The final issue of DC Comic’s bi-weekly “Brightest Day” series saw a major shift in the DC universe status quo. Among the changes, Hawkgirl is stuck in her air elemental form, Deadman is dead again, Swamp Thing merged with the human Alec Holland to become the Protector of the Earth and the mysterious hero who will play a pivotal role in “Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing” was revealed to be none other than John Constantine.
First appearing in the 1985 Alan Moore written “Saga of Swamp Thing,” Constantine is also the protagonist of Vertigo’s ongoing “Hellblazer” series written by Peter Milligan with art by Giuseppe Camuncoli. While the move to incorporate both Swamp Thing and Constantine into DC Comics continuity has been hinted at for months, actually doing so is a huge task and one which writer Jonathan Vankin and artist Marco Castiello are undertaking in “Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing.”
CBR News caught up with Vankin to talk about the new three-issue miniseries starting in June. Though tight-lipped about the details of “Aftermath,” Vankin gladly chatted about John Constantine, the character’s relationship with other DC heroes and speculated on what the move means for the future of “Hellblazer.”
CBR News: So the mysterious hero who has been blacked out on the solicit covers for “Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing” is none other than John Constantine. What factors went into deciding to use Constantine?
Jonathan Vankin: Well, why not use John? He’s one of the most complex, charismatic characters in all of comics, not only at DC. A true anti-hero. The way I see it, John is exactly the guy to shake up the whole DCU. He’s a human being with some pretty severe flaws, yet he has command of occult forces that make him as powerful as any super-hero, if he chooses to use them. Which he doesn’t always choose to do. He is capable of saving the world, but given all of the things he’s seen and done, he may not feel the world is worth his time to save. He’s a dangerous character and not one who takes a lot of crap. If you met him, you probably wouldn’t think he’s a particularly nice guy. But once you became his friend, you’d realize that his heart is in the right place and he really does care about you — up until the point where he has to decide between your neck and his own. If you get into that situation with John… run.
John was originally a DCU character, back in the ’80s and early ’90s, though he rarely interacted with superheroes. Now he’s back and the heroes of the DC Universe have to deal with him, whether they like it or not. This should be interesting.
Does bringing Constantine back into the DCU mean that his comic, currently a Vertigo title, will also be brought under the DC Comics banner? Is “Hellblazer” being moved away from Vertigo?
That’s a question better directed at the folks making decisions on the
editorial end. My understanding, however, for what it’s worth, is that
“Hellblazer” isn’t going anywhere. Peter Milligan and his editor Shelly Bond are doing an amazing job on that series right now and I think that, if anything, bringing John to DCU readers will bring at least some of them over to the current “Hellblazer” book.
In “Brightest Day Aftermath: Search for Swamp Thing” We’ve got Constantine trying to convince the other DCU heroes that having Swamp Thing as the Protector of the Earth may not be a good thing. What is Constantine’s problem with Swamp Thing?
I have to dodge that question a little bit, because I don’t want give away too much of the story. But as everyone knows, John has been very close to Swampy since John made his first appearances, which came in the Alan Moore-written “Swamp Thing” series way back in 1985. In fact, it was John who, in his own backhanded way, acted as a mentor to Swamp Thing, teaching him how to use his Earth Elemental abilities.
So, given what happens at the conclusion of “Brightest Day,” it makes sense that John would take a pretty strong interest in Swamp Thing’s activities. Clearly, something has changed. John needs to find out what that something is. But as for what John wants out of his own “Search for Swamp Thing,” well, that’s the part I don’t want to get too far into.
Suffice to say that John’s motives are rarely altruistic.
Because Constantine is such a dangerous character (even to his friends), are the other DCU heroes less inclined to trust him?
I think that’s safe to say, but remember, they don’t really know who he is. He’s been well below their radar for a long time, so when he appears they’re not sure what they’re dealing with. In that way, John always has them at a disadvantage.
Batman and Superman are also involved in the search for Swamp Thing. What is the relationship dynamic between Constantine and those two heroes?
Well, again, I don’t want to give too much away. Part of the fun of
writing this story — and I hope, the fun of reading it — comes in watching these relationships develop. But just to speak in general terms, John is not the type to “team up” with anybody, but at the same time he needs certain, specific things from each of the heroes he seeks out. So from John’s point of view, at least at the start, he’s using these superheroes. Manipulating them for his own agenda.
But as you can imagine, Superman, Batman and the rest are not easily
manipulated, nor to do they take kindly to being used. So from John’s point of view, he needs to stay one step ahead of them at all times so he can get what needs from them before they figure out what he’s up to.
All right, this might be another one of those questions you can’t answer, but let’s try! What can you tell (or hint at) us about the story of the miniseries? So far we know Constantine is looking for Swamp Thing while the other heroes are presumably trying to stop him.
You’re right! I don’t want to give away the story. You know, I actually remember the pre-internet days when you showed up at the comic book store — or the drugstore or newsstand! — and when you picked up the new comics, all you knew about what was inside came from what you saw on the cover. I realize those days are long gone and that magic can never really be recaptured. But I still think there’s a lot to be said for letting the readers enjoy the story as it unfolds.
I don’t want to dodge the question completely so here’s what I’ll tell you: the story of “Search For Swamp Thing” starts when Constantine realizes that something is very different in the world, something he can’t quite put his finger on. Swamp Thing appears to call out to him, so he goes to a place where he has spoken to Swampy before. When he gets there, he finds that he’s walked into a trap and he’s nearly killed. If there is one thing that doesn’t sit well with John, it’s the feeling that he’s been outsmarted — especially by Swamp Thing whom John always considered to be not the sharpest thorn on the rose.
For that and other reasons, John realizes that he needs to find Swamp Thing in a hurry. And he can’t do that alone.
