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Committed: DC Got Their Marketing All Over My Constantine

The other day I finally got around to reading Justice League Dark #0. Now you can tell me that this is “a different John Constantine than the one in Hellblazer” or that “DC is a different universe than Vertigo.” I don’t buy it. Those are rationalizations, excuses for screwing up a well-established, well-rounded character with a ton of history and a strong following. If DC’s relaunch and their publication of these issue #0’s was anything more than a depressing marketing move aimed at capturing the attention of a dwindling audience instead of trying to increase their appeal by deepening and widening the type of books they publish, they would not have messed up this character’s history so completely.

My apologies for not being not being terribly current with this, clearly I should have been freaking out about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve had a stack of comic books by my bed for weeks, waiting to be read. First I had to go to San Francisco to watch a comic book writer marry a costumer  (the ceremony involved light sabers, of course.) Then I had to go to New York for the ridiculous comic convention, (which you’ll remember from last week, if you’re a regular reader.) Today I was planning to share some of the discoveries I made at the convention, but I’m afraid I must postpone my New York grab bag of artists, because I need to voice my outrage

For those out of the loop, last year DC relaunched the entire line of superhero comic books, staring them all at #1, some stories starting from the beginning and introducing the characters as if they were new, other comic books were legitimately new titles, (and a very few just changed the numbering and kind of ignored the whole thing. Those might have been the smart ones.) At the time I tried a slew of the new titles, the female-centric ones were mostly borderline offensive and the restarts of established stories made me drop books that I had been reading. I found it disappointing to have to read rehashes of well-documented characters’ histories. After all, with the current publishing model, I can easily buy back issues in paperback compilations, so why would I need them to be rewritten all over again by new writers and artists?

Putting all of the sexism and tedious repetition aside for a moment, I still love my superhero comic books and I wasn’t going to walk away from DC. Besides, there is one comic book I’ve stayed faithful to even in the times when I couldn’t afford comic books, and that is Hellblazer. I was warned that the only reason this was untouched by the marketing exploitation being committed against the DC line was because Hellblazer is part of their sister company; Vertigo. With the character’s introduction into the main DC universe in the role of a team member on Justice League Dark, people warned me the character would be ruined. I didn’t believe them, or at least I hoped they were wrong. After all, with veteran writer Peter Milligan, a British author who has done an amazing job of reinvigorating the main title of Hellblazer over the last year or so, it had to be good. He knows the character, he knows what is reasonable and what isn’t…

Then Jeff Lemire stepped in, a man who was writing one of the stronger comic books to come out of DC’s relaunch; Animal Man. More importantly, Lemire’s work on his own creations (like the heartbreaking Essex County) showed his ability to create a poetic and beautiful connection with a slew of contradictory characters. Justice League Dark didn’t suffer under his writing, and I think he even got the moment rolling a little bit more smoothly. A year after their relaunch DC decided that there weren’t enough opportunities to keep marketing their product as NEW and IMPROVED, so they shoe-horned in an issue #0. Now, if we don’t need our superheroes to start at #1, we certainly don’t need them to start at #0 a year later. It felt like a marketing device with absolutely no respect paid to all of the great writers and artists who made these creations so incredible over the last 30 plus years. Who knows what kind of editorial pressures the writers and artists are under in being asked to perform these tasks, suffice to say, Justic League Dark #0 went seriously off the rails when it attempted to tell us how a young, cartoonishly happy and bright-looking John Constantine had to leave Britain and go to New York to learn magic from some dude called Nick (?)

Now okay, I can believe that maybe Constantine would go to meet with Anton LaVey or some such weird character from America’s dark past. But a generic guy called Nick? And why did Constantine dress like a biker from the 1950’s, while “Nick” wore his characteristic trench coat, white shirt and skinny black tie? These are the classic clothes of old, working class men of the North, like Constantine. So why he’d need to learn how to dress and do magic from him!?

