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John Constantine: A Brief History Of DC Comics' Bisexual Sorcerer

DC Comics artwork of John Constantine casting fire spell
(Image credit: DC Comics)

Some threats in the DC Comics universe can be vanquished with some simple punches or blasting energy beams, but all too often, problems of a magical variety pop up that can’t be dealt with using brawn or brains alone. Fortunately, there are a number of people you can call for precarious situations like this, including John Constantine. Created by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben, Constantine debuted in the pages of 1985’s The Saga of Swamp Thing, and after being a staple of DC’s Vertigo line of books, he’s been incorporated into the main DC canon for more than a decade now.

In addition to being a powerful sorcerer, the blonde, trench coat-wearing, chain-smoking John Constantine is also one of DC Comics’ most prominent LGBTQ+ characters, having been established as bisexual back in 1992. But there’s a lot more to delve into with Constantine not just in comics, but in other media too. We could spend hours, if not days talking about all things Constantine, but for those simply looking for a brief history of the character, we have you covered.

DC Comics artwork of John Constantine standing against brick wall with angel wings behind him

(Image credit: DC Comics)

John Constantine In Comics

Within the original Vertigo continuity he existed in, John Constantine was born in Liverpool, Lancashire in 1953, and unlike stories told within the main DC universe, he aged in real time. As such, he turned 35 during the first year of Vertigo’s Hellblazer series and was in his 60s when that series wrapped up. 

Looking over John Constantine's background from the Vertigo era, he had a rough childhood, ranging from his mother dying after giving birth to him and his stillborn brother, to he and his older sister being abused by their alcoholic father. John started dabbling in magic as a child, and he became more experienced as an adult while hanging out in London-based occult circles and traveling the world. Unfortunately, John Constantine’s first attempt to use his magic in a heroic way went horribly wrong, as it ended with a young girl named Astra Logue being dragged to hell, which left him guilt-ridden for years. 

John Constantine’s spell-casting is enough to make him formidable, but he has many other tools at his disposal that make him a force to be reckoned with. However, there are times when John’s magic simply isn’t enough, which is when he turns to arguably his greatest tool: manipulation, using just his words to fool both demons and allies to get what he wants.

In 2010, John Constantine was thrown into the main DC Comics universe at the end of the Brightest Day event, and when the New 52 reboot happened a year later, he was one of the starring characters in the Justice League Dark series. As far as John Constantine’s romantic relationships go, some of his notable pairings in the comics include Zatanna (who harnesses a different kind of magic), fellow sorcerer Nick Necro, Lucifer Morningstar and Stanley Manor.

Keanu Reeves' John Constantine looking off as tie is blown around by the wind

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

John Constantine In Film

In 2005, 20 years after John Constantine debuted in the comics, he made his way to the big screen in, well, Constantine, staring Keanu Reeves. The movie followed John, who was suffering from terminal lung cancer, helping Angela Dodson, a troubled LAPD officer who was trying to prove that her sister’s death wasn’t suicide. Among the other familiar Constantine-affiliated characters this movie brought in were Shia LaBeouf’s Chas Kramer (known in the comics as Francis “Chas” Chandler), Tilda Swinton’s Archangel Gabriel, Djimon Hounsou’s Papa Midnite and Peter Stormare’s Lucifer Morningstar.

Constantine received mixed reviews and made $230 million worldwide off a budget somewhere between $70-$100 million. Although Keanu Reeves and Constantine director Francis Lawrence have expressed interest in making a sequel all these years later, between the direction the DCEU is going, their busy schedules and John Constantine’s future in the TV realm, it’s doubtful this well ever happen. And speaking of TV…

Matt Ryan as John Constantine in Legends of Tomorrow

(Image credit: The CW)

John Constantine In TV

Outside of popping up in a few episodes of the animated series Justice League Action, John Constantine has solely been represented on TV so far through Matt Ryan’s portrayal in the Arrowverse. We first met this version of John in his own TV series on NBC, but unfortunately, the show was canceled after just one 13-episode season.

Then in November 2015, Matt Ryan reprised John Constantine for the Arrow Season 4 episode “Haunted,” with the character appearing in both the present-day storyline and flashback sequences. Two years later, he resurfaced as a recurring character in Legends of Tomorrow Season 3. From there, John was upgraded to the main cast in Season 4, a position he held until the end of Season 6, although Ryan remained on the show in Season 7 to play early 20th century scientist Gwyn Davies.

Matt Ryan not only looked just like the original John Constantine, but also excelled at nailing the character’s personality and manipulative nature. Legends of Tomorrow even briefly explored the character having to endure terminal lung cancer. Legends of Tomorrow also adapted John’s past with Astra Logue (played by Olivia Swann), who started out as a villain, but later joined the Legends. The “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover also revealed that Constantine goes back with Tom Ellis’ Lucifer Morningstar from the Lucifer TV series.

As far as John Constantine’s romantic relationships go in the Arrowverse, besides an early tryst with Sara Lance, Matt Ryan’s version was notably paired with two people in the Arrowverse. In Legends of Tomorrow Season 4, we learned that John sent his old boyfriend Desmond to Hell when he became possessed by Neron as part of a deal to keep the demon from taking John’s soul. Eventually Neron was lured out of Desmond’s body, but Desmond had no wish to continue where he’d left off with John. Then during Seasons 5 and 6, John got cozy with Zari Tarazi, a.k.a. the new timeline version of Zari, not to be confused with the original Zari Tomaz. Sadly, that relationship didn’t work out either.

It’s doubtful we’ll ever seen the Arrowverse’s John Constantine again, not just because Legends of Tomorrow has been canceled, but also because there’s a new TV version of the character on the way. J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company are making a Constantine TV series for HBO Max as part of its Justice League Dark franchise. As of this writing, it hasn’t been officially announced who will play the new John Constantine, although The Illuminerdi claimed in April that Gangs of London’s Sope Dirisu was being eyed for the role.

John Constantine in animated Justice League Dark movie surrounded by yellow smoke

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Animation)

John Constantine In Animated Movies

Along with playing John Constantine in live-action, Matt Ryan also voiced the DC Animated Movie Universe version of the character. This take on John Constantine was introduced in 2016’s Justice League Dark, and later starred in the Constantine: City of Demons web series, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War and the DC Showcase short Constantine: The House of Mystery. This version of Constantine lines up pretty closely with his comic book counterpart, and as far as his romantic relationship goes, it’s mentioned in Apokolips War that he used to date King Shark. 

Unlike the Arrowverse’s John Constantine, it’s possible that the DCAMU’s John Constantine might resurface someday, but explaining why will require going into major SPOILERS for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War and Constantine: The House of Mystery. At the end of the former movie, John persuaded to The Flash to run back in time and create another Flashpoint so that all the devastation on Earth would be undone. Then the latter short film revealed that he was locked in the House of Mystery by The Spectre so he could avoid being punished for messing with the fabric of time. You can watch the DC Showcase short for yourself to see how John escaped that Doctor Who-inspired hellscape in the first place, but by the end of the story, John was dragged through a large portal, begging Spectre to kill him because of what awaited him on the other side. With an ending like that, it’s hard to imaging that this is the last we see of him.

All this was a basic overview of John Constantine, so if you want to dive deeper with the character, check out his comic book appearances on DC Universe Infinite or watch some of his adventures in other media with your HBO Max subscription.

Adam Holmes
Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.