Will we being seeing the search primarily through Constantine’s eyes? Or will the miniseries also give us Swamp Thing’s POV?
Constantine is the protagonist of this series, so the tale is told from his point of view. Not to say there won’t be some other angles in there, but I’ll leave it at that.
To your mind, what about Swamp Thing makes him the obvious choice as the Life Entity’s champion? Is it simply because he is closely tied to the earth, or is there more to it than that?
Swamp Thing was chosen for this role a long time ago. The mythology
behind who he is and the role he’s destined to fulfill was established over a long period of time and we don’t depart from that, though there may be a new wrinkle or two coming to light.
“Brightest Day” has been coming out twice a month. Since there are only three issues of “Aftermath,” will those come out monthly instead?
Yes, monthly: June, July, and August.
How did you become involved in “Brightest Day Aftermath?”
Late last year, I was making a transition from comic book editor back
into comic book writer. I approached DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras to see if they could use my services and I was thrilled to find that they were receptive to me. I was even more thrilled when they told me that they wanted me to take on a project involving John Constantine.
At the time I didn’t know that it was going to be tied to “Brightest Day,” but I’m happy it worked out that way because it seemed like a natural progression, especially given the plans that [co-writers] Geoff [Johns] and Peter [Tomasi] had for the end of their series.
Of course, nothing’s ever easy. Developing the series became a lengthy and complicated process. We had to make sure we got it just right, which given the complexity of the DC Universe itself, involves taking many, many different, sometimes competing factors into account. But I can honestly say it’s been a blast — and the end result is well worth it.
Most people know you best as a Vertigo editor, but “Brightest Day Aftermath” isn’t your comic book writing debut, is it?
This is certainly not my comics debut. I wrote quite a lot for DC’s old Paradox Press imprint and for Vertigo after that until Karen Berger and Shelly Bond asked me to apply for what was then an open editor’s position at Vertigo. I did apply, they hired me and that’s what I did for seven years. In fact, for a couple of those years, I edited both “Hellblazer” and “Swamp Thing,” so I feel a special closeness to these characters.
As much as I loved editing comics and graphic novels, writing has always been my true passion and profession. When the editing job ended, it gave me the opportunity to write again.
This is, however, my first DCU work. I would love to write more projects, of course!
While you initially approached DC, do you think your experience editing both “Swamp Thing” and “Hellblazer” was part of the reason DC hired you to write the miniseries?
I never really asked but I would assume that it didn’t hurt. I spent a tremendous amount of time with these characters, thinking about what makes them who they are and how a writer should best express that. I feel like that experience is paying off, at least I hope so, in the way the series has developed. I’m sure the folks at DC had that background at least somewhere in their minds.
Do you have any other writing (or editing jobs) that you can talk about in the pipeline right now?
Always something in the pipeline, but nothing ready to be talked about. Stay tuned! Soon, if all goes well.
Did Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi give you an outline to work from ahead of time? Or did you work with them in plotting “Aftermath?”
No, I was privy to their scripts and their general plans, but I’ve worked most closely with Eddie Berganza, Rex Ogle and Bob. Those guys have all been terrific! The development process took a lot of twists and turns, but they all remained enthusiastic and creative throughout.
I also needed to consult with two very well known DC writers on this. I would love to drop their names, but I’m afraid that if I did, it would tip off some developments that haven’t been made public yet. I’ll just say that they were both extremely helpful and I’m even more excited now to see what they have up their sleeves for their own, subsequent projects.
In the end, I wrote the actual “Search for Swamp Thing” outline, but it has been a collaborative process from the get-go and I think the story is better for it.
Events-wise, “Blackest Night” rolled into “Brightest Day” which is rolling into “Aftermath.” Will “Aftermath” officially tie up any of the loose ends and stories begun in “Blackest Night?”
I’m afraid that would take much more space than the three issues I’ve been allotted for this “Aftermath” story. We’re focusing on one particular story thread here, the reappearance of Swamp Thing and John Constantine.
Turning to the art, what has it been like working with “Brightest Day Aftermath” artist Marco Castiello?
To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Marco’s work before Eddie Berganza hired him for this project. But having now seen it, I can say I’m delighted. He’s found a style that bridges the gap between the bold, kinetic clarity of the DCU and the more stylized, expressionistic look associated with so many Vertigo books. Obviously, we need to lean more toward the DCU style because this is a DCU book, but the artwork should also suggest the Vertigo tradition of which the main characters have been a part for many years.
Marco has accomplished that beautifully, in my view.
Geoff Johns has said before that embracing life is one of the main themes of “Brightest Day.” To you, what is the main theme of “Brightest Day Aftermath?”
The general theme is completely consistent with Geoff’s work, but at the same time, this story is a more inward journey. The theme is as much about discovering and embracing who you are, even if the person you are isn’t exactly who you thought you were.
I don’t want anyone to read too much into that, though. By putting that out there I’m not giving away any plot points. It’s just that, with characters like Constantine and Swamp Thing, you can’t help but explore some very introspective territory.
Of course, for Constantine, exploring who he is in this case means measuring himself against some of the most formidable heroes in the DC Universe. I’m fascinated to see how he stacks up.
Ultimately, what do you want readers to take away from “Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing?”
Of course, the most important thing is to have a really fun, entertaining time reading this comic! That’s always the number one goal. Beyond that, I hope people will feel that they’ve read a complete story that stands on its own, but that at the same time forms one piece of a much bigger picture.
Finally, I hope readers who have never read a John Constantine story (I know you’re out there. You know who you are!) will now want to read more John Constantine stories. (Assuming those readers are of age to read Vertigo books, of course.) There are literally hundreds of stories about this incredible character.
And, as the saying goes, this was just one of them.
“Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing” hits shelves June 22.