REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES JOHN CONSTANTINE
When I signed up for Mattel's "Club Infinite Earths" through their Web Site, MattyCollector.Com, in order to take advantage of the continuation of DC Universe Classics-style figures, now offered as the DC Universe Signature Series, I was aware of the fact that this subscription would likely include some characters that, on their own, I probably wouldn't have picked up at the retail level.
That's okay. The DC Universe has been a massive and varied place with a wide variety of different types of characters and adventures for a wide range of tastes. Everybody has their favorites, and everybody has some characters that they're just not as interested in. And those preferences are as different as the characters involved.
For example, two of the characters coming up in the Signature Series in 2013 are Blue Lantern Saint Walker, and Orange Lantern Larfleeze. These two are among the figures that I am most looking forward to on the year. I loved the concept of the different-colored Lantern Corps brought into the Green Lantern corner of the DC Universe across the various adventures scripted by Geoff Johns.
And yet, in at least one discussion thread on a particular message board, celebrating the fact that the line had made its subscription goal and would continue into 2013, there were several postings from collectors that more or less read, "Anybody want my Saint Walker and Larfleeze?"
My initial reaction to that comment would tend to be, "You mean you don't!? What's the matter with you? These are great characters!" But -- each to their own, really.
Which brings us to this particular DC Signature Series figure -- JOHN CONSTANTINE. Honestly, I didn't know that much about him. I knew he wasn't a super-hero. He wasn't really a member of the spandex set. I knew that he was more or less a part of Swamp Thing's corner of the DC Universe, and that wasn't a part of the DC Universe that I'd ever paid great attention to. I knew that the character had had a movie several years ago, which I'd paid no attention to and which, as far as I knew, hadn't fared especially well.
The degree to which I'd personally experienced the character was a cameo in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which featured -- heck, EVERYBODY; a short story in a DC-produced compilation on the heels of 9/11; and as one of the focal characters in a post Blackest Night/Brightest Day mini-series titled "The Search for Swamp Thing".
The package back for the figure describing the character reads as follows: The rebellious John Constantine studied the occult as an escape from his traumatic childhood. Now the world's greatest occult detective, Constantine thwarts threats from both heaven and hell between cigarette breaks. Sarcastic and cynical, he disdains anyone who underestimates him - be they mortal or immortal - and takes his greatest joy in outwitting powerful opponents. But through all his flaws, Constantine is still willing to sacrifice everything to protect the Earth.
Okay, that's not a bad description, if a little lacking in extensive history. Two things I noticed offhand. First off, how often do you encounter a backstory for an action figure that mentions that the character smokes? Secondly, I defy anyone to say "thwarts threats" five times fast without messing it up...
Let's see what more can be learned about this character, and then have a look at the figure.
First off, it seems that the character is not quite as connected to Swamp Thing as I thought, apart from being created by one of Swamp Thing's better known writers, Alan Moore. Constantine has had his own long-running series.
John Constantine is an antihero/occult detective in comic books published by DC Comics, mostly under the Vertigo imprint. The character first appeared in Swamp Thing (vol. 2) #37 (June 1985), and was created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch.
Constantine is the protagonist of the comic book Hellblazer, first published in 1988 and scheduled to conclude in 2013, when it will be replaced with Constantine under the standard DC imprint.
Also known as Hellblazer, Constantine is a working-class magician, occult detective, and con man stationed in London. He is well known for his endless cynicism, scathing wit, ruthless cunning, and constant chain smoking, which earned him the name "The Ultimate Con Man". A roguish counterculture anti-hero, Constantine is also a passionate humanist driven by a heartfelt desire to do some good in his sinful life. Pop artist Sting was the visual inspiration for John Constantine. Originally a supporting character who played a pivotal role in the "American Gothic" Swamp Thing epic, Constantine had his own comic in 1988. A live-action film was also released in 2005 entitled Constantine, where the character is played by Keanu Reeves.
Reception of the character is largely positive. The Hellblazer series is the longest and most successful Vertigo title, and is the only remaining publication since the imprint's launch.
John Constantine first appeared in 1985 as a recurring character in the comic series "The Saga of the Swamp Thing", in which he acted as a "supernatural advisor" to the main character.
In these early appearances, Constantine was depicted as a sorcerer of questionable morality, whose appearance was based on that of the musician Sting (specifically, as Sting appeared in the movies Brimstone and Treacle and Quadrophenia). Alan Moore created the character after artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, who were fans of The Police, expressed a desire to draw a character who looked like Sting.
