John Constantine was first introduced in the pages of Swamp Thing in 1985. Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch, Constantine was intended to be a ‘street-level’ magician rather than a superheroic one like Dr Fate. Built on a desire by Bissette and Totleben to include a character who looked like Sting, Constantine became an anti-hero who smoked Silk Cut cigarettes by the carton, drank gin whenever possible and stared down the forces of darkness with a wry grin.
Starring in the longest continually running DC Comic outside of Batman and Superman, Hellblazer was cancelled recently… only to be reborn in a New 52 version rightly named Constantine (not to be confused with the Keanu Reeves vehicle that even got the pronunciation of the name wrong). Fans came out in droves to state their displeasure at the news of cancellation, but the sales had been lagging for some time. Maybe a fresh start is the way to go? So long as it pays homage the character and doesn’t attempt to modernize him?
For those fearful of what’s to come, the ‘New 52’ Constantine has already been introduced by Vertigo alum Peter Milligan in the pages of Justice League Dark, a series that new writer Robert Venditti is drawing influence from (along with the oft-overlooked Jamie Delano run). With that kind of backing, I’d say John is in good hands.
In March, [Robert] Venditti and artist Renato Guedes will be launching Constantine, a new solo series for the character that takes place in the “New 52” DC Universe. And according to the writer, fans of Constantine shouldn’t fear that the long-time Vertigo character is going to be drastically different. Younger? Yes. Unmarried? Sure. But otherwise, Venditti says, “I wouldn’t say he’s all that much different from who John Constantine has always been.”
But the move by John Constantine isn’t brand new. The DC version of Constantine is already an integral part of the team in Justice League Dark, the ongoing comic now being written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes.
Venditti, best known as creator of the comic book-turned-movie Surrogates, is also taking over the DC ongoing series Demon Knights with issue #16, working with current artist Bernard Chang. With Constantine, he’ll be one of only a few writers who are controlling two ongoing comics in the relaunched DC Universe.
Newsarama talked to Venditti to find out more about his plans for John Constantine in the DCU.
Newsarama: Robert, are you a John Constantine fan? How did you first come to know the character, and what’s your definitive John Constantine story? And do any of those influence your portrayal of the character now?
Robert Venditti: I’m a huge fan. Which isn’t to say I’m a lifelong fan, because I didn’t start reading comics until the year 2000. So much of my experience with comics has been catching up on all of the great characters and stories that predate my discovery of the medium. As a writer, though, I hope that can be an asset because it allows me approach a character as a blank slate.
Constantine has had so many great stories, and it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. I do really enjoy the early [Jamie] Delano stuff, though. Those stories were so intelligent and subtextual, and I think they laid the foundation for everything that followed. It’s certainly something I aspire to build on.
Nrama: What will be the tone of your comic? Is it a detective or crime noir kind of thing? Or more supernatural-based? Or more heroic-feeling? How would you describe it?
Venditti: I would say a combination of the first two more than the latter. I mean, Constantine is a lot of things, but he isn’t a hero by anyone’s standards, least of all his own. He’s very much a big-picture guy, and his focus in on the long term. When you’re dealing with forces of good and evil that stretch back to the beginning of time itself, you have to be that way.
Nrama: How would you describe your John Constantine?
Venditti: I wouldn’t say he’s all that much different from who John Constantine has always been. He’s younger and he isn’t married, but he’s still a bit of a conman and a double-dealer. He’s gruff, he likes his whisky and cigarettes, and he absolutely will do whatever he has to do to achieve his desired end.
If you’re one of the uninitiated and you don’t dabble in the dark arts, you probably don’t have much to fear from Constantine. He’s not interested in tormenting the blissfully unaware. But if you’ve decided to swim in his waters, then all bets are off. He’ll show you no mercy.
Nrama: There’s usually a bit of humor behind Constantine’s dialogue. Are you struggling at all trying to find that voice? Or how did you go about getting it down?
Venditti: It’s a struggle finding any character’s voice, especially one as unique as Constantine’s. All you can do as a writer is put yourself in the character’s position and try to honestly consider how they’d react to a given situation. What would Constantine say to a gangster who wants a demon for his own personal enforcer? How would he say it differently than I or any other character would? It’s a constant learning process.
Nrama: How does your artist on the title echo/influence the style you’re hoping to achieve and your overall approach to the comic?
Venditti: When I was first shown Renato Guedes’s work, I immediately thought he’d be a great fit. His characters are very human—you can feel the creases in their faces and the wrinkles in their clothes. And his design for Constantine is the perfect blend of grit and charm, which isn’t always an easy thing to pull off.
Nrama: Can you set up your first storyline a little for fans, so they can get a sense of the story you’ll be telling?
Venditti: I can’t say too much, but it will be a stand-alone story that establishes who Constantine is and what he’s capable of. The issue will also introduce someone who’ll be a key member of the supporting cast in the series’ first year, a bartender at the pub where Constantine spends a lot of his downtime.