After receiving a message from a dead friend, Master (re: Petty Dabbler) in the Dark Arts John Constantine journeys to America in search of a woman named Liv Aberdine. John's friend was Liv's estranged father and it seems that Liv is about to inherit her father's magical talents for seeing the unseen. Problem is most of the bad things that are unseen don't like to be seen and that makes Liv a very inviting target unless someone can teach her how to escape notice and deal with the bad things that are already on her trail.
But John's problems go beyond paying debts to old friends and playing knight errant for newbie psychics. He's somehow attracted the attention of a guardian angel named Manny, who has a feeling something big and bad is coming and that following John may be his best chance at figuring out what the forces of Hell are planning. Of course John has little interest in being a canary in the coal mine, until Manny suggests that John might have a chance of reclaiming his soul if he doesn't run away from this fight...
Various details of John's background come from the Jamie Delano run on Hellblazer. Specific references are made to Hellblazer #1 (the trail of roaches), Hellblazer #4 (the appearance of Zed), Hellblazer #7 (the appearance of Ritchie Simpson) and Hellblazer #11 (The Newcastle Incident and John's battle to save Astra). John's speech at the end comes, in part, from Hellblazer #41 - the first issue of the series written by Garth Ennis. The appearance of a demonic version of John may be a reference to The Demon Constantine, who first appeared in Hellblazer #94.
Matt Ryan offers an impressive first outing as John Constantine. He looks the part and plays the part perfectly.
In the comics, as in the show, The Newcastle Incident is what John considers his greatest moment of personal failure. In brief, John botched a magical ritual while trying to save a girl named Astra from a demon named Negral and the mistake cost John his soul and caused Astra to be dragged to Hell. A flashback confirms these basic details are true to the universe of the show, though it leaves out the fine points of how John came to find himself fighting to save Astra.
In the original comics, Astra was sexually abused by her magician father and she accidentally summoned a demon while wishing for something, anything, to protect her. John and some of his friends summoned a second demon to try and fight the first one and the situation spiraled out of control. The Newcastle Incident as described by Ritchie in the show matches up with these details, save that he says Astra was merely possessed by a demon and no mention is made of any kind of sexual abuse.
As this episode opens, it has been three months since The Newcastle Incident,
The doctor who interviews John is identified by his nameplate as Dr. Roger Huntoon. As in the show, he was the doctor who ran Ravenscar in the original Hellblazer comics. He also appeared in a number of other DC Comics, as the author of a pop-psychology book about the dangers of superheroes.
The episode opens in Ravenscar Asylum. In the comics, this is the same mental institution that John bounced in and out of for several years. The biggest difference here is that John is self-committed in the reality of the show. In the original comics, John was committed after being blamed for Astra's death. John suffered severe physical and mental abuse at the hands of the staff, who were ill pleased at having to care for a child-murderer they felt was getting off scott-free on account of an insanity plea.
Another big change from the comics is that John isn't held responsible for Astra's death by the police, though as in the comics he still blames himself and sees his failure to save her as his greatest mistake.
The scene in which John follows a swarm of roaches to a possessed woman is similar to a scene in Hellblazer #1.
Chas Chandler is introduced on the show as John's oldest friend. While this is true in the comics, there is quite a bit of difference between Chas on the show and Chas in the comics. In the comics, Chas has lives a delightfully mundane existence as a London cab-driver and has no direct knowledge of magic and how it works. Comic Chas doesn't have the know-how to carve an Eye of Horus and he certainly doesn't have any "survival skills" that let him shrug off being impaled by a power line.
In the comics, Chas somehow managed to survive John Constatnine's friendship longer than anyone else but no explanation - magical or mundane - was ever given for this.
According to Chas, Liv's father died bravely but John cuts him off before he can give any details.
The song playing as the cab is hit by a semi-truck is Social Distortion's cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.
One of the artifacts we see Liv handle in her father's hideout is the Helm of Nabu - a.k.a. the helmet used by a number of magician superheroes who used the name Dr. Fate. It is sometimes also called The Helmet of Fate.
There is also a mask next to the out-of-sync mirror that bares a resemblance to The Medusa Mask - a magical artifact used by the villain The Psycho Pirate to alter the minds, moods and memories of his victims.
Another item we see in the background bears a resemblance to The Ibistick - the magical wand used by the Egyptian hero Ibis The Invincible.
The three-eyed skull in a glass case that we see among the items in the hideout looks suspiciously like the design for Pandora's Box in the recent DC Comics event Trinity War.
We see the phrase "MORE THAN THIS" written backwards on a black board in Liv's father's lair. This is likely a reference to the magicians in the DC Universe who are able to work magic by speaking or writing backwards, like Zatanna.
The name of Ivy University may ring a bell with DC Comics fans as the college with employs Dr. Ray Palmer a.k.a. The Atom. Presumably this may be the Atlanta campus, as the original Ivy University was located in Ivy Town, Connecticut.
Ritchie Simpson is another of John's friends from the comics, who made his first appearance in Hellblazer #7. At the time of his first appearance in the comics, Ritchie was the only member of the group of John's friends present for The Newcastle Incident who was still alive. He was British and worked in a factory. As in the comics, Ritchie is presented as a computer expert whom John recruits for a job. The show's version of Ritchie is an American who is employed as a college professor. He differs from his comics counterpart in that he has to be blackmailed into helping John.
