those of us who bought enough copies of Hellblazer to warrant a mainstream version.
Then comes along this tv adaptation. Don’t get me wrong, I like the show. It is far more faithful to the original run than the new comics. While Matt Ryan is not my first choice for the lead role, he is doing quite well in it. The only problem I see is he is almost too likeable. He is an anti-hero. John Constantine is supposed to be a bastard.
Another problem has to do with the writing. It is a two parter. First of all they are building this world in a strange way. If you recall the movie version, derided as it was, it explained things well. The whole bit about water being a conduit to hell was shown after it had been introduced and partly explained. In this past weeks episode, John uses water and an incantation to see a demon that was not visible to the naked eye. No explanation prior, not even foreshadowing. He dumps water over his head and chants and a demon appears. Now I am not the kind of guy that needs my hand to be held. I can connect the dots as good as the next guy. This show however needs to get people who aren’t already interested to keep watching in order to stay on the air. During this scene I was imagining my Mom sitting in front of the tv confused and choosing not to tune in next week because she felt like she must have missed something important. It feels like this show is world building for the fans. They stuck Doctor Fate’s helmet in the premiere but haven’t truly explained the rules of this world to the average viewer, and I fear they won’t stick around.
The other thing about the writing is harder to put in to words. You know how when a pivotal scene in a movie builds to a climax and the hero speaks with such force it’s like a rallying cry or a speech? Every line out of John’s mouth is like that. It doesn’t feel natural. No matter what he is talking about there is a forced intensity that makes the whole thing feel contrived and over the top. John does not do subtle, but this is a bit too much.
Neither one of these things is me saying I don’t like the show. I am enjoying it, but maybe I am being a bit more critical for another reason. My beloved Hellblazer is dead, and it’s replacement pales in comparison. This is the one and only shot for this particular narrative world to continue in any way. I feel like a lot is riding on this and if it fails, then a door closes and John Constantine will forever be the ridiculous parody he is in the comics now. That would make me sad.
We are not too far gone by any means and it is early days yet. I am confused as to why they didn’t bring Harold Perrineau’s angel character back as it seems like some exposition from him would be the easiest was to address the world building problems. A sit down with John about what is going on in the world to bring evil to the surface would make a lot of things more clear.
For this show to succeed for it’s fans, it needs to succeed in spite of them. Even John could appreciate that irony.