There is no shortage of comic properties on network TV this year, but one that may have escaped your attention is NBC’s CONSTANTINE. Executive Producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerrone talk about their plans for the future, where it all fits into DC’s New 52 Continuity and how they want to continue to make it the truest comic adaptation ever to hit the small screen.
(Editor’s Note: Remember that long stretch when Emily was busy having a life? Well, now she’s making up for it. For the next li’l bit, we’ll be running BRAND-NEW Emily S. Whitten columns on Tuesday mornings – AND on Saturday afternoons! No kiddin’!)
The last time anyone really adapted the material of Hellblazer and main character John Constantine, occult detective, for the screen was 2005’s film Constantine, which got mixed reviews, although I personally thought it was pretty decent. After rumors of other adaptations to come throughout the years, on October 24 on NBC we will finally be seeing another screen vision of John Constantine come to life, and I can’t wait!
At SDCC I got to talk to the new show’s executive producers and cast, and they had some fun and interesting things to share. Check it out!
Click here to hear Executive Producers Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer address the potential portrayal of Constantine’s bisexuality in the show, and the comic book storylines they’re looking forward to bring to life.
Click here to see actor Matt Ryan (John Constantine), discuss getting familiar with the character, adapting Constantine’s accent, and what he wants to bring in from the comics for the show.
Click here to watch actor Harold Perrineau (Manny) talk about what comic book character he’d dress as for SDCC and what his character (newly created for the TV show) is going to be up to.
Click here to see actress Angélica Celaya (Zed) share a bit about her character, her introduction to the comics, and Zed’s interactions with Constantine.
And click here to hear Charles Halford (Chas Chandler) talk about his character’s relationship with Constantine and role in the supernatural part of things, and his desire to honor the comics and the fans’ expectations as he prepared for his role.
NBC announced Friday that Constantine is coming to TV this fall.
Based on the wildly popular comic book series “Hellblazer” from DC Comics, seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine (Matt Ryan, “Criminal Minds”) specializes in giving hell… hell. Armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and his wickedly naughty wit, he fights the good fight – or at least he did. With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to leave his do-gooder life behind, but when demons target Liv (Lucy Griffiths, “True Blood”), the daughter of one of Constantine’s oldest friends, he’s reluctantly thrust back into the fray – and he’ll do whatever it takes to save her. Before long, it’s revealed that Liv’s “second sight” – an ability to see the worlds behind our world and predict supernatural occurrences – is a threat to a mysterious new evil that’s rising in the shadows. Now it’s not just Liv who needs protection; the angels are starting to get worried too. So, together, Constantine and Liv must use her power and his skills to travel the country, find the demons that threaten our world and send them back where they belong. After that, who knows… maybe there’s hope for him and his soul after all.
The cast also includes Harold Perrineau and Charles Halford.
NBC’s DC Comics adaptation Constantine has found its leading man. Criminal Minds alum Matt Ryan is near a deal to star in the drama based on the Hellblazer graphic novels, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
It just started to snow out here in the Atlantic Northeast. I got the mandatory robo-call from our mayor telling us the world is coming to its end. There’s just enough white stuff on the ground for a 1980s yuppie to slip into a twitchy nostalgic daze. Going outside would be stupid: people out here don’t know how to drive on snow, and they act as though a little bit of snow is a sign from their lord telling them they’re going to hell. Which, given the fact this is snow and not hot hail, seems oxymoronic.
I’d give up and just watch television, but I really haven’t enjoyed daytime television since Phil Donohue got liquored up and threated to bite Mike Douglas’s balls off, and besides, odds are in favor of my losing power for at least a while. The good news is, I’ve got lots of stuff on my iPad – including work – and I can recharge that in my car. The better news is, pretty soon we’ll all have access to a lot more fun stuff.
Perhaps you heard that Marvel Studios is cutting out a slice of the MCU and taking it to Netflix as a whole bunch of mini-serieses: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, each with its own 13 episode series, each set in Hell’s Kitchen, and then winding up with a big mini called “The Defenders.”