While I might have an American mother and love US comic books and cartoons, one of the things I like about being born in Britain is having a tangible connection with an ancient culture. When I was an infant, my parents took me to Stonehenge, site of all sorts of mysterious rituals (not that I appreciated it at 3, but there is a photo of me sitting on one of the stones, which is nice because you can no longer even go near them, let alone sit on them.) There is tangible evidence of a long history of Celtic tradition, druids, and rituals performed around Britain. The country is packed with mysterious, symbolic remnants of an ancient culture. There are massive chalk drawings, burial mounds, knolls, walls and roads all over the place which date back thousands of years. It is part of the basic fabric of life in the UK. Now why on earth would someone leave that to go to New York to find a man with no history to learn “real magic” from? Ignoring all of that, John Constantine’s history has been well and truly flashbacked in Hellblazer and we have a lot of proof that he was doing “real” magic from early childhood, in his teens, well before he supposedly went to NY and met “Nick.”

We are supposed to believe that taking this character and making a duplicate of him in a separate universe and then crapping all over his established history and character makes some kind of sense to DC. I can’t. Marketing or otherwise, this is a mistake and an insult to a character I liked enough to follow to a rather out-of-focus new book. Disappointing doesn’t even cover it. Luckily issue #296 of Hellblazer came out last week and it was bloody perfect, filled with funny, miserable, messy insanity. Milligan, Bisley, Camuncoli and Landini continuing to do a great job. If you want a bit of magic in your comic books, pick it up, start anywhere and work backwards. When you find a storyline you like, the back issues are all available in collected editions.

40 Comments

Hear, hear! Couldn’t agree more.

Hard to argue with any of that. Constantine may have been “born” in the DCU, but this incarnation of him is just so watered-down. And even if we accept the idea that new readers need to see his origin (which I doubt — “working class jerky guy does magic” stands pretty well enough as-is), having it be consistent with all the great stuff in Hellblazer (especially since the current storyline is partially ABOUT his family background) seems like a pretty minor thing to ask of it.

But Constantine running around zapping people in JLD is gradually turning me off a book that I would otherwise have enjoyed anyway. He was in Crisis on Infinite Earths, back in the day, one of the biggest superhero books of all time, but he was allowed to be subtle, not a blaster without a Spandex uniform.

Disappointing.

Add to that the fact that Vertigo’s John Constantine’s power level was never disclosed in the series and yet always gave an inkling on how powerful he was. He was also wise enough not to let it go to his head unlike his stint in JLD

In fact, he was so significant, he drew the attention of a Cosmic Being back in #97.

Nice article. One small nitpick of the last sentence though. Not all back issues are available in collected editions, especially with DC and Hellblazer. None of Jenkins’ run is collected, nor is the first trade of Azzarello’s run in print. Luckily they’re printing new editions, though there’s only three trades so far.

Not that I disagree with the crux of the argument, but I feel like John Constantine learning magicks from Anton LaVey would be a low point that ranks up there with Keanu Reeves flipping the bird.

Look at cute li’l 3-year-old Sonia!

That’s all I got.

“Old Nick” is a euphemism for Satan, and apparently a US-specific one? And North America also has deep roots of ancient cultures with their own mystical, shamanic practices. Now, I didn’t read this issue, and I suspect Constantine did not go to America to study magic from the Natives, but I felt compelled to defend my home continent’s heritage!

The great part of these 0 issues is the re-casting of characters’ first appearances. Throw away your copies of Action Comics v1, #1, folks, because Superman’s new first appearance is Justice League #1.

Sorry, but this is the only version of JC I’ve ever been interested in reading about, so DC did their job well, as far as I’m concerned.

Not to mention, you’re actually a part of an incredibly lucky group because the main Hellblazer comic is still running, and so you still have the original version of the character you’ve enjoyed for a while. Just let some other people have this “Ultimate” version and be done with it.

Totally agree. New 52 wonder woman has spent more time in the UK than new 52 Constantine :(

Sorry, but I don’t buy this at all. This is like complaining that the Ultiamte Universe version of a character doesn’t match the Marvel Universe version of itself.

This Constantine does not have to match the Vertigo version. There is no reason for it to do so. They are completely unconnected. As you quite rightly pointed out, Hellblazer still has the other version of Constantine, so why is there a problem?

Now, none of this is saying you should LIKE the new version of him. Feel free to hate it. That was certainly my immediate reaction when they started talking about the Books of Magic being… you know, books. But the existence of them isn’t ‘crapping all over’ the ‘established history’ of what was once a great comic any more than Snyder’s Swamp Thing is ‘crapping all over’ Moore’s version.

They are different. People need to let go of the idea that the comic you liked as a kid, or a teenager, or a twenty-something is the only way that character can be utilized. (I had to get over that same thing when they showed a Captain America using a gun…)

Nice post, Rusty Priske.

