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JasonWanderer

Is Constantine Fundamentally Uncaring?

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At the end of Issue 109 (the Wild Hunt plot), in Voices from Beyond there's a letter stating that "In the Line of Fire" was strange because John would never care about some old woman and a ghost in a house.

Ironically, having just read "In the Line of Fire," I thought the exact opposite: that John going into this old place, feeling something for this lady is very Constantine.

He's not a superhero, and that leads him to do some bad things, but I always thought its also what led him to do good things; to truly understand people.  He's disconnected from society and through that he gains perspective on situations most would just not give a damn about.  Him deciding to reconcile the feelings of a longing old woman is precisely the kind of man he is because it's something he knows, and no one else sees; that no one else really cares about.

Maybe I'm just not reading the series right though; could be possible.  I just never felt "bastard" was an actual character trait of Constantine, not really.  It was a self-proclaimed label based on his own self-loathing.  The Delano era for example has him literally being haunted by people from his past that he feels he's screwed over.  Most of the time John doesn't take pleasure in going out of his way to harm people. Or at least not for a bit.  It did seem like during the Ennis era he became a bit more of the full throttle prick.  The irredeemable hard man, bastard, and egotist; the "cool" guy.  Yet, the Jenkins era starts with him trying to actually release himself from all that. 

Do you think that Constantine is fundamentally just an uncaring prick or do you think that notion that he wouldn't help anyone came from characterization during the previous era?

 

(Really thinking on it, I almost feel like this is exactly what went wrong.  Everyone started labeling Constantine as one thing rather than a mixing.  He's a "bastard," he's a "magician," he's a "conman," he's the "cool" character.  Everyone seemed to focus on the one note aspects, without having the positives or at least the life perspective aspects balance it out.  It started creating this very one dimensional view of the character which was basically a caricature of the way he was previously written.)

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The bastard/prick/etc thing is an oversimplification as a lot of the harm Constantine causes isn't intentional and a lot of the rest he insists was justified for the greater good, even if he isn't completely convinced of that himself.

Of course, ongoing comics tend to feature extremely simplistic characters (the compassionate term these days seems to be archetypes) who can be summarised in a short high concept description as a rule, so dealing with more ambiguity in characters, or ones whose characterisation has been developed through a lengthy history rather than an origin story so reductive and minimal that it can be retold and revamped from the ground up in a single issue every ten or twenty years isn't ideal for the publisher in this case.

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I've long held that 'bastard' is a shallow reading of the character.

Mind you, there've been many John Constantines, even within the first 300 issues of the original series, none 100% compatible with the others. So there's support for different readings. 

 

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On 2/9/2020 at 10:44 AM, dogpoet said:

The bastard/prick/etc thing is an oversimplification as a lot of the harm Constantine causes isn't intentional and a lot of the rest he insists was justified for the greater good, even if he isn't completely convinced of that himself.

Of course, ongoing comics tend to feature extremely simplistic characters (the compassionate term these days seems to be archetypes) who can be summarised in a short high concept description as a rule, so dealing with more ambiguity in characters, or ones whose characterisation has been developed through a lengthy history rather than an origin story so reductive and minimal that it can be retold and revamped from the ground up in a single issue every ten or twenty years isn't ideal for the publisher in this case.

You make a good point about how an archetype characterization just allows for an all-around easier time re-creating the series of character later on.

It's a shame though, in terms of Hellblazer.  Constantine has so many different sides to him yet it always seems like the "bastard" aspect becomes the "badass" one.  Even though without all the other pieces, him being a bastard is just...well, him being a bastard.  Not a complicated, conflicted individual.  Just some guy who's a real prick.  Which is not the way his fundamental character seemed to be.

 

17 hours ago, JasonT said:

I've long held that 'bastard' is a shallow reading of the character.

Mind you, there've been many John Constantines, even within the first 300 issues of the original series, none 100% compatible with the others. So there's support for different readings. 

 

You've got a point on there being different readings.  That's definitely true.  Delano Constantine, and Ennis Constantine are pretty different for example.

You know what I think became an issue?  People started to write Constantine by just writing more Constantine.  What I mean to say is that Paul Jenkins comes in an starts this arc where John's trying to be something different.  Not only is he going through a change, but he's also just physically older.  Getting up there, life's changing, and he's got to do so too.

Then it seemed like the general way to write John was to just have him don a trenchcoat, smoke, and meet supernatural crazies.  Past that Jenkins era I don't even feel like Constantine aged anymore, and losing that aspect really made him feel less like a person.

(As much as I love the Carey era, even there he feels like he could still be 30 and not at all his actual age with the years he's had.  Then Milligan has him old to contrast Epiphany but the age doesn't account for any characterization; he doesn't actually act...old)

I know it seems odd to nitpick how he's written age wise, but I always thought Hellblazer's depth came from seeing John literally age as the series went on.  He wasn't the same man he was when the series started, and that was the beauty of it.  Then that kind of stop and life experience/perspective was lost.

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17 hours ago, JasonWanderer said:

You make a good point about how an archetype characterization just allows for an all-around easier time re-creating the series of character later on.

Possibly, but it's probably not the point I should have made: the traditional comics "that's not a cliche it's an archetype!" approach is all about image. That works for characters who are defined by wearing a striking costume and only have a backstory to explain why they dress up strangely and fight crime, but it's led to several tragic* trenchcoat misjudgements with John boy.

No question that the whole "we don't need any depth of characterisation or a concrete history that it arises from" thing hasn't done any harm in this case, though. Just look at the dumbassed attempt to switch Oliver's kids for Astra...

*(Or even magic. Thanks, Peter.)

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20 hours ago, dogpoet said:

*(Or even magic. Thanks, Peter.)

Good points all around, and since you brought it up I may as well ask this: Did I miss something in the Devil's Trenchcoat or does it assume that John's coat is the same one he's always had?

I was just reading Confession of an Irish Rebel and he makes a point of going to buy a new one.  Plus there's points like in the Carey run where he doesn't seem to pick up his old clothes.

Am I just misremembering the point of the story or is it just a slight continuity era?

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There was some nonsense in Justice League Dark about it being Nick Necro's trenchcoat that he took with him when he ran off with Zatanna. (Necro mentions this during a fight scene and seems a lot more pissed off about having his coat nicked than losing his girlfriend, iirc.) Obviously Milligan decided that Devil's Trenchcoat story wasn't quite daft enough and he could do something even stupider with the idea. (Unless that was Lemire by then.)

It can't possibly the same coat he'd always had, of course, as he replaces it  in other stories besides the Ennis and Carey. Delano alone shows him buying a replacement a couple of times, doesn't he? That didn't stop Milligan having him banging on about it to Shelly a few times before that bloody stupid story that explicitly set that up, though...

This is actually part of the problem we're talking about, isn't it? Rather than  Constantine just having a taste for raincoats as a fashion choice, it's been retconned into some sort of magical prop that's now part of his superhero origin story. That works a bit better with Green Lantern's bling than it does with John boy's coat, doesn't it?

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On 2/12/2020 at 10:31 AM, dogpoet said:

There was some nonsense in Justice League Dark about it being Nick Necro's trenchcoat that he took with him when he ran off with Zatanna. (Necro mentions this during a fight scene and seems a lot more pissed off about having his coat nicked than losing his girlfriend, iirc.) Obviously Milligan decided that Devil's Trenchcoat story wasn't quite daft enough and he could do something even stupider with the idea. (Unless that was Lemire by then.)

It can't possibly the same coat he'd always had, of course, as he replaces it  in other stories besides the Ennis and Carey. Delano alone shows him buying a replacement a couple of times, doesn't he? That didn't stop Milligan having him banging on about it to Shelly a few times before that bloody stupid story that explicitly set that up, though...

