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Credit: The CW

John Constantine's long journey to being out

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Feb 11, 2019

Self-proclaimed “accomplished warlock,” expert exorcist, and generally sarcastic Brit John Constantine has had a rocky path to coming out—not necessarily within his demon-filled world, but in our world, the world of publishing and TV production and way too many straight people saying, “Maybe later.”

Luckily, when Constantine returned to the screen during Season 3 of Legends of Tomorrow, he returned with all the swagger he always had, but with a very exciting addition: He flirted with everybody.

Constantine joined the CW series that already boasts substantive queer representation both among cast members and characters — and it’s only gotten queerer with Constantine aboard the Waverider. In honor of his TV coming out, and my personal joy over finally seeing a bisexual man join the team, let's revisit the long journey to coming out that John Constantine has endured.

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Credit: DC Comics

In the comic books, Constantine has been out (and sometimes proud) since Hellblazer #51 back in 1992 when he offhandedly narrates, “Girlfriends, the odd boyfriend… they all have a nasty habit of walking out on me.”

Ten years later in Hellblazer #170, titled “Ashes and Dust in the City of Angels,” Constantine’s relationship with a man takes center stage for the first time. In that narrative, Constantine’s attraction to said man is deeply tied up in a revenge mission, a problematic and harmful stereotype in which bi folks are primarily attracted to multiple genders as a tool to hurt or manipulate others. (C’mon, people. Who has the time to make their sexuality about revenge and manipulation?)

2015’s Constantine: The Hellblazer presented a version of Constantine who is much more comfortable with his sexuality. We even get to see him flirt with Blythe, a bewitching demon, and date the lovely, stable, normal Oliver. Constantine and Oliver have a short, sweet relationship that ends as all of Constantine’s relationships do: badly. Not like, "sick to my stomach, can’t stop thinking about him" badly, as in "both Oliver’s children get sucked into hell" badly. Like, "Oliver offers his soul to save them and then Constantine and his kids watch him scream as he’s dragged into hell" badly.

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Credit: NBC

In the eponymous show, which aired on NBC from 2014 to 2015, Constantine isn’t really very sexual at all, which is a huge shift from the comics where he'd been bedding and fighting humans and demons alike. As the single season of TV progresses, a more and more recognizable Constantine appears onscreen, one who smokes and curses and will willingly sacrifice anyone to keep the dark forces at bay.

We also meet his ex, who is a woman, and he flirts with Zed, another woman who is set up as his love interest (and was a love interest in the comic books as well). Though Constantine’s sexuality was muted in the show in general, it was certainly implied that his attractions headed in exactly one direction.

Before Constantine even aired, executive producer Daniel Cerone stated that they would not be allowing Constantine’s bisexuality to be a part of the character in their adaptation. “Within this tome of three decades, there might have been one or two [comic book] issues where he’s seen getting out of bed with a man. So, [maybe] 20 years from now? But there are no immediate plans.”

Fortunately, Cerone has had no involvement in the making of Legends of Tomorrow or any of the series within the Arrowverse, which have by and large been exemplars for how to portray queer characters and employ queer actors. 

Legends of Tomorrow Constantine and Sara

Credit: The CW

In Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine reads as a more authentic portrayal of the beloved comic book character. He’s flirty, funny, hard-drinking, and definitely attracted to more than one gender.

When Constantine first appears in Season 3, Episode 10, “Daddy Darhkest,” he compliments fellow bisexual sexpot Captain Sara Lance on her crew, calling them a “dishy lot.” (British for a “sexy group” for all you non-Anglophiles.) He proceeds to flirt with almost the entire crew, focusing first on Amaya Jiwe, aka Vixen, and then on Leo, the Captain Cold from Earth X. Finding out they both have boyfriends, Constantine redirects his attention. Later in the episode, Constantine and Sara get busy in a mental institution (where else?). It’s a casual moment of comfort and connection for both of them that leads them to briefly argue over who seduced whom.

