Editor’s Note: Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this entry. The opinions I share are my own.
When John Constantine first appeared on the comics scene back in 1984, I wasn’t reading Saga of the Swamp Thing regularly, but checking out issues that a friend of mine had. However, I immediately fell in love with the cheeky bastard and can honestly say that he’s my favorite DC character. When Jamie Delano and John Ridgway launched Hellblazer in ’88, though, I was there, and stayed current up through the end of Garth Ennis’ first run (all 85 of those first issues are still in my collection). Ennis returned for issues 129-133 and then another of my favorite writers, Warren Ellis, did a turn (#134-143), before leaving after editorial meddling in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. I didn’t come back to the series until Peter Milligan took over the book for issues 250 through the final issue, #300.
Basically what I’m saying is that I am a Hellblazer superfan and the series has had a number of talented writers and artists taking turns telling gut-wrenching stories of occult horror, both in the series and in free-standing specials and mini-series. The series has always attracted the best and brightest in the industry, and in 2011, Si Spencer and the amazing artist Sean Murphy crafted a gory and violent tale called Hellblazer: City of Demons.
Parallel to the beginnings of Constantine, from 1985 to 1987, acclaimed writer J.M. DeMatteis teamed up with artists extraordinaire, Jon J. Muth, Kent Williams, and George Pratt to craft one of the most inspiring and influential comic book series that I’ve ever read: Moonshadow. Moonshadow was the first fully painted American comic book and its twelve issues were later collected into a single hardback (in 1989), which sits in a spot of honor on my shelf to this day. DeMatteis also worked with Kent Williams on another fully-painted series called Blood, which, according to IMDB, is on its way to being adapted as an animated film.
Taking a leap from there, from 2014 to 2015 NBC aired a single season of a live-action Constantine series. Welsh actor Matt Ryan was cast and from that moment on, nobody has pictured Keanu Reeves as the iconic sorcerer. Despite the series being canceled, Ryan has since turned up over on the CW, reviving Constantine in the Arrowverse and has joined the cast of Legends of Tomorrow’s new season. In the meantime, he also voiced Constantine in the Warner Bros. animated film Justice League Dark. This, in turned spawned the animated web-series on CW Seed, Constantine: City of Demons, of which only the first five six-minute episodes were released. Rather than release the rest to the internet, it has now been released as a full-length DC Animated Movie Universe release – their fifth R-rated feature.
Why all of this history of my comic and television tastes? Because J.M. DeMatteis is the writer of the animated film Constantine: City of Demons (although it doesn’t really share much actual story with the original mini by Spencer and Murphy, instead taking major inspiration from Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco’s 2005 original graphic novel, Hellblazer: All His Engines, and Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer #11 (1988), “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come”). DeMatteis writing my favorite DC character, voiced by the one and only John Constantine, Matt Ryan, is kind of a no-brainer for me. I’m immersed in this shit.
So trust me when I tell you that City of Demons is a solid entry in the ongoing adventures of Matt Ryan’s interpretation of John Constantine. Sure, the animated version isn’t really in the same continuity as the NBC/CW version, but they share the same DNA and Ryan has made this role his own. As far as I’m concerned, he can play the character for the rest of his life and I’ll be happy.
The basic story is thus: Constantine’s old mate Chas resurfaces after a ten year absence from John’s life to ask for help. His daughter has fallen into a coma, and Chas smells the stink of dark magic on her (in All His Engines, it was Chas’ granddaughter in the coma). So John and Chas fly to L.A. and get caught up in a demonic plot to essentially franchise Hell. This, ultimately, ties back to the seminal Constantine tragic adventure in Newcastle, where John’s cockiness cost the soul of a little girl and shaped who he would become over the rest of his life (coming straight from Delano’s “Newcastle” issue).
The story earns its R-rating with extreme gore and violence, along with some swearing and adult situations. It handles the material in a much more mature and satisfying manner than Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay did, that’s for sure. DeMatteis’ script pays a lot of attention to character as well as to the nightmarish gore (including some ghastly things that they probably couldn’t have gotten away with in any other medium) and sticks the landing in a way that’s much more tragic and satisfying than the ending of All His Engines.
If you’re a fan of John Constantine, and in particular, of Matt Ryan’s take on the rake, then you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
The Sorcerer’s Occultist: Understanding John Constantine – This featurette ostensibly is a history of the character by City of Demons director Doug Murphy, producer Butch Lukic, executive producer David Goyer, and occult expert Jason Louv, author of John Dee and the Empire of Angels (2018). Unfortunately, this one disappoints, as it spends more time on discussing magic as a real practice – although not in enough detail to be interesting – than it does on Constantine. There are glimmers of insight into the character’s history, but it was decidedly lacking in representation by any of the plethora of writers and artists who could have brought some insight.
I would have loved to hear from Delano about the origins of the Newcastle story, or from Carey about All His Engines. There’s some real potential for discussion around this character and the original Hellblazer series, from its politics, its environmentalism, the way it pushed the boundaries of what stories American comics were capable of telling, to even the simple fact that the character aged in real time for that original 300 issue run.
All in all, this was an opportunity missed.
Constantine: City of Demons WonderCon Panel – This was a nice little bit of fun as we get a chance to see Peter Girardi (from Warner Bros. digital division), Matt Ryan, and J.M. DeMatteis talk a bit about the process of bringing the series to life, from script to screen. The only disappointment here is that DeMatteis doesn’t get any questions from the fans at the end of the panel. What the hell, people?