Writers: J.M. DeMatteis, Steve Bisset, Alan Moore, John Ridgway, John Tottleben, and Jamie Delano
Starring: Matt Ryan, Damian O’Hare, Laura Bailey, Emily O’Brien
The punk rock prince of the occult is back, and if you didn’t know I’m talking about Constantine, then you, dear reader, are forgiven. I mean, hey, this is DC, home to mystics like Blue Devil and Detective Chimp.
Alright, so actually Constantine has been back. For a little while now, but his appearances on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow have been few and subtle. Much like the foul creatures of demon lore that lurk on the periphery of our world, the apparent demise of the Constantine series on the WB was merely a transition from one state to the other.
Constantine is now on the CW Seed in an animated series titled Constantine: City of Demons, which, according to Peter Giriardi of Warner Bros Animation, is based on the 2005 graphic novel Hellblazer: All His Engines. This short series draws our favorite blonde Brit back to the darker roots shown in the live-action series, and including some of the cast. Chas, voiced by Damian O’Hare (who, ironically, voices Constantine on Justice League Action), seems similar, yet completely different from Chas the wheelman in the NBC series. Suffering from a failed marriage he doesn’t want to talk about, and a daughter who needs Constantine’s help, Chas understands that modern medicine says she’s in a coma, but he believes it is dark magic.
But when Constantine visits, he can clearly see that the girl is possessed, especially when flies start swarming out of her mouth. The possession is all a ruse to introduce Master Beroul. Beroul is a demon with a corporate stake in his territory on earth, and a desire to move up the hierarchy of hell by using John to take out his competition.
Matt Ryan returns as the voice of Constantine. This maintains the tone and mood from the live-action series that Ryan single-handedly brought to life with his acting. Don’t get me wrong, the supporting cast was solid, but nothing compares to John chanting, shirtless, crazed eyes, practically spitting incantations to open a scene
We open the first episode with a hangover, and an attack from mini-Constantines representing the “vile aspects of his inner psyche” and manifesting as 4-inch trench-coat wearing “Angry Johnny’s”. Anyone who remembers the 90s can insert a Poe comment here. In short, pun not intended, they are nasty, vile, and they want to tear poor John apart. Think Evil Dead: Army of Darkness and you will be on the right track.
Nightmare Nurse (Asa) talks more trash to John than anyone I have ever seen, and she’s pissed he interrupted a threesome with two lovers she claims was better in the sack than he is, and all because he needs her help. The revelation that she is something more than just the stunning sorceress who first appears is too good for me to spoil, but the fact that the transformation into her true form does not diminish her attitude makes her a character who owns every scene.
What it does reveal is that her appearance is a technique that she employs in discomfort or distrust and it is a defense mechanism against those who might judge her on her looks, and not her ability. This character is not from here and neither is her perception of the place we call home is refreshing it makes her line, “You people go about your lives like sleep-walkers,” a more pointed observation.
I also like the idea that she is superior to Constantine in both attitude and skill. Her ability to disdain him, even if only in the eyes of the viewer, points to a juicy history and great tension for future storytelling.
The Shield of Ermed takes the shape of butterflies and are a lovely ward that the Nurse uses against magical attacks. Their appearance is a stunning contrast to the blood magic that John likes to use, and they offer a glimpse into the spectrum of casting that is possible.
A man-size pig in a tuxedo opens the door to the mansion where John and Chas meet Master Beroul.
Beroul likes Young and the Restless. No, really. I’m not hallucinating, but the disturbing images make you wish that were true. Why a pig? It’s creepy, and it sets the tone for the mansion and the meeting with Beroul.
Newcastle keeps coming back up. I know that it was a defining moment for the live-action series, but really, if they were going to carry over concepts I would rather see the storyline about the war in heaven and the blurring lines between the angels and demons.
This is a different version of the story, but John still ends up as the failure. Oh yeah, and the flashback for this backstory is gory, and a little fun, but it misses the mark by giving the bad guy, Alex Logue, some seriously cheesy 90s tattoos. But, the end is the same and a little girl is a motivating victim.
Given the backlash history in DC with Green Lantern and the infamous fridge, I’m surprised that imprisoning a little girl in a personal hell is still considered a valid motivation for any character, even Constantine, to become a better person or hero. Also, Beroul looks like Jabba the Hut on a diet.
Animated stories enjoy many of the benefits that allow comic books to succeed. The budget to draw demons and monsters is different from the expenses of a live-action series. City of Demons takes full advantage and viewers are rewarded with a rich story and animation that show the great possibilities that Constantine stories are capable of telling. I think the next episode will be better and I am reserving a higher score until then.
Seth is a storyteller.
His first comic book was Flash #49.
Everything he hears, says, and knows comes from a story.
He'll tell you each one over a cup of coffee, or you can read them and listen for yourself at sethsingletonstoryteller.com