In 1985, John Constantine appeared in an issue of Swamp Thing. His arrival was ignominous. He was an advisor in areas of the supernatural for the Swamp Thing. His questionable morality was firmly in place and he looked an awful lot like Sting which was intentional. For the young impressionable 13 year old mind, he was terribly fascinating.
DC Comics began publishing Hellblazer in 1988. John Constantine enjoyed the notoriety of the starring role. When Vertigo comics, a DC comics brand launched in 1993, John Constantine was rolled over as a Vertigo publication. John's questionable morality remained in place. He is a man with a gift to see the unnatural and the unexplained. He can see angels and demons and they can see him. He's not on the side of heaven or hell, however, but on the side of humanity. He doesn't seem to mind screwing over either side.
John's perpetual smoking and constant deal making leaves many sides holding markers on his souls. In fact, I can't remember the issue, but there was at one point several demi-deities and demons who each had a marker for John's soul and it behooved all of them to keep him alive so they wouldn't have to fight it out for the soul.
Angels, Demons and Constantine
In 2005, Keanu Reeves appeared in the film Constantine based on the John Constantine of the Hellblazer comics. There were many noticeable differences: specifically, Keanu does not look like Sting. He's not blonde and he's certainly not British. Yet, Reeves captured the essence of Constantine. The humanist with an axe to grind on all sides.
The film combined elements from different Hellblazer story arcs including Dangerous Habits and Original Sins. In the film, Constantine is also a bit of a psychic, able to pierce the veil. His psychic episodes cause him to commit suicide as a troubled teen, his 2 minute long death resulted in a journey to hell. Now Constantine performs exorcisms and battles demons all in the hopes of avoiding his eventual consignment to hell when he dies -- a death that is rapidly approaching in the form of lung cancer.
It is the ultimate irony, that John who battles for all humanity is done in not by the powers of darkness or the forces of good, but by his own bad habits: smoking. As Gabriel points out, he's killed himself with a 30 cigarette a day habit for over 20 years. His cancer is cured by Satan himself when John's sacrfice to save Angela and her sister Isabel redeems him in the eyes of Heaven. In the end, John Constantine lives to fight another day.
In the film version, the angels and demons in the world are all half-breeds. While the film doesn't specify, it seems to be humans possessed of by demons or angels. Even Gabriel, as androgynous as she/he is, is called a half-breed by John. Holy water weakens the half-breeds, particular the demon kinds. Soldier demons are pretty fugly (and their possession of the litle girl in the beginning is pretty nasty). John destroys many half-breeds during his battle at the hospital and they shatter when struck by specially made bullets and soaked by holy water.
John uses many symbols to drive out demons. Sunlight hurts them and exorcisms are effective. He uses ampules of holy water from the river Jordan as well as shavings from bullets used in the Pope's attempted assassination. His arsenal includes everything from harsh cricket sounds that hurt the fallen to dragon's breath. His arsenal against the supernatural doesn't compare to his intelligence and ability to think on his feet.
In the comic book, John has multiple romantic pairings over the years, but his mild flirtation with Rachel Weisz's Angela Dodson is never consummated. A nice touch in the grand scheme of things. John's kiss my ass gruff attitude and the deaths of the people closest to him -- particular those of his friends is also true to form.
The character Constantine is a brilliant invention of Alan Moore's very creative mind. His moral ambiguity and anti-hero qualities combined with his ability to exorcise demons and tell angels to kiss his ass are all unique characteristics.
In many ways, John Constantine is the forerunner for another hell blazer of a supernatural hunter: Dean Winchester. The two Constantines (the film version that rhymes with teen and the comic book version that rhymes with Valentine) are different in superficial ways, but spiritually -- they both kick ass.
What do you think of John Constantine?