The tube seems filled with shows based on Marvel and DC comics these days. And although NBC’s new Friday night show Constantine might have the same origin, it fills a much needed gap in the cinematic universe of comicdom. Matt Ryan’s John Constantine isn’t facing the tangible, but the mystical. Existing in the same world as Batman and Superman, Constantine bridges the science based world of Batman, and even Superman, and shows us that we can have witches and spirits, spells and incantations. There can be demons, angels and devils. And maybe there are dangers that require an Exorcist, Demonologist, and Master of the Dark Arts to solve, even if he has some demons of his own.

CONSTANTINE-TV-jy-3650-John Constantine, Out of the Game | John begins as a patient at Ravenscar, Psychiatric Facility for the Mentally Deranged. He’s getting a bit of electro-shock therapy, hoping to drown out the dark memories of a young girl named Astra, whom he failed to save and who’s fate he feels responsible. It seems John has been out of the game for a bit, unable to get past watching Astra pulled into hell for eternal damnation.

But once you have toyed with the powers of heaven and hell it’s hard to find peace again. John Constantine seems pulled towards the supernatural, or perhaps the powers of light and dark are drawn to him. One thing is for sure, someone is trying to get John back in the game, and they have decided to communicate through demon blood. John follows a trail of cockroaches to a patient who he finds painting on a roach covered wall. Her eyes have gone white, and John doesn’t look happy as he begins to chant in Latin, sending the spirit careening about the room and smashing the windows before falling to a heap on the floor and awakening as her former self.

Upon the wall is written “LIV DIE.”

Liv, we hardly knew ya | Liv Aberdeen is the daughter of John’s friend, Jasper, who was able to see the spirit world. And so it seems Liv can as well. Much of the episode revolves around Liv and a demon named Furcifer, who is somehow connected with the very non-demonic power of electricity. There is a bit about Liv’s past across the episode, but she seems mostly in place to ask John questions so we can hear the answers we need to understand this world. We will have to see where the show moves forward since the Liv character was replaced after the pilot. Next week we will see Angélica Celaya as Zed Martin.

Cabbies and Crackpots | Even John Constantine can’t work alone all the time, no matter how much he might want to. Everyone needs a driver, and John has his friend Chas, Charles Halford, who drives an old-fashioned yellow cab, knows a bit about ritualistic seals, and has some amazing survival skills. Chas is pretty quiet for most of the episode, but seems a bit more chipper when he returns from his apparent death.

On the other hand, Dr. Richie Simpson is a neurotic mess. Jeremy Davies brings his best insane Daniel Farraday impression to Richie, who we learn was present when they lost Astra at New Castle. John has a lot he can hold over Richie, most importantly that nobody will believe it was a demon that took Astra. He is a bit of a reluctant member of team Constantine, but does come through when John needs him by shutting off the electricity so the electro-demon can’t do his electro attack things.

MannyWho’s team Angel around here? | Continuously popping in and out of John’s troubles is Harold Perrineau’s arrogant angel, Manny. As John goes about trying to save Liv, Manny simply keeps popping into the bodies of people in the vicinity of John. Manny wants John to get back in the game. If John can find the bad guys, then Manny can help take care of them. But the weight of losing Astra has John feeling as if his damnation is assured.

It seems the demon at New Castle was not that big, and John decided to take it out by summoning a more powerful demon to take out the other, but instead John’s new demon took Astra. John has sentenced her to eternal damnation, and damned himself in the process. But Manny gives John a sliver of hope. His soul may be damned now, but it can be restored. It is not lost forever, just like Astra is not lost forever. In the world of John Constantine, death is not absolute.

Furcifer the Electro-Demon | We did get a lot of ritualistic spell casting as John finally faced off against Furcifer, but much of the weight was lost by the silly electricity power. This might have been an interesting demon to introduce at some point, but starting off with electricity seemed a strange choice for a show about fire and brimstone. Additionally, the demon is tightly tied with Liv and her storyline, yet she leaves at the end of the pilot, so much of what happens has little long term impact. What we get instead is a good understanding of John and his mystic abilities, both casting spells and making ritualistic seals.

zedHow was the Hellblazing? | This was a good, if not overwhelming premier. Much of the episode felt like a pilot, heavy on exposition, and the character of Liv didn’t work. But it seems they realized pretty quickly, and we will have to take another look next week as it seems a bit of retooling went on after the pilot. One thing that gives me hope for the future is Matt Ryan’s John Constantine, he shows some great range across the episode, from deep pain at the loss of Astra to his confidence in slinging magic in front of crazy eyed demons. Lastly we get Zed next week, and she isn’t some wide-eyed innocent, so check back for episode 2 and let’s hope they are blazing hell.

Hellbits |

  • We got a glimpse of Doctor Fate‘s helmet, though it was dusty and lacked an owner.
  • It  was great to see them show Zed as an artist and putting covers and panels from the Hellblazer comic book scattered about.
  • I’m all for giving a nod to John’s punk icon ideal with a punk song, but a Social Distortion cover of Johnny Cash‘s “Ring of Fire” was all kinds of wrong. It should have been a British punk band. And it surely should not have been a middling late-punk band doing a cover of a non-punk classic.
  • I hope we get to see a lot more of Jeremy Davies, his untethered performance fit the tone of Constantine perfectly.
  • And here’s to hoping for great things from Angélica Celaya.