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Welsh actor Matt Ryan wasn’t a big reader of comic books when he was younger, something he now regrets as he takes on the title role in “Constantine” – the latest in the growing list of TV shows based on a comic book character.
Luckily for Ryan, he’s got a comic book sidekick to help him.
“I have a friend who’s a huge comic book fan, so much so that he actually writes his own comics now. For years, he’d been telling me about John Constantine,” Ryan says. “When the audition came around, he sat me down, and he was like, ‘John’s got to be like this.’ I was like, ‘All right. All right. I'll try my best.’ ”
Constantine’s story started in “The Saga of the Swamp Thing” No. 37 as the creation of Alan Moore, John Totlenben and Steve Bissette. He eventually moved into his own comics that were first called “Hellblazer” and then “Constantine.”
No matter where the character appeared, Constantine always has been a cynical occult detective trying to do some good with his life despite his soul already being damned to hell. Until he has to cash in, Constantine travels the country battling supernatural terrors.
Since being cast, Ryan has had a chance to pour over the three decades of volumes of tales of the demon fighter.
The show’s executive producer, David S. Goyer, is a longtime fan of the character, and he even once wrote a letter to DC Comics that was printed in an edition of “Swamp Thing.”
“The thing that I always loved about Constantine is he was a smartass. So in a world of superheroes and a world of demons and angels, he was just a complete smartass. He didn’t have any superpowers. He was just a working-class bloke. He had a wicked sense of humor,” Goyer says. “I also felt like it was someone that would sort of translate into television without us having to change the core DNA of the character.”
The show, which premieres Friday night, plans to handle certain aspects of the character carefully, such as his chain smoking habit. The series won’t back away from that trait, but it will be careful not to glorify smoking. As for Constantine’s sexual nature, Ryan says viewers will just have to wait and see.
Goyer’s no stranger to the process of turning a comic book character into a TV or film project. His writing credits include the made-for-TV movie “Nick Fury: Agent of Shield” and “Blade: The Series.” He provided the story for the film screenplay of “The Dark Knight” and penned the scripts for “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” and “Man of Steel.”
The cast also includes Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) and Charles Halford (“True Detective”).
Constantine isn’t as well known as Superman or Batman, but Goyer’s convinced that because he’s one of the “great characters of modern literature,” those who don’t know the character will be won over if they give the show a chance.
“He’s one of the most beloved characters in comic books and a fantastic character. In the same way that there are all these different interpretations of Batman on film and on TV and animated, this is another take on John,” he says.