It’s a small initial gesture to have Constantine flirting with folks of multiple genders, but there’s something powerful about the subtlety—particularly given that it’s not so subtle later. Part of me wanted some big declaration and confirmation of Constantine’s bisexuality when he first appeared on Legends of Tomorrow, but the other part of me knew that we need to see queer characters on screen who aren’t just coming out or fighting bigotry. 

In these interactions, Constantine just gets to be himself, in a way we hadn’t yet seen on screen. The scene where he flirts with the crew also reads as a callback to the original way Constantine came out in the comic books with three little words, except this time he used five. When flirting with Leo, Constantine asks, “What’s your story then, handsome?”

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Credit: The CW

Don’t worry, though — we do get a bisexual love triangle, just not the typical kind. Later in the same season, in Episode 15, “Necromancing the Stone,” Ava Sharpe, Sara’s new girlfriend, recruits Constantine to help her when the Death Totem possesses Sara. Having only just learned of their tryst, Ava can’t help but be both jealous of and baffled by Constantine. They share a few tense moments as they discuss the best way to help Sara. He says, “We both have excellent taste in damaged women,” and Ava is quick to clarify that Sara is not damaged. Toward the end of the episode, after Sara has been freed from the Death Totem, Constantine tells her that Ava is good for her and cautions her from hurting her.

The whole scenario is a wonderful inversion of the bisexual stereotype of all bisexuals being stuck in a love triangle with one queer person and one straight person. In this case, there are two bisexuals — TWO! — and one queer woman. Our expectations are subverted, and what could have been a tired trope is made new as both Constantine and Ava care for and prioritize Sara.

Legends of Tomorrow's fourth season has allowed Constantine’s narrative to evolve even further. At the beginning of the season, when Constantine is recruited to the Waverider to help with what can only be called Magic Gone Wild, it is revealed that he and Gary Green, a Time Agent who works with Ava, have been enjoying one another’s company as friends-with-benefits. While their fling is a side story — the bulk of the story is occupied with exploring the new dynamics of the team now that Constantine has joined — Constantine’s sexuality is affirmed, if not shown onscreen.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Starting in Episode 7, “Hell No, Dolly!” and continuing in Episode 8, “Legends of To-Meow-Meow” we learn that Constantine has spent the six months between when he first helped the Legends and when he joined the Waverider madly in love with his sexy boyfriend, Desmond. (They even rent a very cute, airy apartment together in New Orleans where they just bone and make brunch and look at each other longingly.)

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Credit: CW / DC

Of course, Desmond and Constantine’s romance doesn’t last. Their bliss is cut short when a very nasty, very angry demon drags Desmond into hell, leaving Constantine heartbroken, distraught, and ready to be recruited to join the Legends. But, hey! Now Constantine is in a time ship and by golly, he can fix everything! (As if the crew of the Waverider hasn’t tried the exact same thing multiple times.) Let’s just say, the change he makes has unforeseen consequences and Constantine realizes he has to find another way to save his boyfriend from damnation (but, like, literally). In a remarkably empowering move, a kiss between Constantine and Desmond saves the world, and the timeline, from collapsing.

What a turn of events! Constantine goes from being closeted by a producer to saving the world by kissing his boyfriend, from being a flagrant reminder of how little people care about the lives of bisexual people to being a powerful representation of a bisexual man.

Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that the first adaptation, the straightwashed adaptation, just wasn’t as good. The story wasn’t as strong, his motivations were unclear, and all in all, it was just okay. But in Legends of Tomorrow , Constantine has come to life. He’s still a loner jerk, he’s still too sarcastic, he’s still a freaking mess, but all of that makes sense now. There’s a reason he doesn’t want to join a team. There’s a reason he’s running from the past. There’s a reason Constantine is Constantine. Without his bisexuality, he’s not Constantine and the story falls flat.

Let that be a lesson to creators everywhere: Be true to queer characters and you’ll be rewarded tenfold.

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