Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogathon 48: John Constantine

John Constantine.

What makes him so interesting for both readers and those who create his stories? What about him makes him the Vertigo character that continues to endure while others have come and gone with their own ongoing series? How has Hellblazer made it past 260 issues? Why do I like it so much -- enough to spend 24 hours writing about?

Whenever I wonder about this sort of thing, my first instinct is to say 'I dunno.' Because part of me knows that there's an intangible quality to things like this. No matter how hard you try, you'll never pinpoint the exact reason. You can come close, you can explain most of it, but never all. Some characters and books have 'it' while most don't.

Part of what makes Hellblazer a book that continues is the creators it attracts. Look at the writers and artists that have worked on the title. Name me another book with a list of names equal to that. A Superman title? Nope. Nor Batman or Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or X-Men... Hellblazer endures because the worst issue of it I've ever read was still better than 90% of the comics published (well, actually, that's not true, but if we exclude that one issue from the Mina run, then it is true). Even the bad runs aren't awful. They're not even that bad. They only look bad because they're surrounded by so many fantastic ones.

But I'm not supposed to be talking about Hellblazer, I'm supposed to be talking about John Constantine.

John is... partly the sort of person I want to be. In an earlier post, I asked who would actually want to be John Constantine and I have to admit part of me does. Not really and not completely, but there's an allure to that "All right, squire?" stepping out of the shadows, lighting a cigarette, getting by on charm and wits... not afraid to give the finger to the devil... not afraid to take on a rich and powerful man who fucked you over...

But, he has such horrible flaws that you can't really want to be him. He's got a big blindspot when it comes to his ego and his selfishness. He often leaps without looking. He can be an awful friend. He wants to be the hero, but never take responsibility.

I think John Constantine is interesting, because he has all of the best qualities that you want and all of the worst qualities that you'd never want. He's the extremes of good and bad. There's no half-measure with John. It's either a brilliant success or a blinding failure. The closest you get to a compromise is a brilliant success whose price is a blinding failure.

He's a very maleable character. Despite existing in real time essentially, he's also very static. Reading over these runs, he doesn't really change. He reminds me of the way they write the character of House on TV: everything around him can change and even he can change, too, but only for a short time. He is who he is and he can't change. He's the doctor who can't heal himself.

All magic is is change. Except John can't apply that idea to the one place he wants to the most: himself. He can't change himself, not for good or in any lasting way. That's interesting. There's a bit of fun in watching him try to be better, looking like he can make it, and then falling back down.

None of that really answers any of those questions, but it all sounds half-decent, right?

In 30 minutes, this is over and I can get some sleep...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]