'Constantine: City of Demons', Executive Produced by HUMANITAS Trustee Greg Berlanti, Shines in Animated Form
Leave it to a trickster like John Constantine to weasel his way out of network cancellation. NBC may have pulled the plug on its Constantine series in 2015, but the character himself has found a second home in the Arrow-verse as an ally to heroes like Green Arrow and White Canary. Actor Matt Ryan has even been bumped up to series regular status for Legends of Tomorrow's fourth season (if it's renewed). And now adding to Constantine's good fortune, he's got a series all his own again. Sure, Constantine: City of Demons isn't the full-fledged continuation of the NBC series fans might be hoping for, but it serves as a fun showcase for an always compelling character.
City of Demons is ostensibly the latest animated Arrowverse spinoff (following Vixen and The Freedom Fighters: Ray), but it really plays like a mash-up of influences from Arrow, the live-action Constantine series and the animated Justice League Dark movie. That may be because it features input from writers and producers from all three projects. Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter and David Goyer all serve as executive producers, while Justice League Dark story writer J.M DeMatteis penned the script. Whether it's directly tied to any of those projects feels irrelevant in the end, as the goal is clearly to craft an accessible, standalone story starring Ryan's John Constantine.
As such, City of Demons doesn't do anything radically different with Constantine or his supporting cast. Viewers familiar with any incarnation of the character will find plenty of well-worn elements at work. We see Constantine wrestle with his demons (literally and figuratively), smoke and drink his way into oblivion, join forces with his faithful partner/driver Chas and bump elbows with supernatural beings. City of Demons doesn't show much ambition from a plot standpoint, but there's a reason these tropes have stuck around DC's Hellblazer comics as long as they have. Constantine is an inherently fascinating character, one who generally tries to do good even as those closest to him tend to pay the price for his transgressions. The cost of magical power - and of Constantine's reckless behavior - looks to be a running theme in this series.
It's not hard to see why Ryan has become the de facto voice of Constantine in recent years. He channels all sides of this complex protagonist - his cocky charm, his quiet self-loathing and his destructive pride. Those qualities shine through in animated form as much as they do in live-action. And even though Charles Halford doesn't reprise the Chas role from the live-action series, Damian O'Hare (Justice League Action) makes for a worthy replacement. The banter between Constantine and Chas - who in this version are depicted as estranged, newly reunited friends - is easily the most appealing element right off the bat. The voice cast is generally solid, but Ryan and O'Hare are the two standouts so far.
The emphasis on Constantine's shady past is also welcome. These early segments offer a glimpse of a much younger Constantine and Chas and touch on the infamous Newcastle incident that's such a defining piece of Constantine's history. That alone may make this series vital watching for any Legends of Tomorrow fans curious to learn more about the character's background.
Visually, the series is on par with most of DC's direct-to-video movies in terms of both animation quality and style. Considering that this is a free web series, that's a pretty high standard to meet. The animation style is a little cleaner than I'd like given the seedy nature of Constantine's world, but it does capture the supernatural horror vibe well. The series makes the most of the animated format, delivering supernatural action on a level that would be much more difficult to pull off in live-action. The same goes for the copious displays of violence. Like Justice League Dark before it, City of Demons isn't afraid to push the animated DCU in a more grisly and blood-soaked direction. With this franchise, why not?
In short, this first half hour-worth of material serves as a promising start for the series, albeit a fairly slow one. By the end, there's only a vague sense of what Constantine's true mission is or what the scope of the series will ultimately be. Ideally, the remainder of the series can push the character in more unexpected directions and maybe even prove as important to Legends of Tomorrow: Season 4 as Vixen has for Season 3.
While its connections to the Arrowverse or the live-action Constantine are dubious, Constantine: City of Demons succeeds on its own merits. These early chapters build a straightforward but enjoyable conflict featuring the wily magician, and they serve as a reminder that Matt Ryan is a terrific fit for this character in either live-action or animation.