Adaptations are a lot like Schrödinger’s cat; until you finally get a good look at the finished product, there’s no telling if they’re alive or dead, good or bad. Announcements tend to divide the crowd right off the bat and the smallest detail can ruin things before the show or movie even has a chance to air.

After suffering through 2005’s lacklustre movie, it’s safe to say that Hellblazer fans were more than a little skeptical when NBC announced they they were making a TV show around the misadventures of John Constantine.

Despite being well-known in the comic-book loving community and being ranked third in Empire magazine’s 50 Greatest Comic-book Characters, John Constantine has never quite managed to reach the same level of acclaim as the likes of Superman or Batman.

The original Hellblazer series ran from 1988 to 2013, spanning 300 issues before it was cancelled and caught up in the mess that was DC’s New 52 relaunch. Renamed and relaunched (only to be cancelled again in 2015), it essentially reset Constantine and the retconning of several major aspects of the established canon simply proved too much for many fans.

Had things gone better with NBC’s 2014 TV adaptation, the character could have been returned to his former glory and the fans would finally have the Constantine that they knew and loved back.

Alas, that wasn’t to be.

The Wrong Network

With the surge in interest in comic-book characters in the last decade, it’s no wonder that NBC wanted to get a piece of the action, especially since many of their competitors were already airing or had purchased the rights to comic properties. The CW had the third season of Arrow and began the first season of The Flash only weeks before the Constantine pilot aired, Fox had Gotham, and ABC were on season two of Agents of SHIELD.

But NBC’s 2014 fall schedule didn’t really seem to have a place for a show like Constantine, instead boasting more reality based shows like Law and Order: SUV, The Blacklist and Chicago Fire. Arguably, Grimm was the closest in genre on NBC and Constantine was set to air in the 10-11pm timeslot straight after but, by its fourth season, Grimm was starting to see a drop off in viewer numbers.

Coupled with minimal advertising, NBC struggled to make a home for a difficult character like John Constantine.

The Problem with Adaptations

What works well on the page of a comic-book won’t always work on a TV screen, to the eternal annoyance of fans, and sometimes changes need to be made. The goal of any TV network is always profit; to attract and retain as many viewers as possible and, with that in mind, they need to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Issues can range from the technical, a studio not wanting to waste money on special effects for a unproven show, to altering plots and characters to make them more appealing to the audience.

Arguably, NBC’s Constantine suffered all of the above.

Comic-book fans are a fickle bunch, and rightly so after all the terrible adaptations we’ve been subjected to (The Green Lantern, Ghost Rider, The Inhumans and Ben Affleck’s Daredevil to name a few). Even the slightest of changes can be met with heavy scrutiny.

The first cause for concern was when director of the pilot episode Neil Marshall revealed in an interview with Collider that John Constantine wouldn’t be allowed to smoke on screen. To the uninitiated it might not seem like a big deal but to Hellblazer fans, taking away Constantine’s iconic habit is the equivalent of taking away Superman’s cape. In later interviews the position seemed to soften, allowing Constantine to smoke but not in a way that glorified the habit.

Another cause for concern was Constantine’s sexuality. In a time where equal representation is more important than ever, fans believed it was a no-brainer that the characters established bisexuality would remain intact in the show. While ultimately, it wasn’t addressed one way or another in the show, the way executive producer Daniel Cerone seemed to dodge the issue before the pilot aired definitely inspired more enmity from the fandom.

The Pilot Problem

A good and well received pilot episode is crucial to any show that wants to remain on air. It’s not uncommon for shows to make changes before the pilot airs based on critical reaction and exploring new directions for the series.

Originally Lucy Griffith (True Blood) was cast to play the part of Liv Aberdine, a character created for the show rather than picked from the comic-books. In July 2014 it was announced however that the character would be written out of the show after the pilot and, instead, comic favourite Zed would be brought in to fill the void (later cast as Angelica Celaya).

Show writer Daniel Cerone explained the change at the TCA (Television Critics Association) press tour:

“Liz was wide eyed and would always be reactive. Ultimately, we felt hamstrung by her. Whereas Zed – who is from the comics – is psychic and has powers when she meets John [Constantine].”

While many fans, myself included, were happy about the inclusion of Zed, it left the pilot episode in an awkward state.

Liv was, in the most basic of terms, an audience surrogate trope; a normal person suddenly dragged into a magical world of which they initially had no knowledge. Honestly, it seemed a little cliche and the whole purpose of the character seemed to be reactionary.

The episode did a good job of introducing the world and the backstory of John Constantine but, with Liv’s removal, it felt like a lot of time was wasted setting up Liv for a story arc that would no longer be happening.

Ultimately, critics seemed to agree that the right decision was made but it made most of the pilot seem almost redundant.

The End Result

The series that followed was by no means perfect. Like any fledgling show, there were some episodes that let it down and there were a few creative choices that disappointed an already divided fanbase. At times it felt almost formulaic, episode after episode taking out smaller problems while constantly traveling towards the main root of the issue, making it feel like a Supernatural wannabe.

There were also more adaptation issues, some that felt tied to special effects budgets and the limitation of the amount of violence acceptable to NBC standards.

The show adapted a couple of my favourite comic-book arcs, Original Sin (episode 4, A Feast For Friends)  and  All His Engines (episode 10, Quid Pro Quo), and altered both.

Where A Feast For Friends tried to show a nicer, more compassionate side of Constantine verses a much darker ending in the comics, I feel it did a great disservice to Matt Ryan whose portrayal of the character’s cocky and cunning side marked him as the perfect person to play the role.

The episode Quid Pro Quo, on the other hand, offered up a tamer alternative to the All His Engines arc, using a human mage as the bad guy of the week in place of demons and Aztecs gods. Whether it was down to the darker, gorier comic arc or the special effects budget, as a Hellblazer fan it was a little annoying to see the show choosing to cherry-pick from the canon.

However what we got wasn’t as far removed from the canon as the 2005 movie and, ultimately, it wasn’t a bad show.

The characters were well cast, the script was reminiscent of the comics and it created an interesting overarching plot. The show excelled in episodes where it dared to show the darker side of things, notably two-parter The Saint of Last Resorts (episodes 8 and 9).

But, ultimately, with the odds already heavily stacked against it by a network that placed it in an awkward time slot, did little advertising and restricted the level of violent content, it wasn’t a shock to anyone that the show wasn’t renewed at the end of its thirteen episode run.

Basically NBC killed Constantine.

Still Not Quite Dead     

Upon announcement of the shows cancellation, fans took to twitter and started petitions to bring back the show on the CW believing Constantine would be better suited as part of the Arrowverse (incorporating Arrow, The Flash and, from 2016 onwards, Legends of Tomorrow). While, arguable, these attempts came to nothing, it wasn’t the last time that Matt Ryan would don the tan trenchcoat.

Five months after Constantine’s finally episode aired, it was announced that the character would have a guest appearance on Arrow (season 4 episode 5, Haunted). Then, again, in December 2017 it was announced that Constantine would be guest starring on Legends of Tomorrow (season 3 episode 10, Daddy Darhkest), almost three years after Constantine had been cancelled.

If anything, it seems as though Matt Ryan is just as reluctant as us to entirely give up on John Constantine, giving voice to the character in the animated Justice League Dark movie and the upcoming CW Seed Constantine web series set to be released in early 2018.

Here’s hoping he manages to carry on for a lot longer.

Claire Hibbert

Claire is a writer, an amatuer photographer and a lover of all things fantasy and sci-fi. A self-professed geek, she loves video games, movies, comics, and movies based on comics. Anything with dystopian themes, apocalyptic settings or supernatural creatures is bound to catch her attention.