Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rockin’ Roy’s Drive-By Reviews: CONSTANTINE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: I don’t do starred reviews. I either like something, or I don’t. I loved the premiere episode of the NBC TV series Constantine. There. See how easy that was?

The opening shot is of a very grim-looking Ravenscar Asylum for the Mentally Deranged, where we find our titular hero strapped down for electroshock therapy. In the comics he was in there for ten years. Here, we get the impression it’s been some time, but not quite as long. He self-committed over an botched exorcism in Newcastle in which an 11-year-old girl was taken away to hell by a demon named Nergal, but not before her physical form was ripped apart before everyone’s eyes.

This makes John Constantine a hero with the Dark and Troubled Past that not only haunts him, but affects the attitudes of those who know him. The attitudes range from, “Get over yourself,” to “Stay the hell away from me!”

He gets Called to Adventure by a possession within the asylum that turns out to be a Message from Beyond the Grave, so Constantine flies from the UK to Atlanta to find the daughter of a deceased pal, who is under attack by a major demon. Hijinks ensue. 

Via a not-so-friendly angel who pops in from time to time, we learn that Something Big and Supernaturally Horrible This Way Comes. A blood-spattered map reveals bad things scheduled to go down all across the continental USA. Road trip! And we’ve got the start of our season’s story arc.

I was impressed by how well the show had the feel of the comic, even if Constantine is going to be roaming the US instead of England for his monster of the week. Yes, there were a lot of changes. Constantine doesn’t smoke—the cigarette hanging out of his mouth is a visual trademark in the comic—and sidekick Chas is American, instead of English. Another good review I read notes that the characters are “Nerfed” for network TV, but I’ve been disappointed enough times over decades of watching Hollywood botch my favorite books and comics that I’m satisfied with what I see here.

I’m wondering if the Something Big and Horrible is along the lines of Alan Moore’s “United States” storyline in Swamp Thing, where the original character was developed in the mid-1980s. (John Constantine first appeared in Swamp Thing #37, in the story “Growth Patterns,” cover date June 1985. A good concise history of the comics character is here.) There was one line in which Constantine blackmails a former associate into working for him again that came off a lot like this panel from Swamp Thing, including the “I’m a nasty piece of work” line.

For now, who knew? I have an appointment show on Friday nights.