That’s pretty cool. I like the idea of programming coming from non-broadcast and non-cable sources, and I like both House of Cards and Alpha House on Netflix and Amazon Prime, respectively. Marvel says that Netflix gives them the ability to do more fan-friendly teevee; that’s either a really good idea or a threat. We’ll see.
Now comes word that another comics creation is coming to TabletVision. Amazon Studios is paying for the long-in-development Barbarella pilot, based upon Jean-Claude Forest classic science-fiction comic from the 1960s. Skyfall writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are still on board to write the series.
I don’t think any of these projects would have made it on cable teevee, and certainly not on broadcast. Oh, sure, maybe Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist or Luke Cage, but not all four tying into a fifth mini-series. As for Barbarella, well, the campy movie doesn’t transfer well into the 21st Century, but the comic book does. We’ll see which path it takes… and how salacious they can be.
With the recent, massive improvement of Agents of SHIELD, Fox’s Gotham pilot (which sounds like it has great potential), NBC’s John Constantine pilot, and ABC’s Agent Carter pilot (I loved the Marvel One-Shot on the Iron Man 3 Blu-Ray), I’m actually a lot more enthusiastic about teevee comics than their four-color counterparts at Marvel and DC.
And they’re willing to put it all on my lap, or, through AppleTV or similar devices, on my HDTV.
Mad Men starts its sixth season this weekend. I won’t be able to see it because I’m out of the country, but my cat sitter has strict instructions to set the DVR, so I expect to be up to speed anon.
I am psyched.
The last season ended in 1967. I’m not sure whether this new season will pick up immediately after the last one left off, or if it will jump forward a year or two. In any case, the late 1960s were a time when any average Tuesday had more drama and conflict and human interest than all of the 1980s combined.
The advertising for this new season, at least as seen in the posters in the subway, hint at some of the challenges we can expect to see. Buttoned-up Don Draper versus a chaotic world.
Which brings me around to comics, and the points I want to make this week. For as long as I can remember (which doesn’t include the late 1960s, by the way, because that’s what the late 1960s were like for me), comics fans have bemoaned the fact that comics don’t advertise. If only comics reached out to people the way books/movies/television do, we’d have a mainstream medium.
I don’t think it would make any difference. Comic companies don’t know how to advertise.
Let’s look at an ad for an upcoming series I anticipate eagerly, the new Constantine, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes and Renato Cuedes. John Constantine is one of my favorite characters.
The ad shows Constantine sitting in a graveyard, slouched against a tombstone with his name on it, smoking a cigarette. There is a vase of red roses at his feet. Zombie hands are reaching for him, and there is a drooling zombie behind him. A skull rises from a grave to his left. There is a logo above his head, and above that is the line, “Playing with magic always comes with a price…”
It’s a terrible ad.
If you didn’t know anything about the character, or the creative team, what would this tell you? It seems to depict a guy who is so lackadaisical about the undead that he can relax with a smoke. Where is the tension? Where is the drama?
What’s in it for me?
The best advertising suggests a benefit for the consumer. It elicits an emotional response (and if you don’t believe me, watch any episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper explains things to the client). Perhaps my dishes will be cleaner, my vacation more glamorous, my beer-drinking nights more fun. Successful advertising for entertainment promises me emotional highs and lows, laughter and/or tears. It promises me that I will experience something I’ve never had before.
Perhaps DC assumes that, since the ad is running in their books, the reader knows who the character is, and what the creative team can do. Perhaps they think this information is enough to motivate someone already familiar with the work.
After all, the Mad Men poster I praised earlier is just a picture of Jon Hamm walking down a city street. In this case, however, the average media consumer knows about the show, and even if that person doesn’t watch it, Jon Hamm is regularly in movies and other television shows, reaching an audience outside the show’s usual demographics. By using a master of advertising illustration from the same era as the show, the ad evokes the time period. The composition implies a tension that is at odds with the soft colors of the background.
My curiosity is piqued. I can’t wait. Anticipation achieved.
The DC ad does none of this. And until our industry learns how advertising works (and, no, this doesn’t count), we don’t deserve nice things.
Bob left a message on my phone last Friday. “I’m glad you aren’t DC’s publicity manager today,” he said.
