Jonathan Vankin on the New DC Universe JOHN CONSTANTINE
Vankin on the New DCU CONSTANTINE
The three-issue mini-series starts in June, continuing story threads that were introduced at the end of Brightest Day, as Swamp Thing is tapped to be the "Protector of Earth," and John Constantine will be the one looking for him.
"When you have a search for Swamp Thing, what better person to search?" DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio told Newsarama last Wednesday.
Although there currently exists a John Constantine in the Vertigo universe — as part of the long-running Hellblazer series — the DCU version will be a completely different character.
As DiDio explained it, this DCU incarnation of John Constantine will be "a little bit younger" and "more in line with the character as he appeared when he was last in the DC Universe."
Swamp Thing is a little different now too. The character was originally introduced as scientist Alec Holland, the victim of a lab explosion that turned him into the plant-human hybrid Swamp Thing. But legendary writer Alan Moore later explained that Swamp Thing was actually just a sentient plant that absorbed Alec Holland's memories, but isn't really him.
In Brightest Day #24, the body of Alec Holland is merged with Swamp Thing, so this new DCU version is back to being truly human inside the monstrous outer form. And now he's been identified by as Earth's protector, as well Guardian of the Green.
Newsarama talked with Vankin to find out more about how Swamp Thing and Constantine get incorporated into the DCU, and what they'll be doing in Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing.
Newsarama: Jonathan, for people who aren't familiar with your name, what's your background? You've been a Vertigo editor for years, right?
Jonathan Vankin: Yep, I was first an editor, then a senior editor at Vertigo from the beginning of 2004 until the end of last year. I edited Hellblazer and Swamp Thing for a couple of years so I feel especially close to these characters.
I did a lot of other stuff at Vertigo, too. I was responsible for various creator-owned series and graphic novels such as The Exterminators, The Quitter, Incognegro, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, some Vertigo Crime books and many others.
But as much as I enjoyed that job, my first love and my first profession has always been writing. In the era of Google, there’s no need to go over my whole résumé here. The very short version is that I’ve been a journalist and published author and I’ve also written for TV, film and of course, comics. I even co-wrote a musical that’s been performed a couple of times here in New York. We’re aiming to put it up Off-Broadway very soon. There’s nothing like writing for comics, though. Of all the different forms and media, comics are the most exciting to me, creatively.
Nrama: How did you end up with this writing job in particular?
Vankin: Well, when I was transitioning out of the editing job last year, I approached Dan DiDio and [DC Editor-in-Chief] Bob Harras to see if they would be open to working with me as a writer. To my great happiness, they were very receptive to me. We talked about a few ideas, but when they came to me with the idea of writing a John Constantine story for the DCU, well, as the saying goes, they didn’t have to ask me twice.
Nrama: There have been rumors that these characters might return to the DCU, but it's still a surprise to many fans to see them sharing pages with DC superheroes. What are your thoughts on John Constantine and Swamp Thing coming back as characters within the DC Universe?
Vankin: In John Constantine and Swamp Thing, we’re talking about two of richest, most complex and — in John’s case especially — most charismatic characters in all of comics. Maybe in any medium.
To my way of thinking, great stories come from great characters so by placing these characters in the DCU, you’re only increasing the depth of storytelling in the DC Universe. And from my conversations with Bob, Dan and [DCU Executive Editor] Eddie Berganza, I know that that’s always their goal — to tell greater and greater stories in the DCU, all the time. With that as your goal, why not bring in John Constantine and Swamp Thing?
As far as John’s life in his Vertigo series, Hellblazer, I think we’re just talking about two different takes on the character. The genius of Constantine, to me, has always been that every writer has his or her own take on him, yet through it all, John remains quintessentially John no matter who writes him or what the individual take is. It’s almost as if he has his own independent existence outside the mind of any one writer.
I absolutely love the current Hellblazer series, by the way. Peter Milligan and his editor Shelly Bond are coming up with some of the most memorable John Constantine stories, well, pretty much ever. I really hope and expect that readers who are not familiar with Hellblazer will be moved to check it out after getting a taste of John in the Brightest Day Aftermath story.
Nrama: Now that we've seen the end of Brightest Day, what's the set-up for the three-issue comic you're writing?