We're told that John's mother died in childbirth and his father blamed him for her death. His nickname for John was "Killer" and he punched John in the head every night "for what you did to your mom." This matches up with John's abusive childhood in the comics.
John also started studying magic as a teenager, trying to find a way to communicate with his mother's spirit. He was never successful.
We find out in this episode that the demon who took Astra was named Negral. This matches up with the comics, where Negral was a demon who crossed swords with John on a number of occasions and The Newcastle Incident was Round One.
Once trapped in John's protective seal, Fucifer manifests as a demonic version of John he introduces as "locking eyes with the future". This may be a reference to The Demon Constantine - a creature made up of the worst aspects of John's personality whom John created back in Hellblazer #94.
Reference is also made to The First of The Fallen - one of the many beings who claims to be a ruler of Hell in DC Comics and the one with whom John would develop a fierce antagonism during the Garth Ennis run of Hellblazer.
John gets into an argument with a bartender over who was a more influential band - The Ramones or The Sex Pistols. In the original comics, John was a punk rocker before he got into magic and was definitely a devote of the Sid Vicious school of punk.
The final scene depicts a frenzied woman drawing a sketch of John. This is Zed - a character from the comics, who has already been revealed as a series regular. In the comics, Zed was an artist with her own magical talents and she was a rare match for John in the wits and cunning department.
Some of the paintings we see in Zed's apartment were taken from cover paintings from the Hellblazer comic.
Angels feed on the suffering of mortals. This feeding inspires feelings of euphoria in the mortal being fed upon.
Chas carves an Eye of Horus on Liv's apartment door. The Eye of Horus in an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and good health.
Liv's ability to see lost souls and spirits is a unique talent few magicians have. John doesn't have the knack, despite Liv's father trying to teach him the trick.
Scrying is the art of locating things with magic.
The demon stalking Liv is named Furcifer. He draws his strength from electricity, lighting and tempests. This gives him the ability to control electronics and dead bodies. He also has some ability to create illusions, as he created a glamour of Astra to convince John to drop his seal
Angels have some limited ability to stop time.
John's Demon Seal is a proprietary design combining a Triangle of Solomon with some Elder runes and an Enochian script.
Under ordinary circumstances, demons cannot manifest without help and the more powerful a demon is, the more help they require. Somehow, the demons are breaking the rules and acting more overtly than is common, in regards to trying to kill Liv.
Doctor Roger Huntoon: We're all powerless against demons.
John: Not all of us, chief.
Doctor Roger Huntoon: That's right. Before you checked yourself in here three months ago, you were working as (glances at John's business card) an exorcist, demonologist and "Master of the Dark Arts?"
John: That says Master, does it? Although I should really change that to "Petty Dabbler". I hate to put on airs.
(As John goes into a crater)
Manny: You shouldn't be down here.
John: I could say the same about you.
John: I'm okay! So flap off!
Manny: Now, I can't change your fate but I can ease your suffering...
John: Go feed off someone else's loss!
Manny: But yours is exquisite!
(After Liv screams at seeing a very much alive Chas Chandler)
Chas; It's okay! I'm all right! Sorry to startle you.
Liv: But you're - you died!
Chas: Not exactly. It's... complicated.
John: There's a reason Chas is my oldest friend. He has survival skills.
Liv: No-no-nobody could survive what I saw!
John: Excellent! If you're not confused, you're not paying attention.
Manny: You fail to grasp the stakes here, John. Liv's power is valuable!
John: So's her life! If Liv was going to join our fight, she had the right to see the risks for herself. All I did was... give her a choice. Which is more than Astra ever had.
Manny: You said OUR fight. That mean you're going to help us?
John: Well, it's what you wanted, isn't it? (chuckles) And you call ME a con man. (getting up) Pick up the tab, will ya? You bastards are going to owe me.
John: My name is John Constantine. I'm the one who steps from the shadows, all trench-coat and arrogance. I'll drive your demons away, kick them in the bollocks, spit on them when they're down and leave with only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone. Because let's be honest - who'd be crazy enough to walk it with me?
John's shout of "What's on the way?" while looking up at crane cam shooting away from him is incredibly campy.
Ravenscar Asylum in Northern England and Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. We also see Newcastle, England in a brief flashback.
The Fridge Factor
Granting that she's meant to be our entry point into John's world, Liv comes off as a second-rate companion to Matt Ryan's Doctor. Small wonder the show's producers decided to replace her.
John Screws Up
We get a brief flashback of The Newcastle Incident.
John nearly falls for a very basic illusion of Astra and nearly breaks the seal he set around Fucifer.
The Bottom Line
A solid start, comparable in tone to the pilot episode of Arrow. There's enough meat here to give a taste of the magic-side of the DC Universe at large and a fair number of in-jokes for the die-hards. Yet the whole affair is easily accessible to newbies and horror fans who are ignorant of the vast mythology and they'll likely enjoy the series. Really, the only weak point of the whole affair is the character of Liv and we already know she's out of the series.