After the Columbine shootings in the 1990s, we got calls at DC because the killers wore trench coats and so did John Constantine. This time, the alleged gunman actually said he was the Joker.
Most likely, if I were still the publicity manager at DC I would have received a zillion phone calls on Friday. And, most likely, I wouldn’t have been allowed to say anything. I would have told the media to call Warner Bros. corporate communications VP and let that person sweat it. Since I’m no longer on the payroll, let me show you what I would say if I got one of those phone calls and could speak freely.
Reporter: Does DC Comics have anything to say about the Batman massacre?
Me: This tragedy has nothing to do with DC Comics or the Batman.
Reporter: The shooter said he was the Joker. He died his hair orange.
Me: The Joker has green hair.
Reporter: Doesn’t the violence in Batman glorify killing and inspire acts such as this?
Me: For more than 50 years and scores of writers and artists, Batman has been an outspoken opponent of guns. Insane people will find inspiration where there is none. Son of Sam took orders from his dog, but no one blames the dog. I think it was Lenny Bruce who said, you can take any page of the Sears catalog, and someone will whack off to it.
Reporter: What’s a Sears catalog?
As usual, the mainstream culture misses the point. Batman isn’t the problem. Batman fans are not the problem. Guns are the problem.
Yes, I know the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Second Amendment. You know what’s guaranteed in the First Amendment? The right to free expression. In the wake of Friday’s horror, theater chains didn’t ban guns in their places of business but instead banned costumes. Maybe the costumes they should ban include loaded weapons and Kevlar?
(Side note: I cannot imagine getting dressed up in a costume to go to the movies. I don’t even really understand why people get dressed up in costumes to go to go to comics conventions. There’s Halloween, and St. Marks Place, and, for me, that’s enough room for funny outfits. Also, the 1980s.)
It is true that the alleged shooter had unfettered access to comic books, graphic novels, fantasy films, video games and hair dye. He also had unfettered access to weapons and ammunition. Opinions may vary, but I think it’s pretty cut-and-dried about which contributed more directly to the massacre.
If there is a graphic novel that should be attracting media attention, it’s My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, published by Abrams ComicArts imprint. The author, with a grace and elegance that awed me, shows how easily society ignores and humiliates misfits, some of whom grow up to do horrible rings.
If you don’t have it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
This past week, I read both Justice League #5 and Justice League Dark #5. To say they are worlds apart is a bit on-the-nose, but suffice to say… it’s the truth. Justice League proper is loud, dumb, and thin. Dark is the polar opposite.
With an issue left to finish its first arc, Justice League needs a near miracle to turn my opinion around. In issue #5, Dark completed its first arc and I’m amazingly sold on it. Funny then that I didn’t bring that book home. My wife, and mother to our newborn son, bought it cause she loves Zatanna. Trust me, I have a millions reasons to thank her everyday. Now? I have a million and one. But I digress. This here column is meant to compare and contrast just why JL: Prime is poop, and Dark is dynamite. I hope Geoff Johns is taking notes.
Let’s start with the good. Both Leagues assemble a pretty stellar line-up. I know there are those out there that have a soft spot for the less-than-great Leagues of the past (like when they were in Detroit, or the amazingly crappy team from right-before-the-flashpoint), but let’s be honest: The present day roster takes its Magnificent Seven approach ala Grant Morrison’s run, and it was damned smart to do so. On the Dark side, we get a team-up that’s a veritable who’s who of the mystic arts.
With the Vertigo imprint now a part of the DCnU proper, we get to see stalwart mystic go-to characters like Deadman team up with John Constantine, amongst others. All in all, the teams work on paper, quite well. And John’s use of Cyborg as the would-be-everyman makes me forget all about the obvious affirmative action. The only character I wish they’d put on the Dark team would be Detective Chimp. Face it, monkeys equal sales.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s dive into the bad, shall we? Justice League takes too many cues from the worst part of comics from the 1990s. Jim Lee is delivering amazing work, but at the cost of quality narrative. Splash after splash, action panel after action panel, and everyone always screaming, wincing, and punching. Also, all of it is on fire. Now, is Jim to blame for this? I don’t know. Geoff Johns is the man behind the script, so one might ask him if he intended the first arc to be so… typical.
