There’s a scene in Constantine: City of Demons that pretty much sums up the whole series. John Constantine, on an investigation, drives to a mansion where he’s greeted by a pig butler. That’s just weird, but Constantine quickly stumbles onto a pool of decaying corpses. It’s graphic. It’s bloody. It’s not the kind of story you could ever do on TV, certainly not in the usual DC TV universe anyway.
While Constantine has finally found a home on Legends of Tomorrow there’s only so far they can take the character. If you read the original Hellblazer comics Constantine starred in they are filled with horrific imagery. The pits of hell, bugs crawling out of people, and even ballistics testing on corpses.
DC TV can go far… but not quite that far. That’s the advantage to Constantine not only starring in his own series again but it being animated. In fact City of Demons is a direct adaption of an original Hellblazer graphic novel, “All His Engines.” Constantine star Matt Ryan sums it up best. “It’s a proper John Constantine kind of story.”
Without the restrictions of having to film it in live action, the animation can be just as twisted and fantastical as the comics. Writer J.M. DeMatteis felt no restrictions while writing the story and was incredibly free to make it as true to the comics as possible.
“I wrote the scene in the club where the demon shows up and I think I’m pushing it to the edge,” DeMatteis tells us. “Then the animators get a hold of it and it’s a hundred times bloodier and gorier than anything I ever imagined when I was writing it.”
“I thought it was really quite gory,” Ryan echoes. “I was like, ‘shit, this is not for kids!’ which is great. There’s so much with animation that you can’t do on the live shows.”
Any notes DeMatteis got from the studio weren’t about the violence but about the character and how they could dig deeper into Constantine’s psyche. The biggest challenge City of Demons faced, according to Warner Bros. Animation’s Peter Giardi, was actually something pretty small. Having Constantine smoke.
“The eviscerating? No problem. The sexy nurse costume? No problem. Pulling out somebody’s spine? No problem. Smoking? That’s a tough one,” Giardi says.
Giardi relates that the team did all they could to stay true to Constantine’s smoking habit but it wasn’t easy. “You could have an ashtray and see him stubbing it out. It’s smoking adjacent.”
While there are a few shots of Constantine smoking in the series they’re few and far between. “They really tried to cut around it,” remembers Giardi.
Smoking aside, Giardi is proud of just how adult City of Demons got while still being very focused on the characters. Even with all the blood, boobs, cursing, and little bits of smoking, it’s about “how real the characters problems are and how hard it is for them to overcome them. That’s part of the adult nature of it as well.”
Many of the weirdest and goriest parts of the series were lifted directly from the comic itself, although City of Demons isn’t a 1:1 retelling of “All His Engines.”
“The graphic novel was a fantastic foundation for this and then we built out from there,” explains DeMatteis. “We added a lot of elements, both in terms of character and plot that wasn’t in the graphic novel. So if someone’s fan of (“All His Engines”) they’re getting a lot of the big beats they know and love from that story and they’re also going to get a lot of stuff that they never knew before.”
DeMatteis has no hesitation in declaring City of Demons one of the best-animated projects he’s ever worked on from start to finish. Matt Ryan, already a fan of the “All His Engines” comic, thought the script was fantastic and the final product blew him away. He also gives us a small tease of what to expect in the next batch of episodes.
“I’m excited to see what you guys think when it gets even more personal for John.”
Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter!