Hold the phone. After the cautious good faith that the NBC Constantine series has been trying to stock up among Hellblazer fans, it would seem it has just lost a key negotiating battle—John Constantine will not be allowed to smoke on television.
It’s a strike against network television, in this case; the NBC network ruled against showing smoking on their shows some time ago. The problem is, smoking is completely intrinsic to John Constantine’s character. That might seem silly to say at first glance, but the fact that he gets lung cancer from a vice he is unwilling to give up is the cornerstone of the Hellblazer narrative. John Constantine is not a great guy, or even a practical one most days of the week—he’s stubborn and meddling and often makes terrible choices. The fact that no one on the creative team was capable of getting NBC to bend the rules, to allow this character to be portrayed with all the complexity he’s due, is disheartening to say the least.
But what concerns me most in this move is the suggestion of how committed NBC is to making this show a reflection of the comics. Hellblazer is not a pretty or sunny story, and that extends well beyond the horrors that John Constantine is aware of. The fact that Constantine manages to be a humanist, to care about people even when he sees the absolute worst the universe has to offer, is precisely what makes his story appealing. The fact that Constantine smokes even when he knows it’s killing him is all part of that same contradiction within his person. Without that, it’s easy to lose him. (This is the primary reason why the film version should be buried and forgotten; its final scene was the largest betrayal of the character that the movie could manage, and that was after the entire film had already spent two hours actively disassociating itself with anything remotely resembling Hellblazer.)
Without this committment, how much more of Constantine will we lose? Because I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but there was one aspect I was dearly hoping they would keep for the show, at least down the road—that John Constantine is canonically bisexual.
And to have a bisexual man (particularly one who flies in the face of many aggravating LGBT stereotypes) on a network television show would have been quite the gift for a large number of fans. But if Constantine can’t even get permission to light a cigarette, it seems silly to hold out any hope.
Yet again, we see where our entertainment priorities lay. The trailers for this show are appropriately gruesome, gory, and terrifying. NBC is clearly eager to knock other horror television out of the water with the nightmares Constantine faces. But without those aspects that set him apart, this might as well just be a slightly heavier version of Supernatural or The X-Files. And if that’s all we can count on, then who cares?
Too bad a cable network didn’t get their hands on him first.