By any measure, it’s been a great season for comic book television. “Arrow” and “The Flash” are two of the biggest hits on The CW, garnering fan love, high ratings and critical acclaim, while “Gotham” is redefining the approach to superhero television on Fox. While the road has been somewhat rocky ratings-wise, Marvel has had its successes on ABC with “Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter,” and “The Walking Dead” continues to rule the world on AMC. “iZombie” arrives on The CW in March, and the next television season promises to be even bigger, with the potential arrivals of “Supergirl,” “Titans,” “Preacher,” “Lucifer,” and “Krypton.” The bottom line is, comic adaptations have meant great ratings and big buzz on social media for the networks.
And then you have NBC’s “Constantine” starring Matt Ryan as John Constantine. While it’s been a solid, if unspectacular rating performer in its Friday night time slot, it’s a show that deserves both praise and higher numbers. The series’ time-shifted numbers are always impressive, often adding a million or more viewers to its final tally, but despite that, the chances of seeing a second season of everyone’s favorite conman is in danger. After ordering a complete season of 22 episodes, NBC nixed the back nine episodes, leaving fans with a mere thirteen to be content with — an admittedly appropriate number for a character steeped in dark magic.
While we await word from NBC on whether “Constantine” will be returning for a sophomore season, our dreams turn to the lost potential if the series is prematurely put out to pasture. Yes, during the opening episodes of the series, the show had trouble finding its feet, with the pilot’s Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) replaced in the second episode by the precog Zed (Angelica Celaya). The series took a few episodes to find its voice and purpose, but once it did, “Constantine” became one of the most striking, surprising and visually stunning series on network television. The purity of spirit and the classic low budget horror feel harkens back to the early days of Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, as the show has indulged in a sort of guerrilla horror feel with a take no prisoners flare for the gory and the soul chilling. “Constantine” has been a classic horror fan’s delight.
Fans of the show’s Vertigo Comics inspiration “Hellblazer” have been begging for an accurate adaptation of the classic comic for decades. And while NBC’s adaptation doesn’t fully capture the grit and glory of the Alan Moore, Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis stories it pulls from, it comes damn close, particularly in some of the later episodes. Matt Ryan epitomizes everything John Constantine is, with the conman’s signature swagger, his punk rock aesthetic and his dangerous charm. With “iZombie” on the way and the chance that “Preacher” and “Lucifer” follow it, Vertigo’s favorite fallen son deserves to be a part of the potential Vertigo-influenced pack of shows. In interview after interview, the show’s cast and crew have stated that Garth Ennis and Will Simpson’s classic “Dangerous Habits” storyline was to be adapted film in the first season, but once the reduced order came in, those plans changed. It would be a shame if the series was canceled before it could dive into John Constantine’s battle with cancer, one of the most gripping, disturbing and brutal tales in comics history. The series has been doing an amazing job laying the groundwork for that seminal story, and never seeing it come to fruition would be a tragic near miss.
While horror and Vertigo fans would lose something if “Constantine” ended with episode 13, so would fans of the classic DC Universe. “Arrow” and “The Flash” are both creating a world where many different characters and concepts from the DC Universe have a home, and “Constantine” has quietly done the same with the more supernatural side of the DCU. So far, fans have been treated to classic DCU characters like Jim Corrigan and Felix Faust, who have both played major roles in Season 1 episodes. In addition to these classic magical characters, fans have been enthralled by hints and teases of Doctor Fate, Psycho Pirate and even delightfully obscure hints related to Night Master and Ibis the Invincible. If the series goes away, fans may never see someone don the Helmet of Fate or witness Jim Corrigan go full Spectre, something that was strongly hinted at in the last moments of the cop’s first appearance. At New York Comic Con, Goyer mentioned his eagerness to bring in Jason Blood and his fiery other half Etrigan to the show, along with the magician Zatanna, characters perfect for “Constantine’s” aesthetic that might not fit in the more grounded “Arrow” universe, or the science hero-oriented world of “The Flash.” And, as showrunner Daniel Cerone told CBR News last week, viewers will catch a glimpse of a black diamond in episode 12 that comic readers will recognize as the Heart of Darkness, which just so happens to house DC villain Eclipso.
But while all of that would be fantastic to see come to fruition, the bottom line is “Constantine” could and should continue on its own merits. The story of Zed and her parentage is reaching a crescendo, and the apparently impossible to permanently kill Chas has developed into a delightfully heroic character fans are warming up to week after week. They both started out a bit one note, to be sure, but the characters and the series have evolved into the experience fans have wanted all along: a horror laden, unflinching, chain smoking — yes, this John Constantine is a smoker — horror series that is set firmly in the darkest shadows of the DC Universe. As comics continue to rule television, “Constantine” provides viewers with a place that’s a little scarier than the rest.
If you were one of those who tapped out early on “Constantine,” come back for the final two episodes and try again — there’s a good chance you’ll like what you see and might just help NBC decide to conjure a second season.
“Constantine” airs Fridays at 8pm on NBC.
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