Glenn has it in the black,

I understand your frustration, but at least there is still a ‘real’ Constatine for you to enjoy, I’ll never see ‘my’ Titans (Roy, Dick, Kory, Raven, Gar and Vic) doing anything new. Liam’s non-existant, Wally never existed, etc etc.

Some people are going to enjoy “Ultimate Constatine” You’re not the target audience apparently.
(and yes, Cute Sonia on Stonehenge, just needs a robed druid with a sacrifical knife. I kid I kid!)

Me too; I also demand that the Earth-52 version of Batman be consistent with the Earth-1 Batman, Earth-2 Batman, Adam West Batman, Timm Batman, Miller Batman, Burton Batman, Nolan Batman, etc. How dare they destroy all of my Batman collection, and replace it with this The Stupid New 52! Batman.

Lookit this way, when DC’s done with the “New 52″, maybe things will go back to normal.

Maybe ….

I’m hoping that things go back to normal…and soon. As an experiment, the new 52 seemed to be Dan Didio telling all the writers to fulfill their secret desires to write bad fanfiction. Continuity? Who needs continuity? Or characterization for that matter.

But i have to agree, that John, who is one of my favorite characters has a rich and varied history all of his own, and he certainly didn’t need a “new” one. I like Zatanna, but I ‘m not really very thrilled about her new history either.

DC’s a year into the new 52 and ppl still want”things to go back to normal”.That’s just strange to me. Can’t ppl accept that this is the new universe that DC is gonna publish? Also what is back to normal? I have yet to figure that out.

I agree with Rusty Priske. It’s like getting pissed that the Ultimates are not the same as the ordinary 616 Avengers.
Not that I don’t think you are entitled to your opinion, but when your whole argument is “Not my Constantine!” I cannot respect your opinion. I, for one, am greatly enjoying JL Dark and think its one of the standouts of the New 52, and it is a book I would read if it were situated in the pre-FLashpoint universe.

Yeah, Heroes Reborn has been going on for a year ! Clearly this is the way things will be forever and ever.

This isn’t Heroes Reborn. This is something different than that. Heroes Reborn wasn’t a line wide reboot.

More self-entitled fanish crying. Don’t like it, don’t buy it. This entire post is just sputtering about not liking a stupid comic book. And? How about some context? Or give some practical criticism?

I will tell you what, though. I’ll be taking my own advice and skipping future articles by this author.

Alexa touched on this already, but I’d like to reiterate. Britain may have an ancient heritage, but so does America. Don’t forget the peoples who inhabited this continent for millenia before Europeans ever arrived.

Terrific article.

I don’t have any problem with reboots, alternate versions or any of that stuff. They can be fun. They can introduce new ideas. They can actually make stuff better, or at least more up-to-date. However, you need to get the basics right.

For John Constantine, the basics are that he is a rebellious British magician whose experiences with the dark arts have brought a world of hurt down on those close to him. That is the irreducible minimum of the character as I understand him. Removing the connection between his British background and his magical education is breaking something very close to that minimum.

If I remember correctly, he had already gotten a tremendous amount of magical education while in Britain. He just had one guy in America he wanted to learn from.

Beats Keanu Reeves

Of course you are correct, it is the ‘same’ character. Copyright law will confirm this.

Just a note ” chalk drawings, burial mounds, knolls, ” are not magic, even if they should be. The Americas were inhabited by people for arounf 14,000 years so if magic is a human practice there would be plenty of it to discover.

“when your whole argument is “Not my Constantine!””

I think you’re missing the part about England and how integral it is to Constantine as a character. She highlights the costume but, in general, his Britishness is pretty important, and so it does seem like a strange, “We’ve got to appeal to an American audience” sort of change.

@ C. W. Atkins
Actually I’ve not bought a DC Comic since Flushpoint. I finished my Secret Six collection, and am working on getting Titans/Teen Titans trades through half priced books.

@ Stephen and Rusty.
You clearly miss the point for a lot of old folks (like me) I can take/leave the Ultimates, because I still have 616 books. I can ignore the 616 books, if I like the Ultimates. Post Flushpoint, I don’t have new Secret Six, new Titans, etc.

