Bisexuality, Hellblazer, and Thoughts Related

(or: The One In Which We Learn Daniel Is A Filthy Liberal)First-Official-Image-of-Matt-Ryan-as-Constantine

Okay, let’s start with a bit of background here. As some of you may or may not know, I am a huge, huge fan of the Hellblazer comics, and the character of John Constantine in specific. Recently, NBC announced they would air a Constantine TV series starting Fall 2014, and I was ecstatic. I may or may not have watched the recently leaked pilot for the series, and I may or may not have spent most of it making a soft ‘squee’ noise.

This show has not been without some controversy: there’s the simple fact that Hellblazer was unapologetically weird, adult, bizarre, and dark, and that any adaptation thereof onto a broadcast network will, out of necessity, have to tone some of that down.There’s the whole ‘smoking’ thing, which matters to a lot of fans because one of Constantine’s biggest and most-loved storylines revolved around and was caused by the character’s well-known chain-smoking habit. And now, there’s the recent mention by the show’s creators that Constanine’s bisexuality, a canon aspect of the character during his original run, would not be a part of the new TV series.

Several people have expressed their thoughts on this, both pro and con. My thoughts are below, and are, for the most part, a response to the following article by Isaac Sher on Google+, who I feel has expressed why this matters to so many people better than most. I suggest you go read it, then come back: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+IsaacSher/posts/B2yr8ybXBX9

——————————-

Oof. Ok. Let me see.

First of all: disclaimer: I am not bisexual. Which probably informs everything else I’m thinking here.

Like, I think, many long-term fans, I’ve long known that Constantine (‘original’ Constantine, and I’ll get to that in a second) was bisexual. Having read pretty much everything every comic where the guy ever showed up, though? I have to admit that, before reading the text above, my very first gut reaction was exactly what the author is railing against. (Please don’t read this as a dismissal of the above. I’m getting to that.)

As someone who is not, in fact, bisexual himself, Constantine’s bisexuality never seemed to be a big deal. It sort of made sense in the context of everything else about the character, but if, up until now, you’d asked me to list the top ten traits about Constantine, ‘asshole’, ‘smoker’, ‘con-man’, ‘magician’ would all have been in there; ‘bisexual’ probably would not have made the list. While Constantine was a sexual being, the focus on most of the stories seemed to be on how being friends/lovers/casual acquaintances/in the same room even once as Constantine generally tended to end poorly for all involved. It never until now occurred to me that his bisexuality was that important an aspect to folks. Whenever someone would mention Constantine’s bisexuality in conversations about the character, I would go ‘oh, yeah, he was, that’s right!’ and then move right along. To my eye, it was never really a focus of or a huge part of his stories.

I realize now, of course, all of this comes very much from a place of privilege. Until reading the above I wasn’t truly aware that that aspect of his character, one that I generally shuffled off in a sort of ‘other’ category of aspects about him, would be so important to someone for whom their bisexuality, and the prejudices and problems that come with it, are part of their daily lives. I’d never really understood until reading the above that it was an aspect that some people could look at and go ‘oh, hey, that character is like me’, and identify with, and feel they, and their struggles, were being represented in these stories.

For that, I apologize, and thank you, as I now have a greater appreciation for the importance of that aspect of his stories. And in that same vein, my original gut reaction of ‘well it’s not really a central aspect of the character’ is one I’ve come to revise, and hearing that they’re cutting it from this adaptation of the character is disappointing.

All of this, though, brings me back to the ‘original’ Constantine comment above: that character, Constantine, the Hellblazer, was, as the writer above mentioned, very much a character created as a sort of reaction to the policies and politics of the Thatcher era (in fact, Thatcher is often mentioned in the stories, and Constantine bears her no love). He changed and evolved over the decades (the original Hellblazer series continued being published and written all the way up to 2013 from its 1988 start. 300 issues on the dot. Plus a bunch of one-off graphic novels and appearances all over the place in the Vertigo and DC universes). And then it stopped. And DC did the whole New52 reboot (and all the bad that has come with it), and they basically rebooted Constantine along with it, even making it very clear that this new, younger Constantine (one of the interesting things about Hellblazer is that Constantine aged in real time throughout the series) was a completely separate being from the Vertigo Constantine. They’ve changed his backstory. Kept a lot of the character traits but changed the character, his abilities, and several points of his storyline so he ‘fits in’ better with the capes and tights crowd. One of the things that hasn’t made an appearance in the Nu52 version of Constantine? His bisexuality. And given DC’s recent and near-constant missteps over the past couple of years when it comes to anything LGBT-related, I would not be surprised at all to hear that was a conscious choice from them.