Vankin: After the ending of Brightest Day, Constantine knows that something in the world has changed. But being John, the fate of the world is of no great concern to him until it affects him directly. He’s seen and done too much to feel the world is worth saving, at least not by him. But then, Swamp Thing calls out to him. John has had an extremely close relationship with Swampy, historically, so he goes to a location where he knows he can communicate with Swamp Thing. When he gets there he realizes he’s been duped. Swamp Thing is not there at all. But something is there — something that apparently tries to kill him.
One thing John Constantine does not enjoy is having others get the better of him. He sets out on his search for Swamp Thing as much to prove to himself that he’s smarter than whatever it is that ambushed him as to solve the mystery of what happened to Swamp Thing or to save a world that cannot exist without its Guardian of the Green.
That’s how we start — but there are plenty of twists, turns and surprises along the way.
Nrama: These characters have been written in a lot of different types of comics over the years. What's the overall tone of this book? Is this a horror comic, or humor comic, or what?
Vankin: I’m tempted to answer “what,” because when you take a superhero comic and put John Constantine in the mix, well, you never know what you’re going to get. This hasn’t happened for quite some time, so hopefully it’ll be a voyage of discovery for everyone, the readers as well as John himself.
Nrama: Then to get a better idea of the tone, what can you tell us about Marco Castiello's work on the series?
Vankin: What I’ve seen so far of Marco’s work is perfect for this story. Being a DCU book, of course it needs a bold, kinetic style. But being a Constantine story, it also needs what I guess I’d describe as “a little touch of Vertigo in the night.” Marco gets both. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to see more of his pages!
Nrama: We've heard a little about this John Constantine from Dan DiDio, and how he differs from his Vertigo version. How would you describe his character in the DCU?
Vankin: Well, as I mentioned before, this John Constantine is — John Constantine!
That said, he’s younger both in appearance and attitude than the current Vertigo version. That’s probably the only real difference. For example, Constantine has never really been the marrying kind, but in Hellblazer he recently reached a point in his life where his feelings have changed and he actually, finally gets married. The Constantine in Search for Swamp Thing isn’t anywhere near that point in his life.
The feeling we’re going for is that this John never left the DCU, he’s just been laying low for a while, doing his own thing. Remember, as John himself said back in his first DCU days, he never had much use for costumed heroes. What they do just doesn’t strike him as relevant to his life. So he would interact with them now only because he needs something specific from them — and he just assumes that he’s smart enough to get it from them before they catch on to him.
Nrama: What about Swamp Thing? Is he a monster, or do we see him act the hero? Who is he in this DCU incarnation?
Vankin: I’m going to pass on that one because I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Suffice to say, if you read the end of Brightest Day, which I’m sure everyone has by now, you get an idea of Swampy’s starting point in this series.
Nrama: What other characters will be appearing in the three issues, and can you tell us anything about their role?
Vankin: Batman and Superman for sure, with perhaps a surprise guest or two. Again, John needs something from each of them. But to me, the great fun of writing this series and, I hope, reading it is in seeing how the relationships between John and these iconic heroes develop. So I don’t want to go onto much detail for fear of spoiling that. All I’ll say is that they’ve never encountered anyone quite like John Constantine and now they have to deal with him, whether they like it or not.
Nrama: Newsarama specifically heard there's talk about more stories featuring Swamp Thing in the DCU in the future. Will these three issues will be the end of the story for the DCU's Swamp Thing and John Constantine for a while, or is there a possibility you'll be setting things up for more stories about these characters?
Vankin: Is it ever really the end of the story? Time will tell, I suppose. But seriously, in this series, my entire focus is on telling what I hope will be a fun and entertaining story that stands on its own but also forms one piece of the overall big picture known as the DC Universe. I want readers to come away feeling they’ve read a complete story about these characters and not simply a set-up for something yet to come.
At the same time, if there were elements of this story that just so happened to lead into possible future stories, whether written by myself or other writers, well, I think that would be even better!
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the mini-series?
Vankin: You know, to me both as a kid and now, the great joy of reading comics was the thrill of opening up the book having no idea what was inside beyond whatever I could figure out from the cover, then being surprised as the story unfolded in front of me. If I seem reticent about giving too much away about the story, it’s only because I hope people will be able to recapture a little of that magic as they read it. We all know the set-up: John Constantine in the DC Universe. We all have ideas and expectations about how that will unfold. I want people to read the comic and be surprised when they see what really happens.