The Sandman spoilers follow.
John Constantine has been knocking around the fictional realm for a while. The occult detective has jumped from DC comic to DC comic, to various adaptations on both television and movies.
There’s some real love out there for Constantine.
This latest iteration of the character sees them flip from John to Johanna Constantine in a gender-swap move by Neil Gaiman in the adaptation of his The Sandman.
Yet a trip to 1782 in episode six of The Sandman blurs the lines between this seemingly straightforward transformation.
Back then we find a Lady Johanna Constantine (John’s counterpart) attempting to coerce the King of Dreams into giving her immortality. Prior to this flashback there was also present-day Johanna Constantine giving Dream hell as he attempts to elicit her help from her.
Both Constantines are played by Doctor Who‘s Jenna Coleman, leading some to wonder if the present-day Johanna is the descendant of Lady Constantine. This would make her a like-for-like counterpart to John’s descendant of her, who already exists within the Constantine universe.
The other theory rumbling around is that she could be the original Lady Constantine, who has somehow managed to achieve immortality.
This isn’t a stretch as John/Johanna Constantine is known for being well versed in the arts of magic.
If confusion be your middle name then it’s about time we clear things up once and for all.
Who is Johanna Constantine in The Sandman?
If you believed Johanna Constantine had stumbled on the elixir of life then you’re barking up the wrong tree. While it’s a plausible assumption, Coleman has confirmed it to be incorrect.
During an interview with DigitalSpy she said: “No.” Point blank – simple. She elaborated further, saying, “I think this is where Neil and Allan [Heinberg] came up with the idea, because obviously we have Lady Joanna Constantine, who had played this series as well. So it’s the idea being: why don’t we have the direct ancestor? Hence Johanna Constantine.”
When explaining his decision for the character shake-up, Gaiman told slashfilm:
“When we looked at what we were going to do in this whole series, we knew that we were going to have Lady Johanna Constantine meeting Dream in a pub.
“If we’re going to do that and we want a really classy actress to portray her, then we’re going to have to give that actress more to do than just meet him once in a pub.
“Given that there really weren’t many women in the beginning, the idea that we could find one person and have them do both, just seemed nice and straightforward.”
Who is John Constantine?
And how does he compare to Johanna?
It’s a loaded question considering the many iterations that exist of this character.
There’s Keanu Reeves’ 2005 take in the movie Constantine. A brooding, cynical man with terminal lung cancer and who believed himself damned for attempting suicide.
This light and cheery version is followed by Matt Ryan’s demon hunter and master of the occult in the 2014 television series of the same name.
However if we were to hark back to the original source material John is tall and blonde-haired with a rock’n’roll edge. His look of him was based on Sting, as a way of getting the musician into DC comics (starting with ‘Swamp Thing’ issue 25).
It wasn’t long before the foul-mouthed, chain-smoking occult detective found his feet in his own comic ‘Hellblazer.’ He was an anti-social, bisexual anti-hero who had a knack for magic, rituals, curses and exorcism. Remind you of anyone?
It seems a Constantine by any other name would really still smell as sweet. Despite the gender change John and Johanna share more core similarities than some may assume – detachment and lack of commitment are key defining character traits of both.
In The Sandman, this is first hinted at through Johanna’s relationship history with ex-girlfriend Rachel (Eleanor Fanyinka). The emotionally stunted Johanna ghosted Rachel by leaving the home they unofficially shared and never coming back. A brave excuse. “Because [love] never ends well.”
She does pad this out by implying that she fears for the safety of her loved ones owing to her extremely dangerous vocation and claims it was safer for Rachel if she left.
As Coleman explained to DigitalSpy: “A lot of people who know are familiar with Constantine. We see her very much going about her day-to-day business, and now she’s at the point where she’s kind of at the top of her business.
She’s trading life. She’s the exorcist to the Royal Family. She’s doing well for herself.
“But the further and further and further she progresses, the more contact that she has in her occult detective life, the more it’s costing her, and the more people that she’s losing, and the more wounded and tortured and lonely, I think, she gets because everyone she comes close to, she’s losing.”
She added: “The more vulnerability that she has, the more she has to lock herself up, and armor herself away.
“I think that’s where the cynicism and disenchantment, but also wryness and humor – using humor all the time to mask pain. I think that’s where the meeting of Constantine and Dream (Tom Sturridge) is so beautiful, because Dream sees straight through to her dreams, where she doesn’t open the door to anybody.”
Gaiman admits that Coleman’s take on the character is the best he’s seen to date.
“I think Jenna is the best Constantine on screen so far, and weirdly somehow the truest, because she both has the humor and the attractiveness and that sleazy, doomed quality.
“You know that if you fall in love with her, you are dead and demon-fodder and you also know that you can’t help falling in love with her.”
This is a call back to the fact that both have experienced doomed relationships leading to the death of their respective loved ones.
When it comes to Johanna’s history we don’t really know much beyond the fact that Morpheus has had many dealings with the Constantine family in the past.
John’s lineage, however, is more notably established and tracks back to something called the Laughing Magician bloodline. His ancestors of him were renowned for trickery, which even allowed them to fool God and the Devil themselves.
It’s not clear whether or not this will trickle down into the televised character just yet. As mentioned, we’ve barely scratched the surface with Johanna…
The Sandman is now available to stream on Netflix.
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