Welcome to the three hundredth and ninetieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, in honor of Halloween (divide this week’s installment by three and you get 130!) and in honor of Sonia Harris’ ode to John Constantine in her latest Committed column, this week is a special Hellblazer week! All legends involving John Constantine, including whether Keanu Reeves was to blame for Constantine being American in the film, whether Grant Morrison and Phil Foglio were denied usage of Constantine (and in Foglio’s case, denied usage of a Constantine STAND-IN) and whether Jamie Delano really wanted to call Hellblazer “Hellraiser” originally.
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and eighty-nine.
COMIC LEGEND: Jamie Delano originally wanted to call Hellblazer “Hellraiser.”
STATUS: True Enough for a True
Amazingly enough, Hellblazer, which launched in 1988, is currently the longest-running active comic book series by either Marvel OR DC that has never been relaunched. It is still on its first volume (Action Comics and Detective Comics were way ahead of it until the New 52. So was Uncanny X-Men until Schism).
The original writer for the series was Jamie Delano.
Rumor has it that Delano originally wanted to name the series “Hellraiser,” which, of course, was the name of a horror film that had just come out in 1987…
based on the novella, The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker.
I asked Jamie about it, and here is what he had to say:
As I dimly recall my first instinct was to call the book Hellraiser, but Clive Barker beat us to it with his movie. I suggested a few alternatives, but DC came up with Hellblazer and that’s the one that stuck. I was always a little ambivalent about the ‘Hellblazer’ choice – confused by its derivation – but it worked out good in the end, I guess.
An interesting question that I’ve been unable to find out, so if any of you folks happen to know, please e-mail me at email@example.com, was whether the name ever got off the ground at DC. Jamie did not recall it ever getting past him suggesting it and DC squelching it because of the Hellraiser film, but I know I’ve seen some people suggest it got a little further along in development, even perhaps to the point of the series being ANNOUNCED as “Hellraiser” to the comic book press before quickly changing it. I have seen no indications that that is actually what happened (the only promotional material I’ve seen promoted the series as “Hellblazer”), but if I just missed it, please let me know!
Thanks so much to Jamie Delano for the answer!
COMIC LEGEND: Grant Morrison had to invent Willoughby Kipling because they were denied usage of John Constantine in Doom Patrol.
Over the last twenty years or so, it has become a common thing for characters like John Constantine to be essentially relegated only to appearing in Vertigo comic books, and not DC superhero comics. It was only in the last few years that John Constantine began appearing regularly in DC superhero comics (he obviously DID make some cameos over the years, of course). What is interesting to note is that this protectiveness even existed BEFORE Vertigo existed, even with books theoretically under the same basic umbrella!
To wit, Grant Morrison wanted to use John Constantine in Doom Patrol #31 in 1990. I checked with the editor of the book at the time, Mark Waid, and he confirmed that they were denied the use of the character, causing Morrison to have to create a Constantine substitute, Willoughby Kipling, based on Richard Grant’s character Withnail in the British film Withnail and I…
Here is Kipling’s introduction…
And here is where he tells Doom Patrol his name…
Thanks for the info, Mark!
COMIC LEGEND: Phil Foglio had to invent Ambrose Bierce in Stanley and his Monster because he was denied usage of John Constantine AND Willoughby Kipling.
The whole thing gets a lot funnier when you come to the case of Phil Foglio’s 1993 series, Stanley and his Monster. Foglio, too, wanted to use John Constantine but was denied the usage. Amusingly, though, he was ALSO denied usage of Willoughy Kipling! Yes, he couldn’t use the COPY of the guy he initially wanted to use!
By this point, DC had established Vertigo, so presumably it was that general (not always enforced) “Vertigo characters are off limits to non-Vertigo comics” edict that kept Kipling out of Stanley and his Monster. After all, it was not like Waid or Morrison cared, they had both left the book some time earlier.
So Foglio introduced his OWN riff on John Constantine, Ambrose Bierce (named after the satirical writer of the same name). Only Foglio decided to have a little fun with the fact that he wasn’t allowed to use John Constantine…
Hilarious stuff. Thanks so much to Phil Foglio for confirming that he was, in fact, denied the use of both Constantine and Kipling (as he noted, though, it all worked out for the best).
COMIC LEGEND: John Constantine was American in the Constantine film because of actor Keanu Reeves.
In 2005, the horror film Constantine was released, starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine…
Among the changes made to the character were stuff like him no longer being blonde. Also, perhaps most notably the character was no longer BRITISH!
As Constantine was played by dark-haired American superstar Keanu Reeves, the presumption among fans was that the character was made American because of Reeves.
However, that is not the case. Kevin Brodbin, who wrote the original screenplay for the film, explained in an interview with Chris Wehner that the change was made well before any actor was cast (and in fact, before the screenplay even sold). As Brodbin explained:
I originally pitched him as English, no one really knew the comic book. He wasn’t like Batman or X-Men, where part of the deal is that the character already has a fan base. This was the opposite. No one knew about the comic book, especially here. So, as you can imagine, an English character they’ve [the producers] never heard of and a comic book they never heard of, I decided to make him American. As long as his voice worked it wouldn’t matter how his accent worked.
So whether you liked Reeves in Constantine or not, you can’t blame him for the accent!
Thanks to Brodbin and Wehner for the information. Here‘s their full interview. It is an interesting read.
Okay, that’s it for this week! Have a hellblazin’ Halloween, everyone!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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See you all next week!