Matt Ryan has played so many iterations of DC’s occult detective John Constantine that it can become quite confusing to keep them all straight. From getting his start on NBC's live-action and short-lived Constantine series, the actor then made the jump to The CW's Arrow-verse with a one-off appearance on Arrow, then moved to animation where he voiced Constantine in 2017’s Justice League Dark before returning to The CW with a few appearances this season on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. With the recent Legends of Tomorrow season four renewal, Ryan is now on board in that shared universe as a series regular.
But before he can join the Waverider full-time, he's once again bringing Constantine to life in a new form on CW Seed's animated web series Constantine: City of Demons. This might be the most reprieves that any canceled character has gotten in the world of TV, but if you think about it, it makes sense that the demonologist and occult expert would be the one able to escape certain death so many times.
Now that the first five episodes of Constantine: City of Demons have debuted on CW Seed, the question remains: Does the webseries have any ties to NBC's live-action series or Ryan's continued arc in the Arrow-verse? At first glance, surprisingly no. And after a second watch, it's clear that Constantine: City of Demons is all the better for it.
It shouldn't take multiple tries to get an adaptation of a comic book character right—especially one as beloved as John Constantine—and that's a privilege so rarely granted for a reason. But thankfully Ryan has been given time and time again to polish the complex, layered character haunted by demons both inner and physical. And while Constantine: City of Demons isn't the full-length series fans may have been hoping for ever since Constantine's cancelation, it's truly the best version of the DC Comics character yet.
In animation, he's not bound by any visual constraints, which is a benefit for a character so tied to magic and mysticism and usually on a broadcast budget. Ryan is channeling all the heavy emotion, wry wit and self-loathing sarcasm directly into his voice, letting the character shine in his performance in a way that feels natural and free for the first time. Despite being animated, there's a lot less scenery chewing and it plays more serious and dramatic than ever before. There's an added air of true doom and gloom, raising the stakes in an already life-or-death world.
This iteration of Constantine feels more like an amalgamation and improvement of all the versions that came before. With episodes averaging five to six minutes total (which is typical for #DCTV on CW Seed), the only complaint is that this series is too short. The first five episodes introduce the main story based on the HELLBLAZER comics, with Constantine's estranged best friend Chas (Damian O'Hare, taking over for Charles Halford) seeking out help in saving his daughter from the clutches of a demon.
The first episodes only begin to introduce the real mission upon which the webseries will follow, but it already hits upon all the major beats that Constantine fans will immediately recognize: Constantine's ego causing him more problems than solutions, his incredible self-hatred for all the mistakes he's made as a result and his inability to walk away from being the hero. With an early episode diving deep into Constantine's early days experimenting with magic and his lifelong friendship with Chas, this webseries gives a much deeper and wider picture of what's shaped Constantine into who he is now than all the other versions combined—impressive, considering it has the least amount of time to do so.
Perhaps that's why Constantine: City of Demons is the Constantine adaptation for which fans have been oh-so-impatiently waiting. The creators know the time constraints in advance, and as a result, are only including the best of the best in the story instead of trying to cram too much in at once. Taking the time to pause and explore every emotion Constantine feels, even when a literal demon is attempting to set up Hell on Earth, is a bold move and it pays off. Comic book fans come for the action, but they always stay for the humanity behind Constantine's one-liners and quips. The exploration into the Newcastle incident—a touchstone in the Constantine lore—is a series highlight, and shows the creators aren't afraid to mix the old with the new.
As the perfect companion piece to Constantine's continued live-action arc on Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine: City of Demons should be required viewing for any fans of the occult expert and demonologist, or even those unfamiliar with the chain smoking, trench coat wearing new addition to the Waverider. With only five short episodes available on CW Seed so far, there's no telling where this iteration of the character is going. But regardless of how (or if ever) it ties in to the growing Arrow-verse mythology, City of Demons finally tackles the seemingly impossible task of adapting Constantine the right way.
Watch the first five episodes of Constantine: City of Demons right now on CW Seed.
Sydney Bucksbaum writes about #DCTV and the DC Universe for DCComics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SydneyBucksbaum.