CS Soapbox: Could Matt Ryan return for HBO Max’s Justice League Dark?
This week saw the very exciting news that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and HBO Max were teaming up to develop a series focused on the DC Comics team Justice League Dark, though story and character details are currently being kept close to the chest. For fans of the edgier team, we may be eager to see what comic threats the characters will face, but more interest is being put into just who should take on the roles of the team, namely leader John Constantine, who is currently on the small screen portrayed by Matt Ryan in The CW’s Arrowverse. With a different network and new producer, the question now becomes will we see the 39-year-old Welsh actor make the leap into the HBO Max series?
Who are the Justice League Dark?
First introduced in 2011 with Justice League Dark No. 1, the team brought together several of DC Comics’ occult and offbeat characters to handle supernatural and other threats deemed outside of the purview of the normal Justice League. While the crew has seen various members come and go over the years, the primary roster has consisted of Constantine, Zatanna, Swamp Thing and Doctor Fate and are headquartered in the House of Mystery, a location simultaneously in Louisville, Kentucky and the Domain of the Endless known as The Dreaming.
Who is John Constantine?
If you’re reading this piece, chances are you already know who Constantine is or have an inkling of the kind of character he is, but for those unfamiliar, the blonde-haired ruffian is a working-class warlock, occult detective and con man stationed in his homeland of London. Visually inspired by musician Sting and first appearing as a supporting character in Swamp Thing‘s “American Gothic” line, Constantine went on to carry his own comic line Hellblazer in 1988 in which he became known for his endless cynicism, deadpan snarking, ruthless cunning and chain smoking habit.
Constantine first appeared in alternate media with the 2005 film adaptation of the same name starring Keanu Reeves in the titular role and though it was a box office hit, it has equally divided critics and audiences alike, with the latter warming up to the film in the years since while some still criticize it for making the occult detective American and getting rid of his blonde locks. He would get another stab at adaptation stardom with 2014 series Constantine starring Ryan in the lead role and was acclaimed by reviewers and fans alike for its faithfulness to the character and creepy storylines, but due to low ratings was cancelled after one season.
After nearly a year of petitions and efforts from fans to get NBC to overturn their cancellation decision, Ryan’s Constantine appeared in a season 4 episode of The CW’s Arrow, which would lead to the character eventually being worked in as a regular on the network’s Legends of Tomorrow as part of its comic book universe. In addition to appearing in these series, Ryan also reprised the role for 2017’s Justice League Dark, part of the DC Animated Universe and existing separate from the Arrowverse, and its spin-off film Constantine: City of Demons, both of which received positive reviews from critics.
Could Matt Ryan Be Cast in Justice League Dark?
The answer is a resounding yes with one big caveat: just because he COULD be cast doesn’t necessarily mean he WILL be cast. The possibility to cast an actor in a project is generally always there unless they have stated a refusal to take or continue the role, such as Daniel Craig as James Bond or Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, but the likelihood of a casting depends on a few factors: contracts, availability, bankability and talent.
Thankfully for fans of Ryan’s portrayal — myself included — he checks off nearly all four of the boxes. Given his continuing appearances as the character in different mediums and his desire to continue portraying the role, chances are if given the opportunity to sign on to the series Ryan will happily extend or sign a new contract with Warner Bros. Television to return for Justice League Dark. In terms of availability, Ryan taking the time to be a regular on the new series would probably affect his work on Legends and given that series just lost two regular cast members, the showrunners and producers may not be as eager to find a way to write him out of the series without solid replacements or a good plan to work around it. The latter is a potential solution, with Lauren Cohan taking a break from The Walking Dead in order to film her short-lived ABC series Whiskey Cavalier before returning, but whether WBTV and CW are willing to take this path is hard to determine as they’ve yet to run across this issue across their various series.
Ryan’s performance as Constantine perfectly checks off both boxes for both bankability and talent, as 2017’s Justice League Dark was a home media hit, with the R-rated twist returning the character to his more profane history and allowing Ryan to fully embrace the character, which in turn proved to critics and audiences he is the true embodiment of the occult detective. An announcement that Ryan would be reprising the role in a more horror and mature-tinged series would draw much excitement from fans, capturing potential viewers long before the show even premieres, and given his work primarily on the big screen, Ryan’s contract could be bumped up just enough for the premium network’s standard while still remaining low enough to ensure money goes to the rest of its ensemble and large-scale visual effects.
How Could Ryan Return for the Role in JLD?
The fact that Ryan’s animated portrayals of Constantine are kept separate from the Arrowverse and fans are ready to quickly accept this notion means that the showrunners for the HBO Max series could just as easily take advantage of this and choose to keep the universes separate and state that this version of the character is a totally different iteration. Another major plot thread emanating throughout comic book universes, namely the small screen DC Universe, is the multiverse theory in which various realities exist simultaneously and has been exploited nearly to its limit by the Arrowverse. By explaining in a press conference ahead of the series that the two series exist in separate universes, it would easily put any concerns of connections to bed while also allowing the possibility to connect to the Arrowverse through episodes or tie-in comics or even the film universe, given Ezra Miller’s cameo as the DCEU version of The Flash alongside Grant Gustin’s CW portrayal during this season’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event.
Another possible way to cast Ryan in the role would be to actually write him off of Legends of Tomorrow in a way that cuts his ties with the Arrowverse and allows Constantine to only appear and focus on Justice League Dark. The past two seasons of him being a regular on the CW series has seen references made to storylines introduced in his solo NBC series, essentially making it a sequel spin-off, which would make it just as easy for the showrunners of Legends and JLD to collaborate on a proper transitional story to continue his arc on the HBO Max series.
Should Ryan return for the role, it would also leave the door open for another major crossover from a DC series in the form of Derek Mears’ Swamp Thing starring as part of the group after his solo DC Universe series was canceled after a well-reviewed solo season. Given Constantine’s comics debut in The Saga of Swamp Thing No. 37 and the latter’s status as a key member of the team, it would be interesting to see the 47-year-old actor return alongside Andy Bean, especially as archival footage of the antihero was seen in CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Plus with fans and even Meyers’ campaigning to keep the series going, it would almost seem as though WarnerMedia’s decision to cancel it came out of preemptive planning for JLD, especially since a DC Universe spokesperson said they “were not in a position to answer” the true reason behind its cancellation at the time.
Many of the theories and ideas I’ve presented here are really just that, theories and ideas, I am not a producer of one of the most profitable and expansive franchises in Hollywood, but given my time as both a fan and professional observer of the comic book and television worlds, I think it’s safe to say that chances are good that Bad Robot and HBO Max are at least discussing the possibility of bringing Ryan back in his now career-defining role. Admittedly, I have a minor bias as I would love to see the star reprise the character, he has knocked it out of the park since the debut of his solo NBC series and Constantine is potentially my favorite comic book character of all time. But with my knowledge of the character’s history on screen and journey across various series, I believe Ryan’s casting could become a thing of reality.