For a guy who built a career on amazing origins, here he delivers his first disappointing one. Think of all the stereotypical team-forming storylines you can think of. Heroes meet, and think each other is the villain? Check. Egotistical in-fighting for control? Check. The evil-villain-from-out-of-nowhere who can only be defeated by having the team form? Check. That basic premise has been done to death in just about every team book, and funny enough? JL: Dark uses it too! But somehow, they pull it off. I’ll get to that later.
As I recall comics of my youth (those pesky ‘90s), it was always about the pop and sizzle, never about the words. It was all about who could beat up who and how, never why. Then I grabbed Watchmen, Sin City, books by Scott McCloud, and Kingdom Come and learned that comics can be stellar cape and cowl adventures… and use nuance and subtlety to end a story. Justice League throws all of that out the window, so we can make way for everyone taking time to ask what Batman’s powers are. Snicker.
Justice League Dark takes that same convoluted plot and smartly dampens it for characterization. The first arc is the antithesis to the uniting of individuals for the greater good. Instead we have severely independent agents being routed to stop something against their will. Over the course of the book, characters do fight one another, but it’s done with nuance. When Deadman threatens John Constantine, it’s because he cares for June Moon, who Constantine is obviously hurting in order to save the greater good. No puffed up chests and snarky dialogue.
And the big bad of the book? Well it turns out to be the misguided Enchantress, who lost control due to Madame Xanadu’s misguided tinkering. And at the climactic battle, when the score is blasting, and characters shout… it’s not the uniting of the mystical mavens of the greater DCnU that saves the day. It’s just Constantine doing his job. When the dust settles, the team, as it were, stand as independent as they were at the books’ beginning. It’s a bold move by Peter Milligan, who opts to dose his Justice League with a bit of realism. Realism, is a comic featuring a guy who has a super secret all-powerful vest? Yup. And it’s pretty darned cool.
I’ve merely scratched the surface here. Now, before you fire up the engines of hate, let me act as my own Devil’s Advocate. Justice League has had some great moments. As I mentioned before, I think Cyborg has been a real highlight of the book, and Johns’ Hal Jordon is a cock-sure treat, especially when he gets his ass whooped. And truth be told, the sales figures put me in my place pretty quickly. And Justice League: Dark isn’t exactly narrative fiction perfected. Over five issues Milligan utilized the “two characters show up somewhere, and spend their time questioning why they’re there scene” about 27 times. And as ComicBookResources’ Chad Nevett noted in his review of issue #5. Milligan may need to do a ton of back-peddling to assemble his team for the next arc.
Overall though, I think it’s clear: Justice League thus far has been far too busy trying to bring the “oohs and ahhs” while Dark spent its time trying to develop its characters beyond witty retorts, and punching. The books are clearly targeting different audiences, but even those who prefer eye laser blasts and Batarangs to backwards spells and Photoshop glow effects…clearly see where the flagship of the DCnU is aiming only at the lowest common denominator. If the DCnU is to make those who don’t read comics pay attention, modeling their mainstay book off of Michael Bay mentality isn’t the way to do it.
It’s the end of the year and everybody’s got their Top 10 list, and since I went to journalism school I’m obligated to list mine. I’m looking at titles that were released in 2011 because cover dates are meaningless. I’m not looking at original graphic novels or reprint projects, even though in dollar volume they constitute the majority of my purchases. Besides, original graphic novels are done to very different standards. Finally, some of these titles are done by friends of mine; I refuse to disqualify them because they just might buy me lunch. Having said all that…
#1 – Life With Archie Magazine (Archie)
Top of my list for the second year straight. Two stories – Archie marries Veronica, Archie marries Betty. Parallel worlds which converge, but that’s not why this book is great. There’s very real character development here, layered on personalities that existed for 70 years without it. We watch them grow, not into adults, but as adults. Better still, the most interesting character in both series is Reggie Mantle! Paul Kupperberg writes this, with art from Norm Breyfogle, Fernando Ruiz, Pat and Tim Kennedy and a host of others.
