Constantine, Hellblazer and the Strange Relationship of the Written Word through Different Mediums

Constantine-no-smoking

Yeah, I could have said that a lot better, but you know, moving on…

As a kid I read a lot of Archie comics (don’t judge me!), quite a bit of Wonder Woman (I know I had a hard cover omnibus thing), some Supergirl (I’m thinking I picked that up at the teeny rabbit warren hole in the wall second hand bookshop I went to with my Dad every Saturday morning before Drama – that’s Drama as in acting, not Drama as in Joan Collins throwing a fit in exquisite feather outfits and diamonds. Lots and lots of diamonds), and a little Batgirl to spice it up.

But when I got out of my ‘comic’ phase as my mother called it (concerned I’d only ever read comics from then on in and my brain would turn to mush, mush I say!) I didn’t really read them anymore.

It wasn’t I didn’t want to, but while I enjoy a good Batman or Superman or X-man film, they aren’t the people I personally prefer to play with. So to speak. Archie, I like. Maybe it’s nostalgia (probably that!) but there happened to be a cast of characters and love triangles, and angst (okay, this is not really going anywhere. I write romance, okay? Of course little me liked Archie comics. Although, if I were Betty, I’d have dumped Archie and gone for the really hot guy that was totally into her in this one edition. Hell yes. Oh…I’m digressing again…) that kept me going. And I was reading books at the time, it’s just I read a lot. Also, I can get a bit obsessive if I like something. Which is good.

So it’s only in the past few years I’ve returned to the fold. Buffy and Angel. Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman series of graphic novels. And then Hellblazer (and am reading Preacher).

I’ve enjoyed all the graphic novels I’ve read for varying reasons, but it all comes down to enjoyment, then wordplay, then quality of writing, then story. They are all closely linked.

Now, I find the world of the graphic novel/comic (choose your poisoned moniker there…) exceedingly interesting. Because it’s a hybrid between film and novel, except nothing moves, so you get snapshots. Golden moments in action (if the artist is good), almost like a silent film in reverse. If the silent film was on paper (oh, just go with it!). And things that move the story along. And make it shine.

But Hellblazer really interested me, not only because of the dark themes of the story told, and the cynicism of John, and how he’s willing to twist things, sacrifice people to meet the ends of the big game he’s made to play, but because of the devoted and, on some levels, rabid fanbase (hey, I’m an old school Doctor Who fan, so I do understand rabid. I’ve seen it.).

NBC made a series of it, watered it down quite a bit (according to many of the rabid..sorry, Hellblazers, but there’s really nothing wrong with being rabid as it often gets you things happening, just use it for the greater good, the way I use my evilness…fans commenting online), but what came out was something good, and that something simply got better. Even over a truncated season of 13 episodes, instead of the usual 22 (or is it 23?), they managed to give us something great, something we haven’t seen in a long time. And something that built and built. And when they used material from the comics…oh my.

I’m not one for these kind of things, but it delivered the ‘squee’ (note to self: never say that again.) time and again, and it was also a damn load of fun. Humour, darkness, easter eggs for fans – rabid and regular, and enjoyment for those who don’t know the books. And they’ve been building the darker, harder edge the entire time, too.

The thing is, when something is translated from book (even graphic novel, the little hybrid that could) to screen, things are lost in translation. They have to be. All the gorgeous, dense, almost poetic inner musings of John Constantine’s thoughts are lost, mostly, to the screen, because it’s visual, not internal. But when we read, we lust for the internal musings of the mind. When we watch something, well, not so much. Unless it’s Shakespeare.

On the whole, Modern audiences don’t want their characters to stop in the midst of something for a deep and meaningful soliloquy. Which is a shame, but there you go. So…things must shift and change. Dance a jig to fit into what the medium’s audience expects and still deliver something satisfying and, at times, surprising.

The change of mediums also demands the essence of the original remain, and here, they did right.

Matt Ryan looks the part of Constantine, and he brings much pathos to the role, along with all the under the surface stuff us sad writerly-types crave. Yes, I think he delivers all the stuff (as much as an actor can) that’s in the books but they can’t put in the show, without him sounding utterly stilted and ridiculous, or making the show basically continuously narrated by Constantine.

It’s that stuff, the way the words are chosen that make it into the adaptation, the way the actor interprets it and sells all the unsaid stuff, and the way it’s shot.

I think the show did that well. There are many that don’t get it. To negotiate the territory changes that come with a change in mediums.

So, here’s hoping for at least a season two. Something this fun and good deserves it. #saveconstantine.

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