In the end, I’m not sure how to feel. I love, lovelovelove the original Constantine character. Getting to read more and new Constantine stories in the current DC run of the character makes me happy (while they may have changed him, especially in Justice League Dark, to play better with the superhero bunch, his solo title sometimes dips damn close to some of the greatness from his past. It’s not there, not even close right now really, but there are hints of it there and I freely admit I’ll take whatever scraps I can get). The fact that he’s getting his own TV show, and that the acting, personality, looks, attitude, seem so right, that they got so much of the character right… well, that makes me happy too. I can’t (and won’t) ignore that it’s problematic that they’ve chosen to remove the aspect of bisexuality from the character. And while I could say ‘well, the TV show didn’t do that, DC did that first,’ that’s a cop-out and makes it no less problematic. With that said, though? Having seen the pilot, I can’t help feeling that they got just enough of the character right to get me to keep watching.

Please, please don’t take this as me dismissing his bisexuality as not important. It is, and I realize now, more than I thought. At the same time, it is possible to enjoy a work while acknowledging that parts of it are problematic, and this is one case where I find myself doing exactly that. I won’t hold it against anyone who decides that this is something that is going to keep them from watching or enjoying the show. I get it, and I understand it. At the same time.. dammit, they got so much of it right, too. And so much else of it wrong as well. This is on NBC. Anyone who’s read the original comics will probably agree that a straight up adaptation is near impossible even on a cable network, much less on broadcast TV. This is about as close as I at least am ever going to get to seeing a proper adaptation of one of my favorite all time characters on TV. For now, I’ll take it, warts and all.

This is not a dismissal, though. The writers, producers, network execs, etc., should not be allowed to just get away with it scott free. This is problematic, and I believe that putting pressure on them to acknowledge and not dismiss out of hand the importance of Constantine’s bisexuality to so many of his fans, is the right thing to do.

———–

Whew. I’m not sure how much sense that all made, and I welcome open discussion. I freely admit I come from a position of privilege on this, and I apologize if anything I said above came off as hurtful or insensitive, it was not my intention to do so, and hope I can keep learning to make fewer mistakes in the future.


Fandible.Com is now on Patreon! If you enjoy our weekly blog posts and actual play podcasts, please consider supporting us.

About the Author
Born in the freezing heart of upstate New York, raised in the searing heat of the Caribbean, then mellowed for several years in a fine oak barrel until he reached a perfect balance of snark and zen, Daniel is Fandible’s resident tech expert. Graduating at the top of his class in high school, and accepted to an Ivy League university, he instead chose to run away with the circus, where he learned valuable life lessons, and grew to hate clowns. He then travelled the globe for years in search of the six-fingered man, only to find the power was inside him all along. These days, he surrounds himself with glowing screens and wearable technology in an attempt to summon forth the Singularity by way of cargo cult. He is a Leo, and his favorite color cannot be seen by any but the pure of heart.

8 comments on “Bisexuality, Hellblazer, and Thoughts Related

  1. Warren says:

    I’m in the camp where his sexuality hadn’t registered as a really defining part of his character. (Certainly not on the Bruce-Wayne’s-parents-killed-in-front-of-him level, that Isaac compares it too). My top 10 traits list also wouldn’t have included it. (But then, similar priviledge)

    I agree that whatever the relationship (friends or lovers), the important thing always seemed to be, what horrible thing did John do or cause to happen to you? If the answer was ‘nothing’, that character was about to have a very bad day. …probably same result if the answer wasn’t ‘nothing’.

    Also, reading the comments on the OP (usually a bad idea, I know), the show seems to have said that it’s not going to come up in the first season, not that their version is, definitely -not- bisexual.

    That being said, even if the execs do view bisexuality as weird , you’d think that it would barely rate on the unusualometer on Hellblazer.