#2 – Tiny Titans (DC)
If you see this as a kid’s comic, that’s great, particularly if you’re a kid. If you see this as a brilliant loving satire of DC Comics and its convoluted universe, that’s great too, particularly if you’re an “adult.” Art Baltazar and Franco are pushing towards 50 issues here, and there ain’t a clunker in the bunch.
#3 – Elric: The Balance Lost (Boom)
Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion has been in the hands of a lot of comics creators and a lot of comics publishers, and the output has been… inconsistent. This latest series is among the very best: all of the various shades of Elric are here, and interweaved through the storyline are very contemporary elements and environs. Good stuff from Chris Roberson and Francesco Biagini.
#4 – Daredevil (Marvel)
Once again, Mark Waid does what he does best: he takes a well-established character that, like all well-established comics characters, has been covered in paint about a dozen too many times and strips it back down to the wall, preserving everything that made the character work while imbuing it with a contemporary environment. On this series, he’s going just that – and he’s doing it better than ever. Penciler Marcos Martin ain’t no slouch, neither. This is a real superhero book.
#5 – Justice League Dark (DC)
This one’s my surprise of the year. While very little of DC’s New 52 answers the question “why bother,” this one takes a bunch of characters of a somewhat mystical nature and thrusts them, Justice League like, into a trauma vastly larger than any one of them… and maybe all of them. Sort of like The Defenders, with all the style and John Constantine’s wit. Peter Milligan’s DC work has been inconsistent for me (I tend to prefer his U.K. work), but I’m glad I checked this one out. Mikel Jann draws the series. Very different… and very good.
#6 – Fly (Zenoscope)
I reviewed Raven Gregory and Eric J’s series about a recreational drug that gives kids the power to fly way back here. I liked it then, I like it now. Of course it’s out in trade paperback, so if you blew me off in August, give it a shot now.
#7 – Red Skull (Marvel)
Retrofitting a backstory onto a well-established character is a gambit that is often ill conceived and, worse, boring. Not this one. Greg Pak and Mirko Colak take us back to the villain’s adolescence where we learn – definitively – where his allegiances truly lie… and why. The fact that it’s got the best covers I’ve seen on a mini-series in a long while doesn’t hurt, either.
#8 – Batgirl (DC)
I don’t have a clue about how this series fits into any continuity, current or past. I’m told it does. What I do know is that this is a series about a young woman who’s trying to reestablish herself as a superhero after enduring traumas that shattered her body and soul. She’s not necessarily great at being a superhero, but she’s giving it all she’s got. This is exactly what I expect out of Gail Simone, and that is a very high standard. Adrian Syaf offers solid and exciting storytelling.
#9 – Action Comics (DC)
I went here because of Rags Morales’ art – I’d buy Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes if Rags drew the box – and I stayed for Grant Morrison’s innovative and engrossing script. This is the all-new young Superman, before he figured out what to wear on the job. It’s set well before the all-new older Superman in his eponymous title. I don’t know how this leads up to that, and I don’t care. This is supposed to hold up on its own, and it does. I’ll get over the slap in history’s face with the numbering (if such lasts); this is the best-produced Superman title in a decade-and-a-half.
#10 – To my friends who didn’t make this list: each of you came in tied for #10. Now go fight it out.
Notice how there aren’t any teevee or movie tie-ins? I never warmed up to that stuff. Not even as a kid. Which means it took me a while to realize Steve Ditko actually drew Hogan’s Heroes.
I have no doubt that within weeks at least two of the above-named will start to suck. Like all commercial media, comic books are subject to the whims of the lords and ladies of irony. But as a professional cynic, these titles and perhaps another half-dozen meet and exceed my bizarrely encrusted standards. Your opinions might differ, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong.
Of course not.
Extra: Happy birthday wishes to fellow columnist Marc Alan Fishman, who turns 30 today and, therefore, is old enough to know better. His son turns 0 in about a month.
Extra-Extra: Thanks to Gatekeeper Glenn for saving my life this year.