Sonia seems to be enjoying JL Dark, as I read her article. She’s complaining that issue 0 just seems to disconnect him completely from his origins. It echoes the complaint I’ve read several times, that the ‘it’s not a reboot, really’ was a bunch of dren.

I share your outrage, Sonia.

DC has removed themselves from my buy list and flushed themselves down the toilet.
Marvel is rapidly following.

Thank goodness there are a few CONSISTENT characters and titles, like The Boys (which ends next month) and all of Terry Moore’s series.

I don’t think the issue is that things are markedly different, it’s that they are markedly worse. Most of the zero issues I read made significant changes from the pre-52 established stories, but very few of them were actual improvements, and most just seemed to take away from what made the characters interesting in the first place and for no valid story reason (Heck, they threw out the Shelley novel as Frankenstein’s origin, how can you think you’d improve on THAT?)

Look at those cheeks!

Apply the rest of your argument to the entirety of the DCU and you’re saying what a lot of us have cried since the beginning of Nu52. This is the new status quo, until the next one comes along. Time to find better books to read.

Sonia, how can you chastise the New 52 version of Constantine, when the Vertigo version is being drawn far younger than he really should be? According to the VERTIGO timeline, Constantine was a member of a punk rock band in the mid/late 1970s (don’t forget this was completely in line with Alan Moore’s own framing of Constantine’s backstory from the early appearances in “Saga of the Swamp Thing”). Now, by my reckoning, this means “your” Constantine should be in his late 50s at the youngest yet he’s rarely being drawn much older than he was in his first appearances 30 years ago. Part of the Vertigo “charm” was that it was supposed to allow characters to age–not so much in “real time” as much as “a slowed-down but still perceptible timeframe.” Part of the thing that I have trouble with in the current “Hellblazer” series is his marriage. Epiphany talked early on about how he’s such a perv for being as old as her dad, but he looks younger than her dad.

DC hasn’t gotten rid of “your” Constantine. They’ve simply added another version of him (much like Marvel’s done with Punisher and Wolverine by having their 616 versions and their Max versions or, as others have noted, their 616 versions and their “Ultimate” versions) and if you don’t like the new version, you still have “Constantine Classic” for your reading pleasure.

Joseph, I agree with your last paragraph, but I thought that Constantine was deaged slightly in one of the recent arcs. I can’t remember, but it might have had something to do with demon blood or something.

I think the Vertigo John C. would be about 60 now in real time, but I agree with stealthwise, I think some of the magic/demon blood stuff has mucked around with his age and appearance in recent years where he is not quite the old codger he should be…

I get confused by this whole notion of different versions of characters for mature readers …especially in the case of Constantine (at least pre-new 52) as he made his debut in DC universe series Swamp thing, then got his own series Hellblazer which had a crossover with DC universe swampthing proving that Hellblazer was also DC universe, then issue 64 (in the middle of Ennis’ run) It gets “Vertigo” on the cover and at some point DC’s head honchos decides it is no longer in main DC universe continuity…

Of course , being British I am always concerned about American depictions of Britain as too many Americans seem to think Britain is still in the 19th Century…and there have been moments like Spiderman visiting Britain in the mid-80s and trying to make sense of coins that had ceased to be legal tender more than 15 years earlier…or Spiderman visiting Britain where terrorists were afraid of the death sentence a decade after the last execution..

So Hellblazer is canceled, and the ‘ultimate’ version, as some called it here, becomes the only version.
In other words, Sonia is right, and I’m sad.

Mark my words, somehow they’ll end up making John and Nick switch bodies, and we’ll be stuck with, basically, Keanustine.

Okay, I want EVERYONE who said she was overreacting to admit your foolishness here and now. Go on, eat that crow. Eat it right up.

I loved reading this article, and all the comments. I love seeing people getting passionate about graphic novels and comic books.

I also love that where, at the time, she may have been seemingly overreacting, since they are now going to totally remove the real John Constantine from existence, in essence forcing you to accept the “new” one as the only one.

I think my real frustration is that instead of just ending a series and moving on… everyone feels the need to “reboot” or “do over” things that were already established. I feel like it’s a severe lack of originality in general… and it makes me sad.

Also, Kindly remember that where as Vertigo and DC might be the same thing… Marvel and their Ultimate Universe are not in any way related to Vertigo and DC. It almost seems like people are confusing that fact here. <_< and it's leaving me kinda speechless.

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