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Has NBC ruined ‘Constantine’ by straightwashing its protagonist?
Constantine was one of the most high-profile LGBT characters in DC Comics history. Not anymore.
Thanks to network TV broadcast rules, we already know that John Constantine probably won’t be smoking onscreen in NBC’s Constantine. Now, showrunner Daniel Cerone has also confirmed that Constantine won’t be bisexual either. This has less to do with NBC guidelines and more to do with the show’s writers having decided that Constantine’s sexuality is an unimportant facet of his character.
When asked whether Constantine would be bisexual in the new TV series, Cerone pointed out that because relatively few of the character’s love interests had been men, they weren’t planning to include Constantine’s bisexuality in the show.
“In those comic books, John Constantine aged in real time,” said Cerone. “Within this tome of three decades [of comics] there might have been one or two issues where he’s seen getting out of bed with a man. So [maybe] 20 years from now? But there are no immediate plans.”
To the many fans who appreciated the widely accepted canon detail that John Constantine is bisexual, this is not great news.
The weird thing is that it would’ve been easy for the new TV show to have sidestepped the issue entirely. Technically, Cerone is right: It did take a while for Constantine be seen getting into bed with another guy in the Hellblazer comics. Constantine generally seems to be attracted more often to women than he is to men. Plus, his first appearance was in 1985, with Hellblazer becoming a regular series in 1988. By 1992 he was already mentioning former boyfriends (issue #51), but it took a few more years before his bisexuality became more overt, mostly because in the 1990s, it would have been more controversial.
Cerone’s “maybe in 20 years” comment refers to the fact that it took until 2002 for Hellblazer to show John Constantine in a full-blown love scene with another man. But in the context of a TV series airing in 2014, it would be perfectly in keeping with comics canon for Constantine to date three or four women over the course of the show’s first season and just make an offhand comment about having dated men in the past. If John Constantine could talk about having “the odd boyfriend” back in 1992, then a TV show in the 21st century should be able to do something similar, fans argued when the news broke.
I’m disappointed that @NBCConstantine won’t be sticking the character and making him bisexual. Bummer.
— //CG (@cgumprecht) July 14, 2014
Hey @nbc one of the major villains in the Constantine comic recently is john’s ex-boyfriend. But sure, making him bisexual isn’t important.
— Maleficent Rea (@vitiosuslepos) July 14, 2014
apparently @NBC are taking a canonically bisexual character and making him straight in @NBCConstantine. what the actual fuck?
— Julia S (@affirmednothing) July 14, 2014
If @NBCConstantine thinks LGBTQ representation doesn’t matter and bisexual erasure is ok, they’re not worth my time. Not gonna watch! >:|
— grasonas (@grasonas) July 14, 2014
Both Daniel Cerone and writer/producer David S. Goyer have spent several interviews talking about their battle to circumvent NBC standards and get Constantine to smoke on TV. The result is that he’ll be “a smoker,” but we’ll mostly just see him stubbing out cigarettes instead of actually smoking them.
This is a smart workaround for a character who smokes constantly throughout the Hellblazer comics. However, just like how Constantine can still be a smoker even when we don’t see him inhale, he’s also still bisexual even when he’s not making out with another guy. So it shouldn’t have been too difficult for Constantine’s writers insert one or two casual references to his bisexuality, rather than ruling it out for the next 20 years.
Constantine’s sexuality has been a significant part of the character’s appeal for many fans, and he’s one of the most high-profile LGBT characters in DC Comics history. Back in March, LGBT media site The Backlot even asked, “How straightwashed will NBC’s Constantine be?” after selecting him as No. 2 on their list of the 10 best gay and bisexual sci-fi characters.
Sadly, it isn’t a huge surprise that Constantine’s bisexuality has been erased from the new TV series, because male bisexuality is regularly erased from popular media in general. Even if Constantine’s showrunners decide to backtrack on Cerone’s recent comments, new viewers will assume that Constantine is straight unless the show states otherwise.
Honestly, this isn’t just a disservice to longtime fans of the comics, but it may turn away potential viewers who aren’t familiar with the character. The urban fantasy genre is already overflowing with angry unshaven men who fight the forces of darkness: Just look at Supernatural and the Dresden Files books, both of which involve modern-day antiheroes in scenarios that often seem inspired by Hellblazer itself.
The main thing that sets John Constantine apart from from the many other “awkward but tough guy with a dark past” noir fantasy protagonists, is the fact that he is meant to represent the counterculture. He’s a former punk, he usually has no money, he often either seems to be homeless or is living in crappy apartments, and he’s a noir antihero character who doesn’t give a shit if people know that he’s bisexual. Remove one or two of these traits, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell John Constantine apart from the ever-growing number of similar characters.
So with comparisons to Supernatural being an inevitable concern for NBC’s Constantine, the fact that John Constantine is bisexual should be a feature, not a bug. After all, good luck finding a bisexual protagonist in Supernatural.
Photo via constantine/Tumblr
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.