DC SHOWCASE Interview With CONSTANTINE: THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY Writer Ernie Altbacker (Exclusive)

Constantine: The House of Mystery writer Ernie Altbacker takes a spoilery deep dive into the short, sharing various insights while discussing Apokolips War's aftermath and his hopes for the HBO Max series.

Interviews Opinion

Yesterday, Warner Bros. Animation released DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short films that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat LegendsInjustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members. 

As the title suggests, The House of Mystery is the main event, and it most definitely doesn't disappoint. Taking place in the aftermath of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, this story serves as an epilogue to that era of storytelling...while potentially setting the stage for another Constantine adventure.

Last month, we sat down with writer Ernie Altbacker for a spoiler-filled discussion about bringing this crazy story to life. In the interview below, he takes us through his approach to writing The House of Mystery, and delves into everything from killing John Constantine (repeatedly) to what he enjoys most about this character, and writing Hellblazer with actor Matt Ryan at the forefront of his mind.

We also hear from Ernie - whose credits include Injustice and Batman: Hush - about his hopes for the live-action Constantine project that's coming to HBO Max. Trust us when we say you'll be on board with his vision for that! Finally, he weighs in on a potential Plastic Man DC Showcase short, all while sharing his take on whether the pre-Flashpoint timeline is one we could return to down the line.
 

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How soon after you wrapped work on Justice League Dark: Apokolips War did you know you'd be able to return for this epilogue? 

We didn’t know this would happen. It was just an opportunity to do it because we’d wanted to do a House of Mystery story with Constantine and wanted to make it very much like The Twilight Zone. Then, we had the idea of harkening back to the universe that James Tucker oversaw. It just worked out that way, but [producer] Jim Krieg is also a big Doctor Who fan and, at that time, it was Peter Capaldi. There’s an episode which is a Moffat written one called “Heaven Sent” and he’s stuck in this castle getting killed. So, we figured out how to also incorporate that idea [Laughs] and it was then a case of exploring how John was getting slapped down by the cosmos because of his role in Flashpoint. It all just worked out from there. 

What would you say was the biggest challenge when it came to finding all those different ways for John to die in this short? You get really inventive…

[Laughs] Well, that’s really the joy of it! ‘How can we kill him?’ Boy, I’ll tell you now, there are probably a dozen that aren’t in there because there wasn’t enough time to keep killing him. I had fun writing it, but when the animators got at it, they had a lot of fun pitching ideas of how to kill Constantine and then animating it. Everyone just kind of went nuts because we needed a lot of deaths. 

Zatanna is obviously a big part of what happens to John here, but why was it important for you to really zero in on their relationship and what might have been for them?

I just thought it was another chance to do Constantine and Zatanna. I’d originally been able to write them in the first Justice League Dark movie and then got to do a little more in Apokolips War. I wanted to do more. That and the Batman/Catwoman dynamic are my favourite relationships, but I think I like John and Zatanna more because it involves magic. And there are so many deaths involved [Laughs]. Batman and Catwoman…you don’t see that. ‘Oh, we accidentally did something and a bunch of people died’ isn’t one of the conversations they have to go over. John and Zatanna do!

John is a character who can be his own worst enemy at times, but as a writer, is he most enjoyable to work on when he is on the ropes and being put through the wringer?

Yes! Constantine is actually my favourite character to write because he goes into the category of ‘bastard with a heart of gold.’ He is willing to make the hard call, so if you’re one of his very good friends who has to stay behind while he plugs the gate of Hell for the greater good…you’ll be cut out and won’t be saved, unfortunately. He’s such a bastard, so in this one, I wanted people to feel sorry for him. Yes, he’s a bastard, but nobody deserves this. I got to play with him being a sympathetic character which he usually isn’t, so it was a fun little project to do for that reason also. 

The House of Mystery is a concept some fans might not be too familiar with and it's been used in different ways over the years; what inspired you to make it a prison of sorts for Constantine?

For John, it’s a prison, but in our continuity, he has owned the House of Mystery. He lived there and it was his home. When The Spectre is jamming him in there with all of his friends and the best of intentions, why wouldn’t he? He’s not going to put him in a Motel 6, he’ll put him in the House of Mystery where John has enjoyed living for a while. It becomes a prison because of John’s own personal baggage. He just has the wrong mindset, and that’s why it’s a prison. As with a lot of House of Mystery and Twilight Zone stories, your preconceptions usually get turned on their head. 
 

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It must have been so much fun to explore his mindset and the way he turns what should be a paradise into a living nightmare?

Only John Constantine can be counted on time after time to screw things up for himself. He is that kind of a person [Laughs]. If there’s a way to F’ it up, Constantin will find it. And he did. 

Matt Ryan has become synonymous with this role in recent years, but did you write this Constantine with him in mind, or is that not really how you approach writing these characters?

Actually, the show, which was cancelled unfairly and before its time with only thirteen episodes, I was watching before I got the job to write Justice League Dark. It may have been on at the same time. Of course, I watched it and picked up a little bit of his cadence, but when I’m writing the character the first time, it’s harder and there may be a little difference. However, when I got to see him do it, now I don’t really do Constantine. I do Matt Ryan doing Constantine when I write [Laughs]. I don’t have an original take on John now; I just do Matt Ryan and wonder what he would say. After watching him do this work live, now it’s just imprinted on me that way.

Looking to the future, there is supposedly a live-action Constantine project coming to HBO Max, but what would you like to see from the character having gotten so well acquainted with him?

Well, I would like to see…I don’t know if they’re going to do it, but I’d like a real Hellblazer showing him dealing with stuff he dealt with in the comics and all those demonic elements. It would be Supernatural on steroids where truly horrible things happen if he doesn’t win. That’s why he sometimes makes those tough decisions. Right now, everyone calls him a bastard, but you don’t really see it. He does such horrible things in the comics, but he has to or else these absolute evil spirits or demons get turned loose on the Earth. He’s there to fight back against that and will do anything to stop it, including tossing his friends into the abyss one by one as time goes forward. I would love to see that. There was a Stephen King show called The Outsiders that was just creepy as hell. I want a Constantine like that where it’s gross, demonic, and disgusting to the point where you want to turn away [Laughs]. An R-Rated show with demonic violence. I doubt that will happen, but boy oh boy, would I be setting my DVR if it does. 

Having been part of the DC Universe both before and after Apokolips War, do you view this short as the end or potentially a tease for a new John Constantine story?

I would love to do more Constantine, for sure. There isn’t anything planned right now. This was just a chance to give the people that said, ‘Oh, this sixteen movie series closed down too soon’ one more thing. Does it leave an open-ended thing where it could continue? Possibly, but I don’t know of any…usually, when they shut something down, they shut it down. They are doing something new right now. There’s a new continuity being slowly built. 

Are there any other characters or stories you'd like to put in one of these short movies for DC?

I don’t know, have they done Metal Men? I like them. I’d love to do Plastic Man. I wanted him to earn his own movie from Injustice, so I wrote a kickass Plastic Man, but if he can’t have that, a good 25 minute short done this way with a higher animation budget would be great. I’d love to do that. 

ALSO READ: Interview With Constantine - The House Of Mystery And Kamandi Director Matt Peters
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle And The Losers Director Milo Neuman
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Story Creator Jeremy Adams
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Scriptwriter Jennifer Keene
ALSO READ: Interview With The Losers Writer Tim Sheridan
ALSO READ: Interview With Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth! Writer Paul Giacoppo
ALSO READ: Interview With Blue Beetle Voice Actor Matt Lanter

DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrived on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.
 

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