DC Showcase: Constantine – The House of Mystery writer Ernie Altbacker: “He’s the b*stard with a heart of gold”

DC Showcase: Constantine – The House of Mystery writer Ernie Altbacker tells us why we hate to love John Constantine.

The latest WB Animated release DC Showcase: Constantine – The House of Mystery includes four shorts, one of which is a brand new adventure for our favourite magical cheeky chap Constantine (played by Matt Ryan who reprises his live-action and animated role).

Taking place after the events of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, the new short finds Constantine waking up in the eerie House of Mystery with no recollection of how he got there. Fortunately, Zatanna (Camilla Luddington also back in the role) and his friends are all there. Unfortunately, with every door that Constantine walks through, they have a bad habit of turning into demons and ripping him to shreds, over and over again!

Directed by Matt Peters (Injustice), we go behind the doors of the House Of Mystery with writer Ernie Altbacker (who also wrote Apokolips War) to find out what’s in store for the Hellblazer…

What was it like coming back to the world of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War for this new short?

It was awesome. We got to do this extra little thing, this coda to the movie’s continuity. We didn’t know we were going to do it when we were ending Justice League: Apokolips War. But then Jim Krieg who kind of runs the writing was like, we’re doing a short and I want it to be a House Of Mystery, but starring Constantine so I’d like you to write it. And also we could work in a little more of what happened after Apokolips War? Do you think we should do it? And I was like, ‘hell yes we should do that!’.

Does it tie up many stories from Justice League Dark: Apokolips War?

No. It does harken back to it, so it’s canon for that, but it does have to be its own standalone episode. Like in a Twilight Zone or an EC Horror, where you can just end with a character opening the door and screaming, and you don’t know what it’s going to be and you’re like ‘oh my God, that’s got to be the rotting corpse of his wife come back to take him to the swamp!’. So did one of those and it was just great to do!

What was it like having Matt Ryan back as Constantine? We’re assuming you just hear his voice at this stage when you’re writing…

I do! It’s pretty easy. I just go: ‘What would Matt Ryan say as Constantine?’ I’m psyched that I got a chance to do some more. I hear sometimes that he goes, ‘oh, I’ve retired from it’. But I think I think if there was another Constantine script, and they asked him to do it, I think he’d jumped back in!

Matt Ryan is back as Constantine.

What do you think it is about Constantine that we love? He’s not exactly your typical hero…

He’s an antihero. He’s the bastard with a heart of gold but the heart of gold is very much underneath the bastard!

I write Constantine sometimes as a giant a-hole that can be super unlikable. But then there’s always some sort of plan, just like Batman always has a plan. John Constantine will bring a person along and use him as bait for the demon he needs to track and that person doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad person. It’s like ‘well, he’s got the proper blood, and this will save lives because this demon needs to be trapped. So, my buddy, I’m sorry, your number is up!’.

So he is a tough character to write about where you’re going to root for him. That’s why the other heroes dislike Constantine. They’re like ‘he’s always got an angle and who knows if he’s gonna sacrifice one of us’. But he does not care about that, he does not care about being well-liked.

This short actually gave me a chance to make him sympathetic. To make him go through so much that you’re like, ‘oh my God. No one should have to go through this. This punishment is too much even for that a-hole. It’s too much!’. So that’s what I was going for – making a sympathetic character while keeping his bastardliness.

Matt Ryan did it perfectly and Camilla Luddington as Zatanna. Now I hear her as Zatanna. I’d really love to see her actually do a lot more of this. There should be a Zatanna movie!

What was it like putting Constantine through all those different trials in the short? Every door he opens turns into something horrific…

Oh, well, that was the fun part. Jim Krieg and I talked a lot about this movie. Another thing is that he is a big fan of Doctor Who. There’s a Doctor Who episode with Peter Capaldi called ‘Heaven Sent’ where he’s stuck in a castle and constantly being killed. So [Jim was] like ‘wouldn’t that be a great gimmick to maybe get people on Constantine’s side? That he’s just getting murdered… A lot?’ And I’m like, “yeah! This is great!’

How did you come up with so many different ways to kill him?

We needed so many ways to kill him! So we were just like ‘hey, how about some funny ones?’ So I put those in the script and I think there were about two dozen but then you get the animators on it and now they want to think up some new ways of how he dies too [laughs]!

It was quite the fun time, putting those out there. All the animators did a great job on that. It was definitely one of the fun things about it. If you can describe a person getting murdered several dozen times as a fun thing!

DC Showcase: Constantine – The House of Mystery is available from Warner Bros now.