Tonight, was a very special night for television watchers, and fans of DC Comics. Tonight, Constantine premiered its first episode, titled "Non Est Asylum" and not in a shabby way too. There was one that I felt didn't it do well, but there were lots of things it do fine very handily. So before I get to the bad and the good, I feel its time for a little back-story for all my dedicated readers out there, who might need some introductions to the character of John Constantine and what sort of mayhem he'll be facing every Friday night.
The series is an adaptation of the comic book Hellblazer, which told the dark and intense adventures of British occultist and magician John Constantine. Created by the team of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, John's a character that has been in many of DC's comics over the years, either as a central or supporting character, always making sure the scales of the universe are balanced, in his own way of course. Now, with that little bit of history out of the way, on with the review
Stepping into John's trench coat is Matt Ryan, a honest to gosh Englishman (ok a Welsh-man with dyed hair) but still, fits the role nicely. He has a rough-edged attitude that plays of John's loner attitude, coupled with a nice charismatic air about him to help sell John's classic con man shtick.
Filling in three of the supporting roles are original show character Liv Aberdine played by Lucy Griffiths, whose father was an old friend of John's, who is tasked with keeping her safe. And stepping in as John's cab driving chum Chas Chandler is Charles Halford. There is a twist added to Chas's character, an apparent survival ability that could very well border on the supernatural. The third role was that of Manny played by Lost actor Harold Perrineau, an angel from Heaven tasked with foreshadowing coming events with the series universe.
The relationship's in the pilot are anything but one dimensional. John's attitude towards Liv is one of care and gruff concern for her well being, helping her learn about the abilities she posses's (courtesy of her father) and giving her some guidance in how they can be properly used in the world of magic.
The one bad thing that the pilot did was the overuse of exposition to move the plot along. John's musings about his home life, the doctor at the mental institution where John is interred (voluntarily), rehashing the details of what went down in Newcastle, even John's talk about Liv's father and his work, it is there, but it feels like it is just being forced into the pilot as plot filler. Now granted this is a pilot episode, so things that go wrong can be remedied, and hopefully that will be the case as the series progress's.
Now one thing that the pilot did right, was throw in lots of juicy Easter Egg's for comics fans to spot. I've yet to spot all of them, but these were a few of the ones I did notice.
When we first meet John, it isn't in the middle of a supernatural ritual, or walking London’s streets under cover of darkness, but as a resident of the ‘Ravenscar Psychiatric Facility For the Mentally Deranged.’ That’s the exact location where the comic version of Constantine spent 3 years (1978-1980) following his first (failed) attempt at exorcism. In the comics, the facility would go on to become a hotel and was eventually owned by Constantine himself.
Dr. Roger Huntoon
Though he’s never mentioned by name, the doctor interviewing Constantine is shown to be one Dr. Roger Huntoon. Besides operating Ravenscar in the comic books, Huntoon is credited as the author of “Pow! Psychology: Understanding the Super-Men (and Women)” within the DC Comics universe. His distaste for superheroes has even led him to appear in comics like “Sandman,” “Animal Man,” and “Swamp Thing.”
Helmet of Fate
The artifact picked up and examined by Liv won’t just be familiar to DC Comics faithful, but Smallville fans as well. The golden helm is best known as the Helmet of Fate, able to grant its wearer incredible magic superpowers. The title – and helm – of ‘Doctor Fate’ has passed to a few people over the years, but the helmet itself remains one of the single most powerful magic objects in the entire DC universe.
Comic fans may be so distracted by the Helmet of Fate that they miss yet another comic icon tucked in behind it: the Ibistick. Originally a creation of Fawcett Comics, the Ibistick was a magical wand forged in ancient Egypt for Prince Amentep. Amentep used the wand – capable of doing almost anything the bearer could imagine – to preserve both he and his dying love. Waking in modern times, Amentep took the name of Ibis the Invincible. Could such a story be planned in the world of Constantine?
The ‘three-eyed’ skull seen among the other magical artifacts may seems just as mysterious, but it’s actually a far more recent addition to the DC Comics universe. The ‘skull’ is really Pandora’s Box, the source (like the ancient Greek myth) of all the world’s sin, allowed to escape thanks to the irresponsible actions of Pandora. The object played a large part in DC’s New 52 “Trinity War,” but given the heroes pulled into that conflict (including John Constantine and Shazam) we doubt it’s more than a subtle nod to readers.
Overall, despite the bad aspect of unneeded exposition, this was a great first start for a John Constantine TV series. It got people hooked on a character who has a lot of demons (and that's not just a turn of phrase in John's case) and with all the Easter Eggs (both listed here and unlisted) there was plenty of stuff to draw in comics fans, which is always a big plus for shows of this nature. Pound for pound, Constantine will do nicely on the Friday night slot, giving viewers and fans alike thrills, chills, adventure, excitement and a heavy dose of world saving British snark along the way. So be sure to tune in next week for Episode 2, and my next review. Till then, happy screams friends.