    (Please assume similar caveats, on my statements, as those on Daniel’s)

    (Also, he should totally still be a smoker. Especially with all the present-day hate that would be lobbed his way )

  2. Barsha Da Barsha says:

    I sort of see his bisexuality as something that makes him more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I like Constantine. But it really does up something about his character to know that he’s fighting the good fight during a time where people looked down on him for his ‘unholy’ urges. That makes me realize that Constantine is in this fight for more than just himself.

    I didn’t really know much about his bisexuality, but I think it’s a detail that makes the character more noble. No, not that one sexual orientation is better than the rest, but he’s actively fighting the forces of darkness while (at the time) people viewed his own orientation as something ‘bad’. Just an interesting dynamic.

    Cool article. Cool blog post, Dan.

  3. Peripheral says:

    I’ve only read a bit of the comics, so I suppose I’m in the sweet spot between interested and not attached enough to be upset if it fails. Most of the hype I heard until recently was “chain-smoking magician who doesn’t give a fuck and also isn’t straight for once.” I have to admit some of my interest in the show came from that last bit, but I’m not surprised enough that it’s being left out to feel much but resignation.

    They’ve said elsewhere that Constantine will not be bi and that it wasn’t an important or well-established trait. The quote going around is “So [maybe] 20 years from now? But there are no immediate plans.” Which is frustrating, because “TV isn’t ready for it” is both tired and untrue. That’s from an executive producer, though, so maybe he doesn’t have all the details? And there’s always room to bring it up later, but if they’re waffling now I’m not convinced it’s ever going to be a real possibility.

    They do plan to find ways to show that he’s a smoker without actually showing him smoking, however that will work. Seems like they could apply a little of that effort to his orientation, too.

    (And bi asexual here, so still not quite the right group to comment, but I’m bisexual adjacent?)

  4. Warren says:

    That quote does put things in a different light.

    Also, agreed on the ‘TV not being ready for it’ being a lame duck. There’s too much evidence to the contrary.

    Forgetting the controversial changes for the moment, I try to think of any new medium as merely being inspired by the original story. It saves on nerd-rage and allows the enjoyment of a new thing for itself, rather than a pale imitation.

    For example, the Dresden Files: Murphy and Bob were wrong, but not letting that be an issue let me enjoy what the did with the skull.

  5. Syren says:

    Warning momentary blasts of language.

    I love Hellblazer, I have read a great deal of the comics at least once and while I’ve been away from the stuff for years now since I went overseas I do remember that honestly his bisexuality was never so huge of a thing.

    I’ve brought up my sexuality in the past I think, so I’ll exercise my own privilege to unfairly weigh in on things I think are comparably close to me. While I know that his sexuality wasn’t really ever that huge of a thing, it was a thing that existed. Though you didn’t see him crawling out of bed with men half as often as you did seeing those poor doomed women. What you did get a fair amount of though was the implication, mild hints in the way he explained his acquaintances with the various doomed men who entered the story. They weren’t ALL his fuck buddies, but he did get around. I’m not asking to see hardcore gay sex, softcore gay sex, a hollywood style sex scene, or even him crawling out of a bed with a man. I just want the implications.

    And that isn’t so damn hard I think.

    The smoking though is something that needs to be more than implied, and I cannot understand what exactly the big deal is with the smoking. We know it is bad for us, Constantine will show it is bad for him. He gets fucking cancer. John is not a positive role model and the comics do not glorify smoking as much as showing it as one of his many self destructive activities.

    I’m still going to watch it of course, I love Hellblazer, just wish they wouldn’t try to sugar coat it with what they’ve said.

  6. Warren says:

    It isn’t too difficult. Unless they plan to significantly alter the tone, Constantine’s not going to be snogging the random new hottie each week.

  7. CaptainStabby says:

    Yeah, I fail to see how NBC is a good fit for Constantine full stop. Any cable channel from Starz to Showtime to *shudder* Cinemax would do everything that NBC is being gutless and cutting, and while they might not get it 100% “right” it would be a lot closer than what NBC will do.

    I can see it now, It’s going to end up being like that terrible Canadian show with the succubus girl and the most convoluted interpretation of celtic myth ever. 🙁

  8. Warren says:

    …Lost Girl. I didn’t last more than a few episodes on that one. It seemed to be popular enough to run for a few seasons, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.