The cliché phrase might be "out with the old, in with the new," but for writer Robert Venditti, the old John Constantine is not forgotten.
In March, Venditti and artist Renato Guedes will be launching Constantine, a new solo series for the character that takes place in the "New 52" DC Universe. And according to the writer, fans of Constantine shouldn't fear that the long-time Vertigo character is going to be drastically different. Younger? Yes. Unmarried? Sure. But otherwise, Venditti says, "I wouldn’t say he’s all that much different from who John Constantine has always been."
Fans should be happy to hear that, since this new Constantine series comes just a month after the cancellation of the character's solo Vertigo series Hellblazer, which will reach issue #300 before it ends in February. The move toward DC marks the latest in the shift of several characters from Vertigo to the DCU, including Animal Man and Swamp Thing.
But the move by John Constantine isn't brand new. The DC version of Constantine is already an integral part of the team in Justice League Dark, the ongoing comic now being written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes.
Venditti, best known as creator of the comic book-turned-movie Surrogates, is also taking over the DC ongoing series Demon Knights with issue #16, working with current artist Bernard Chang. With Constantine, he'll be one of only a few writers who are controlling two ongoing comics in the relaunched DC Universe.
Newsarama talked to Venditti to find out more about his plans for John Constantine in the DCU.
Newsarama: Robert, are you a John Constantine fan? How did you first come to know the character, and what's your definitive John Constantine story? And do any of those influence your portrayal of the character now?
Robert Venditti: I’m a huge fan. Which isn’t to say I’m a lifelong fan, because I didn’t start reading comics until the year 2000. So much of my experience with comics has been catching up on all of the great characters and stories that predate my discovery of the medium. As a writer, though, I hope that can be an asset because it allows me approach a character as a blank slate.
Constantine has had so many great stories, and it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. I do really enjoy the early [Jamie] Delano stuff, though. Those stories were so intelligent and subtextual, and I think they laid the foundation for everything that followed. It’s certainly something I aspire to build on.
Nrama: What will be the tone of your comic? Is it a detective or crime noir kind of thing? Or more supernatural-based? Or more heroic-feeling? How would you describe it?
Venditti: I would say a combination of the first two more than the latter. I mean, Constantine is a lot of things, but he isn’t a hero by anyone’s standards, least of all his own. He’s very much a big-picture guy, and his focus in on the long term. When you’re dealing with forces of good and evil that stretch back to the beginning of time itself, you have to be that way.
Nrama: How would you describe your John Constantine?
Venditti: I wouldn’t say he’s all that much different from who John Constantine has always been. He’s younger and he isn’t married, but he’s still a bit of a conman and a double-dealer. He’s gruff, he likes his whisky and cigarettes, and he absolutely will do whatever he has to do to achieve his desired end.
If you’re one of the uninitiated and you don’t dabble in the dark arts, you probably don’t have much to fear from Constantine. He’s not interested in tormenting the blissfully unaware. But if you’ve decided to swim in his waters, then all bets are off. He’ll show you no mercy.
Nrama: There's usually a bit of humor behind Constantine's dialogue. Are you struggling at all trying to find that voice? Or how did you go about getting it down?
Venditti: It’s a struggle finding any character’s voice, especially one as unique as Constantine’s. All you can do as a writer is put yourself in the character’s position and try to honestly consider how they’d react to a given situation. What would Constantine say to a gangster who wants a demon for his own personal enforcer? How would he say it differently than I or any other character would? It’s a constant learning process.
Nrama: How does your artist on the title echo/influence the style you're hoping to achieve and your overall approach to the comic?
Venditti: When I was first shown Renato Guedes’s work, I immediately thought he’d be a great fit. His characters are very human—you can feel the creases in their faces and the wrinkles in their clothes. And his design for Constantine is the perfect blend of grit and charm, which isn’t always an easy thing to pull off.
Nrama: Can you set up your first storyline a little for fans, so they can get a sense of the story you'll be telling?
Venditti: I can’t say too much, but it will be a stand-alone story that establishes who Constantine is and what he’s capable of. The issue will also introduce someone who’ll be a key member of the supporting cast in the series’ first year, a bartender at the pub where Constantine spends a lot of his downtime.
Nrama: Ah, so John Constantine will have a supporting cast? Is it mainly new characters, or will it be based on people with whom the character has been associated in the past?
Venditti: His supporting cast will primarily be made up of new characters. The series finds Constantine having settled in New York City as a way of separating himself from his roots. He doesn’t trust himself to be around the people and places he cares about because he has a tendency to bring death— or worse —to their door. So now he’s in America, and he’s trying to go it alone. Invariably, though, he’ll start to form new relationships, and how he handles that will be a major underpinning of the series.
Nrama: Who are Constantine's main villainous threats as you start the comic? Are you trying to establish a specific villain for him alone? Or tying more into universe-wide threats?
Venditti: The end of the first issue will transition into the series’ first longer arc, which will feature a new adversary who poses a wider threat, but not necessarily something on a universal scale. But that doesn’t mean he won’t encounter those threats from time to time as well.
Nrama: Are you aware of any plans to tie this comic into what's happening in other titles that star John Constantine (particularly Justice League Dark), or is the hope to keep this as a really solo, stand-alone Constantine story for awhile?
Venditti: It’ll be a mix of both. Constantine will be spend a lot of time on his own, but the things he does will impact the larger DCU and vice versa. The goal is to have a book that anyone can read on its own, but if they’re reading other DC titles, they’ll see the threads connecting them.
Nrama: Since you're writing Demon Knights as well, is there a possibility we'll see some common threads show up between the two titles?
Venditti: Demon Knights is quite a different comic, and there aren’t any plans to link the two directly at this time. Having said that, one of the main concepts behind Demon Knights is the idea that these events that happened centuries ago are reverberating in the present-day DCU. When and where those connections are revealed will be born out over time.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about the new Constantine title?
Venditti: Constantine is the type of character who’s always surprising you, both as a reader and a writer. I’m having a great time discovering who this guy is, and I hope others will see that reflected in the stories.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!