Ho-ho, Alan Moore must be spinning in his grave—oh, he’s not dead… Really? Okay, he’s spinning in his hobo beard and finger armor. What Alan hates more than the movies based on his work is that Warner Brothers retains the rights to all his characters and is using them. I can’t get into the revival of how “Watchmen” is a giant middle finger to Mr. Moore, but I can talk about the revival of “Constantine”. Honestly, this book came as a huge surprise for me. Do you know what John Constantine is? It’s the first protagonist in comics who was a complete prick. He had a blatant disregard for the well being of anyone foolish enough to get close to him and it’s fantastic to see Jeff Lemire and Robert Venditti carry that over into the reintroduction.
For a comic book fan the scariest part of a relaunch is when the writer’s take the beloved aspects of a character and spit on them—just ask Green Arrow fans. No don’t, that’d be mean and they might cry. That was my exact fear coming into this book. Actually, that’s not completely true; John Constantine had already been relaunched in Justice League Dark and was remarkably true to character. But if a character works well in a team book, it is really risky to write them in a solo book. Just ask Green Arrow fans—no, no that would be mean, don’t do that. What “Constantine” does for John’s character is splendid, while he still retains that selfishness; he is also given a purpose, a reason. See, the classic thing to do with a character who only cares for themselves is to come up with a contrived motivation. Who wants to read a book where John Constantine and Blue Devil reenact the entire plot from “48 Hrs.”?
Comic book companies go back and forth on this scale when they bring back a character, they either make them exactly as they were when they were dropped from publication, or they radically alter their personality. John Constantine is something of an outlier in that he’s received an update but it wasn’t a major overhaul. His new motivation is that he wants to prevent any evil mages from acquiring too much power, partially because often this leads to death and destruction, but also because John doesn’t want anyone person to be any more powerful than he is. All of his motivations are still selfish; he’s like an anti-villain, every good thing he wants to achieve is aimed towards his self centered goals. Though the good that he does achieve is through trickery, deception, and back stabbing (of his friends, in the first issue he sacrifices a friend to get an artifact), so even his achievements are tempered with depraved morality.
Speaking of morality, I always bring up Constantine when I talk about morality in comics and not just because he is an awful person, he is. John smokes. John does many other things, but John smokes and this smoking is totally independent of what is his morality. This is an interesting problem in comic books; because of these characters being potential role models often times normal, human behaviors are omitted. Or these habits and traits are used as story fodder to show a weakened character overcoming an obstacle. Anyone versed in comics knows that Tony Stark overcame alcoholism to become a better hero, but drinking isn’t some mortal sin that everyone has to wrestle with for the fate of their soul. Yes, sometimes humans imbibe alcohol. “Invincible” illustrates this point exceptionally well.
Mark Grayson, at this point in continuity, is in his mid twenties and is engaged to his high school sweetheart. Guess what his favorite hobby is? Sex, Mark Grayson loves sex with his fiancé—which is not such a weird thing. Mark and his fiancé are able to talk about it and have sex on a pretty regular basis in the books. The actual sex happens off panel—most of the time, there was a full page spread of Mark flying in his bedroom with his fiancé hanging from his penis. Picture a vagina fish hook, think less Hostel and more Cinemax After Dark. But sex is a perfectly normal thing, except in comic continuity it is either coyly shied away from or the sex is wallpapered across the entire book with much explicit detail. The same principles ring true for John Constantine. He is an awful person who also smokes; as humans tend to do, and it is completely independent of who he is as a person. We have now passed into an age where even Wolverine is prohibited from smoking a cigar because only the villains smoke. Maybe villains don’t smoke because they’re evil, but because smoking relieves stress. Maybe John Constantine smokes to forget how they adapted him for the screen, I’m sure other characters would want to do the same, just ask Green Arrow fans—no, probably shouldn’t do that, we’re not monsters.