While the announcement of a Constantine series on NBC may be good news for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics-based television plans — the project joins Gotham and the Arrow spinoff The Flash on the agenda — it won’t mean immediate financial benefit for the creators of the fan-favorite character. It seems those media rights are part of an earlier deal.
“As of this morning, it appears there will be NO payment to the Constantine creators for this series,” Stephen R. Bissette, who created John Constantine with Alan Moore and John Totleben, wrote Monday on his Facebook page. “This option apparently rolled out of the already-paid-for option for the Constantine movie in the 1990s. Thus, we’ll only see $$ waaaay down the road, it appears, IF this series makes it to being a series. If it makes money. If it trickles down.”
The movie Bissette references is actually the 2005 supernatural action-thriller that starred Keanu Reeves as the cynical occult detective. Although the adaptation was lambasted by many fans for its casting of the American Reeves as the English Constantine and the liberties taken with the source material, it managed to gross more than $230 million worldwide on a reported $100 million budget. Its option apparently included sequel and television rights.
In March, DC Comics debuted Constantine, a new series focusing on the hard-living occult detective John Constantine. No big deal, right? Not so. For more more than two decades, the character was one of the pillars of the the publisher’s “mature readers” Vertigo imprint, starring in the long-running Hellblazer.
Following brief minor dalliances in some event titles in 2010 and 2011, Constantine was made a key figure in the New 52 title Justice League Dark. The aforementioned Hellblazer ended earlier this year with its 300th issue, paving the way for a full-fledged transition of the Liverpudlian warlock into the realm of superheroes. Readers greeted the new Constantine series with both hope and trepidation, and although the first issues are out — so is the jury.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to look at other characters that have called Vertigo home, and how they might fare in the DC Universe of the New 52. Some, like Constantine, crossed over with a bang, while others like Lucifer Morningstar and Kid Eternity, not so much. For this installment of “Six by 6,” I pinpoint six characters or teams that could possibly make the transition well. Please note than many of Vertigo’s best-remembered series aren’t wholly owned by DC but rather in creator-participation deals like Preacher, Transmetropolitan and 100 Bullets; so while the idea of Spider Jerusalem reporting on the state of things in Gotham City might be amusing, I’ve left those off the table for reality’s sake.
“Seeing lots of ‘that’s how it is in this business,’ stuff in regards to the day’s news. It really isn’t, and it certainly shouldn’t be. To be a little more direct: the way DC treats a lot of their freelancers is absolutely abhorrent. When it happened to me on SUPERGIRL, I didn’t say much, because I didn’t want to dwell on the negative. But when you see it happen to so many good people, and the damage it does to their careers, their incomes, etc… it’s just not okay. I don’t understand the need for it, & I wish it were otherwise. I love DC, love the characters, & I know I did some of my best work there. And I’m VERY happy for my friends who have been successful there. But I would tell any creator — especially newer, younger ones — to be extremely careful in doing business there.”
– Nick Spencer, who was abruptly removed from Supergirl in 2010, reacting to Monday’s news that DC Comics had replaced newly announced writers Robert Venditti and Jim Zubkavich on Constantine and Birds of Prey, respectively, before their first issues had debuted
With the launch of Comic Book Resources’ new monthly feature with DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase arrives announcements of a slew of creative changes, including confirmation that Jim Starlin is the new writer of Stormwatch.
Best known for his work on Marvel’s cosmic titles, Starlin has been teasing since early December that he would take the reins on an existing DC series beginning in April. Yvel Guichet joins him as artist. Other creative shifts in April include:
• Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes will write the newly launching Constantine, taking over Robert Venditti with Issue 2. “Robert came to us with a fantastic pitch for Constantine,” Harras told CBR. “We really loved what Robert’s doing — he’s working on Demon Knights now, and he’s also working on another project for us that I really can’t go into which is a big deal for us. But at the end of the day, Robert and Dan [DiDio] and I spoke, and Constantine was, for him, one book too many. It was the one thing that we had to go, “If we want you to focus on this one project, maybe we should make a change on Constantine.”
“I don’t know if it’d be the same thing. I mean, of course I would do it, but I don’t know if it’d be the same thing. It’d feel strange, indeed, doing Constantine in that world. It’d feel surreal. All the guts would have to come out of him. It’d be amusing to see him wind up with all these superheroes while he’s all gnarly and scarred and carrying around a bottle of whiskey. If he was darker and practicing magic on his own, that could work, but a cleaned-up version wouldn’t work. He’s not Doctor Strange, is he? He has to be the mysterious Englishmen on the corner by himself, having a drink muttering to himself. A guy who has to sober up and get his shit together. A misfit among misfits. I’m very interested to see how they portray him, very interested.”
– longtime Hellblazer cover artist Simon Bisley, when asked by Comic Book Resources whether he’d consider working on the new DC Universe series Constantine
“… more time has passed between John Constantine being created and now than between the creations of Hal Jordan and John Constantine. That is … I don’t know if that’s depressing or astonishing or what. These characters aren’t young. An era of comics that many of us think of as still ongoing is really receding in the rear view mirror.”
– Tom Spurgeon, making me feel old
Seemingly in response to blowback from Thursday’s surprise announcement that one-time Vertigo flagship Hellblazer will be canceled and resurrected in the New 52 as Constantine, DC Comics has released a statement from Co-Publisher Dan DiDio expressing pride in the nearly 25-year-old series.
“We’re supremely proud of Vertigo’s Hellblazer, one of the most critically-acclaimed series we’ve published,” DiDio said. “Issue #300 concludes this chapter of Constantine’s epic, smoke-filled story in style and with the energy, talent and creativity fans have come to expect from Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini. And no one should worry that John is going to hang-up his trenchcoat — he lives on in March, in the pages of the all-new DC Comics New 52 ongoing series, Constantine, by writer Robert Venditti and artist Renato Guedes.”
If the statement was meant to soothe fans of Hellblazer, the only remaining title from Vertigo’s 1993 launch, it didn’t work. One commenter on the DC Comics blog insisted that, without the comic’s trademark vulgarity, nudity and adult themes, “it cannot possibly be the same.” Another referred to the upcoming Constantine as “basically Hellblazer-lite.” Still another fan offered his take on DiDio’s comments, summarizing, “We are very proud of Hellblazer so we are cancelling it. This logic is perfectly sound!” (At our sibling blog Comics Should Be Good, Sonia Harris offers her own thoughts on the announcement, and ideas for making Constantine for financially lucrative.)
However, Venditti, best known for his work on The Surrogates and the newly revived X-O Manowar, assured his Twitter followers that, “I have a TREMENDOUS amount of respect for Constantine and the creators who made him who he is. I’m taking this very seriously.” Asked whether the New 52 version of John Constantine will still be bisexual, he replied, “Keeping everything under wraps right now, but the goal is to keep Constantine recognizable. Don’t fix what ain’t broke! “