This is actually part of the problem we're talking about, isn't it? Rather than  Constantine just having a taste for raincoats as a fashion choice, it's been retconned into some sort of magical prop that's now part of his superhero origin story. That works a bit better with Green Lantern's bling than it does with John boy's coat, doesn't it?

I'm pretty sure you're right, and Delano had him switching up coats.  Not to mention that he doesn't even wear his coat as much in that era; he was in a suit jacket quite a lot if I remember correctly.

Considering the way that the backstory was pushed on it (continuity aside), I do wonder what exactly the intention was.  There's a lot to say about Milligan's Hellblazer, but the main thing is that it really does feel like it was meant to be a superhero book with a guy that wasn't super.  Even the young, daring side female reminds me of something like...Indiana Jones or Bond or hell even Batman.

Magic became a power rather than a system.  He was quite literally the cool magician with, I guess, masculine appeal (but the cliche kind)?  The way Angie was written, Epiphany, even bringing Kit back for that short segment; it's like it was proving he was "the" manly man with a bunch of women and torn up loves, but hey at least he gets the young one at the end.  Felt more like a power fantasy than a superhero story even.

The whole Devil's Trenchcoat mess was just another way of saying that Constantine was never normal, or human, or anything like that.  He was something very special.  His coat literally was somehow guiding him into the mystic arts which...

Actually I don't even know.  I realized I have so much to say on the Milligan era and none of it even adds up to a point.  Which is a pretty fitting review of the era itself.

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The superhero thing hadn't occurred to me, but that's definitely an interesting reading of the Milligan run and its aftermath.

Particularly when you consider that, in Hellblazer's initial run and the Swamp Thing appearances (even under Nancy "Cor blimey!" Collins), John boy was written as using the sort of elaborate ritual magic you see in Dennis Wheatley novels to far less effect than all of the mystic handwavers like Zatanna or Doctor Fate (or even Jason Blood, come to that). If anything Ennis, for all that's said against him, actually picked up on that and doubled down on it during his run.

Presumably Milligan, Bond or Didio decided that having a comic whose protagonist was an ageing scouse hipster version of the duke du Richelieu wouldn't be as much fun as one where he was a plainclothes superhero.

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On 2/14/2020 at 8:00 AM, dogpoet said:

The superhero thing hadn't occurred to me, but that's definitely an interesting reading of the Milligan run and its aftermath.

Particularly when you consider that, in Hellblazer's initial run and the Swamp Thing appearances (even under Nancy "Cor blimey!" Collins), John boy was written as using the sort of elaborate ritual magic you see in Dennis Wheatley novels to far less effect than all of the mystic handwavers like Zatanna or Doctor Fate (or even Jason Blood, come to that). If anything Ennis, for all that's said against him, actually picked up on that and doubled down on it during his run.

Presumably Milligan, Bond or Didio decided that having a comic whose protagonist was an ageing scouse hipster version of the duke du Richelieu wouldn't be as much fun as one where he was a plainclothes superhero.

They don't call him Conjob for no reason!

You're absolutely spot on; John was never the traditional magician.  At least not in the sense that he'd shoot spells from his palms (well, until he did...).  What made Constantine stand out isn't that he was proficient in magic or had any capabilities; he was just some guy that picked up on occult knowledge and went forward with it. 

Even more, the one thing that is special about John is his demon blood and that was used frequently as a negative power.  It seemed like an outright reversal of the normal superhero idea where a character gets to have abilities because of blood or a serum or something like that.

Ennis was quite good at separating John from actual spell casting.  A lot of what he did involved sigil creation and empowering rituals.  The Shows have taken liberties with that, making Constantine a slight bit closer to the magical 52 version, but there's this moment at the end of the first episode of Constantine: John's got flaming hands, but instead of just a spell, they have him break up a lighter, rub the fluid over his palms, and then light himself up.  Protection magic, but still a rough, almost sleight of hand kind.

I'd say the direction it went made Constantine more appealing to a broader audience, but I don't even think that's true since the more human he is, the more people seem to like him.

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