John Constantine's official debut was not until Swamp Thing #37 when he was drawn by Rick Veitch and John Totleben. Moore describes the creation of Constantine as being drawn from a number of "really good ideas... about serial killers, the Winchester House, and... want[ing] to draw Sting in a story." Calling these disparate strands a "big intellectual puzzle", Constantine was the result of "fit[ting] it all together." Initially created "purely to get Sting into the story", by the time of the 1985 San Diego Comic-Con, Moore stated that "[i]t's turning into something more than that now." Veitch's contribution was to give Constantine an earring, something he considered risque for 1985.
Asked in 1985 about the similarities between John Constantine and the character Baron Winters (from Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's Night Force), Moore revealed that he was a "big fan" of Wolfman and Night Force, but that there was "no intention to rip off Baron Winters."
In 1988, Constantine was given his own title, Hellblazer, published by DC Comics. In 1993, at the launch of DC's Vertigo Comics imprint, Hellblazer was made an official Vertigo publication. It is the longest continuously published Vertigo title. The policy of DC and Vertigo characters not appearing together was reversed in 2011, when a version of Constantine appeared in the DC Universe crossover series Brightest Day, a spin-off series, Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing.
Although a compassionate humanist who struggles to overcome the influence of both Heaven and Hell over humanity and despite his occasional forays into heroism, Constantine is a foul-mouthed, British cynic who pursues a life of sorcery and danger. His motivation has been attributed to an adrenaline addiction that only the strange and mysterious can sate. He also seems to be something of a "Weirdness Magnet".
In Constantine's early appearances in Swamp Thing, his past was a mystery; his life as a child and young adult was not developed until Jamie Delano's Hellblazer stories. There, we found out that he was born in Liverpool, England. His mother, Mary Anne, died giving birth to John and his stillborn twin brother because an earlier abortion—forced on her by John's father, Thomas—had weakened her womb. Because he was unable to accept responsibility for his wife's death, Thomas blamed John and the pair grew up with a deep dislike for one another.
In their childhood, John and his older sister Cheryl lived briefly with their aunt and uncle in Northampton to escape from their father's alcoholism and subsequent imprisonment. They moved back to Liverpool when their father was released. One of John's first acts of magic, as a child, was to hide all of his childhood innocence and vulnerability in a box to rid himself of it.
Later, a teenage John ran away from home, but not before a botched curse caused his father to become withered and frail. John eventually made his permanent home in London, rooming with Francis "Chas" Chandler, a young man who has since gone on to become John's closest — and longest surviving — friend.
Still later, John became involved in occult circles in London, and visited San Francisco, where he met, and subsequently began a relationship with, the female magician Zatanna. His adventures since then are a wide range of rather unpleasant and extreme occult adventures, which frankly I don't consider repeatable in an action figure review.
Constantine is shown to be someone with a wide and international circle of contacts and allies, and is adept at making friends. At the same time, his close friends inevitably suffer or are outright killed simply by being in his life; this has left a severe mark on him. In one issue, when the King of Vampires killed the man next to him and casually asked if he'd been a friend, John replied, "Must be. He's dead." Constantine also has a reputation as being one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, that other magicians from around the globe challenge him to make a name for themselves, and also to acquire Constantine's limitless power and arsenal of dangerous magical items.
Although being a powerful sorcerer, Constantine rarely uses magic, instead choosing to use his wits to trick his opponents. He constantly cons many of the most powerful creatures in the underworld, and thus made powerful enemies who carry a grudge against him for tricking them. His cunning proves useful as he cons and cheats death even though being tormented again and again by persistent enemies. Constantine is also referred to as "The Constant One" because his whole family tree being somewhat connected to the occult. Many of his ancestors are sorcerers from different eras of history, and somewhat has taken part in many known historical events.
While Constantine has worn many clothes over the years he was originally portrayed as often wearing a blue pin-stripe suit, tan trench coat and occasionally gloves. As the series progressed his trademark attire became a grungier (or perhaps the same just older) trench coat, white shirt and black tie, Constantine smokes Silk Cut cigarettes, consuming thirty or so a day. John also occasionally breaks the fourth wall, where he talks to the reader and narrates the story himself.
Alan Moore claims to have encountered his creation in real life. In 1993, he told Wizard magazine: "One day, I was in Westminster in London—this was after we had introduced the character—and I was sitting in a sandwich bar. All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine. He was wearing the trenchcoat, a short cut—he looked—no, he didn't even look exactly like Sting. He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar. I sat there and thought, should I go around that corner and see if he is really there, or should I just eat my sandwich and leave? I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I'm not making any claims to anything. I'm just saying that it happened. Strange little story."
