It starts with the comic books, obviously. The massively, massively inconsistent comic books. At their greatest – scary, powerful, funny, dark, lively, magical, hellish and full of heart. At their worst: what even is this inconsistent rubbish? Let’s face it, they’ve fluctuated, and are very guilty of having naked women getting cut up with knives on more than a few occasions, but hell. When Hellblazer is good, Hellblazer is really very damn good indeed, and can proudly claim the honour of having spawned endless less good knock-offs which probably didn’t even realise they were pinching from the best.
(Personal highlight, however: when reading Neil Gaiman’s Death comics, have a look for the explanation on how sex works from one of the oldest of the Endless.)
Then a film happened. And hum. Well. Yes.
If you pretend, for a moment, that it’s not a Hellblazer adaptation, then it’s actually a perfectly workmanly bit of movie-making. There’s dark powers… sinister magic… some nice effects and a bit of thought went into the colour palette. Satan rocks up and we all cheer for him, and it has Tilda Swinton in it as an angel, and frankly the only thing that’s better than Tilda Swinton doing almost anything, is Michelle Yeoh or Lucy Liu doing, well, almost anything.
And yes. Arguably Constantine does chain smoke and grunt his way through the movie. And it would be wrong to demand that everything that happens in this world is Liverpudlian. It would be not merely wrong, it’d be really kinda annoying. But…
It was a perfectly harmless movie. That happened to feature some characters. Who bore a passing resemblance to a comic book you once read, and that was fun, and you ate some pizza while watching it, and you didn’t realise that you’d eaten the entire thing because you thought you’d have some cold pizza for breakfast (yumm…. cold pizza…..) but you know, it was munchy, and that’s ok.
Then you went back to reading the comic books for a while.
Then! Last year you’re sitting on the Northern Line, minding your own business, and it looks like amazon prime is selling a TV series of Constantine. And this is a problem, because you don’t have amazon prime because it’s ridiculous… but thankfully after a few months, turns out your partner does, and things look up and you settle down to watch….
… a series that should probably have been given more time to grow.
Which is a pity, because it was cancelled half way through it’s first season. On a cliffhanger, in fact. On a slightly predictable yet highly enjoyable cliffhanger. Goddamnit. And not only was it cancelled half way through… it was sorta beginning to grow into itself.
It started from some very dodgy roots. For a start, if Hellblazer is about anything, it’s about an absolute git-faced wizard with a cigarette in his mouth who is either massivelysupermysticallyimportant or a twat in an anorak. Maybe both. And the TV series, when it started, didn’t seem very sure if it was down with this. It didn’t seem sure of much, in fact. Was it a monster-of-the-week? Was there a satisfactory ongoing plot line? Did John Constantine in fact, smoke? Was he an irredeemable bastard? Were the secondary characters human beings, or just wearing vests? Is that an angel descending from a storm cloud, or are you just pleased to see me?
So yeah. It had some problems. It felt like a thing with multiple forces all pulling in different directions, and creating some very thin pastry in the process.
But! Thankfully! As the weeks rolled by and stuff settled down, it all sorta became more consistent. It started enjoying the small-town crazy that fuels so much of its fire. Enjoyed mucking around with religious, faith and culture, all in the name, usually, of killing zombies/demons etc.. Got better at letting people shout “well that’s bullshit” more. Characters actually became characters, it found its rhythm, settled down, actions began to have consequences, mistakes were made and stories revealed and by the time it abruptly stopped, I was very ready to watch more.
And yeah. Let’s not kid ourselves. Even though I don’t think Liverpool sounds quite like that, for the first time there was an actual John Constantine on the screen. And it was excellent. And there was much cheering.
It had work to do, and places to go, and it’s sad that it wasn’t given a chance to work out properly what it is, and find its thing. Because even with ‘the rising darkness’ as a cataclysmically silly enemy to have long-term, it had all the makings of something excellent, and I was sad to see it go.
On a different note, and continuing a theme of Vertigo-published comic books adaptations being made into TV series that are then streamed on amazon prime: what the feckin’ hell have they done to Lucifer?? Because it might be true to what it is, but it’s so far from being true to the amazing comics of Mike Carey via Neil Gaiman that I’m not at all sure I believe what I’m watching.