I know something like that'd freak me out...
Okay, so John Constantine is a much larger player in the DC Universe than I would've guessed. I suppose as such he merits his own action figure, and since the policy about the DC and Vertigo universes not interacting was lifted -- well, that got us a cool Swamp Thing action figure as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive in 2011. Seems like John Constantine is the other logical contender from that particular branch.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive, especially for a character that is categorically not part of the usual super-hero set.
This is hardly the first time in the history of the DC Universe line that a character has turned up that's not wearing the usual tight-fitting spandex muscle suit. A while back, Mattel produced a figure of Jonah Hex, a character from the Old West who would certainly not know from tights. There was also Kamandi, a young teen hero from an apocalyptic future world, whose wardrobe consisted pretty much of denim cut-offs and a pair of boots. Several of Batman's arch enemies, such as Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face, aren't really ones for typical super-suits, either.
John Constantine is, I would have to say, one of the most -- well -- ordinary-looking characters I've yet seen turn up in this line. That's not intended as an insult. Such is simply the visual nature of the character as he is portrayed in the comics.
The figure's headsculpt -- well, I'm not really prepared to say how much it might or might not look like Sting. I have no idea if the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen even had that as an objective. The headsculpt is well-detailed, however, as one would certainly expect it to be. John Constantine comes across as a rather sharp-featured man, with a rather angular face, a slightly longer-than-average nose, fairly deepset eyes, and not all that much of a chin.
His hair is a sandy brown, brushed back, and looking slightly spiked. The level of detail in the hair is especially impressive. His face shows perhaps a two-day growth of beard, which has been given a very slight hint of paint.
Constantine's face has a few notable lines in it, creases in his forehead and to the sides of his eyes. Most notable is a lengthy scar running along the left side of his face, from his forehead down his cheek, but apparently missing his left eye, if not by much. There's no indication that he's lost the use of his left eye.
Constantine is dressed in a long, tan-colored trenchcoat with an upturned collar. As is typical for such coats or robes in any number of action figure lines, the arms of the figure represent the sleeves of the coat, while the main body of the coat is essentially a vest that fits over the main body. When done properly, as it is here, this works very well.
The detail on the coat is impressive. Seams and hems are readily apparent, and the buttons on the cuffs at the ends of the arms have been painted. The coat has been given a slight bit of airbrushed detail to make it look a little worn -- or at least needing to be turned over to a dry cleaner -- but it's nothing excessive.
Constantine has a rather dingy-looking and somewhat rumbled white shirt, with a loosened red necktie hanging from a slightly open collar. The necktie is actually a separately molded piece, attached at the collar, very neatly and very impressively.
Constantine has dark blue trousers, with a black belt around his waist with a silver buckle. Again, the level of detail is most impressive, especially on the belt, which has been given a number of creases to make it look like worn leather, and the paintwork on the little buckle is very neatly done.
Completing the wardrobe is a pair of black leather shoes, complete with shoelaces. The shoes have been painted a glossy black. So -- the guy can get his shoes shined but can't get the coat washed!?
As John Constantine is not the first figure to be dressed in, shall we say, some form of civilian clothes rather than a superhero costume, I am quite certain that Constantine uses a number of previously-existing body parts, and I'm fairly convinced that this at least includes the arms and legs. I'm not so certain about the torso. It may be entirely new. And certainly the long coat is.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. John Constantine is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The coat limits the leg articulation a bit, but not that severely. It's more than flexible enough to allow for most leg movement, although I don't think the figure would sit down all that well. Ankle movement is a little limited because of the rather long pants legs, a common situation with this particular set of leg molds.
John Constantine doesn't come with any accessories. Not a big deal. From the sound of the character, about the only accessory I think he might have come with would've been a pack of cigarettes, and I don't really think we need that. Mentioning it on the package is one thing. Coming equipped with them is another. Fortunately, he doesn't have one stuck in his mouth. Maybe I'll get him a little package of Nicorette...
So, what's my final word? Well, it seems that John Constantine is a much more prominent character than I had realized -- largely because he wasn't a character whose adventures I followed. I was never really into the Vertigo side of the DC Universe, and tales of the occult aren't really my cup of tea anyway. But without question, the character is far more prominent than I realized, and his success and longevity certainly warrant his inclusion in the DC Universe Signature Series as it carries on the superb line of DC Universe Classics characters from Mattel and the Four Horsemen.
If you're a fan of John Constantine, I'm convinced you'll be immensely pleased with this figure, and he'll make a great addition to your DC action figure collection.
The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figure of JOHN CONSTANTINE definitely has my highest recommendation!