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Many creators figure that if they give a bloke a trenchcoat, a pack of smokes, and a five o'clock shadow; a quick wit, hard-boiled and self-referential dialogue and a mysterious and dark past, they've got themselves a Magnificent Bastard of an Anti-Hero that they can send out to fight occult foes.
Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. What they always do get, though, is a member of the Trenchcoat Brigade.
Members of the Trenchcoat Brigade are those characters who are strongly influenced by, inspired by, or out and out copies of the character of John Constantine, first introduced in 1985 by DC Comics. He has all of the above characteristics, as well as being British, blond, and pretty much a loner. (The strings of loved-and-lost women -- or occasionally men -- they may take up with don't count.)
For the trenchcoat itself, see Badass Longcoat.
- The Ur Example is, of course, John Constantine of Vertigo Comics. He first appeared in Swamp Thing and spun-off into his own series some years later. (Swamp Thing showed the title character and John Constantine both active in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, although Constantine had only a very small role in the actual miniseries.) Constantine was created by Alan Moore based on his idea of "creating a character who looked like Sting", although Sting did not tend to wear trenchcoats or smoke (at least in public).
- Trope Namer "Trenchcoat Brigade" was coined in the Books of Magic Miniseries by Neil Gaiman. There was even a four issue Trenchcoat Brigade mini-series. In the minis - and in the main Books of Magic series - Constantine was teamed with DC characters The Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult, and Mister E; the Trenchcoat Brigade functioned as something of a mystical/magical Justice League of America.
- Though many writers have wanted to use Constantine in their series, DC denied them up until 2011 for fear of disturbing the "realism" of Hellblazer, even though Constantine (technically) inhabits the DC Universe, where a number of these Expies also reside. So, instead, various analogues and homages to John have appeared.
- Jack Carter from Warren Ellis' Planetary goes from a John Constantine analogue to a Spider Jerusalem analogue. (Warren Ellis, of course, created Spider Jerusalem.)
- Constance Johanssen was also Ellis' homage/parody of Constantine in the Pryde and Wisdom mini-series: "Constance Johanssen. Excellent occult detective. Has a habit of getting her friends killed. Two hundred at last count"
- Grant Morrison wanted Constantine to become a recurring character in his Doom Patrol, but couldn't, so he created Willoughby Kipling. However, instead of looking like Sting, he looks like Richard E. Grant from Withnail and I.
- Phil Foglio uses Ambrose Bierce for his series Stanley and His Monster. He even gives him a bit of Lampshade Hanging as shown in the above quote.
- John Ostrander had to use Rasputin in his Firestorm series instead of Constantine.
- Neil Gaiman for The Sandman actually created John Constantine's ancestor: Johanna Constantine. Even though she doesn't wear a trenchcoat, she's still a Magnificent Bastard.
- It's also implied that Constantines gravitate towards this trope especially if their initials are "JC".
- With the breaking of the Vertigo embargo in 2011, John's reclaimed the Trenchcoat Brigade role in the main DCU.
- Pete Wisdom from Excalibur (even when he wasn't being written by Warren Ellis, his creator) was always like this. He's cleaned up a bit recently, though. Given up smoking and everything. Some fans have theorised that the original character was the Nineties Anti-Hero version of the character, and this is just a natural progression.
- Cal McDonald from the Criminal Macabre comics by Steven Niles isn't British, but otherwise fits this trope to a T.
- Marv from Sin City is this trope in its most violent shade. (Of course, almost every protagonist wears a trenchcoat in Sin City. Frank Miller loves this trope.)
- Lampshaded in "Knights of the Dinner Table" with the Whisper.
- The movie version of John in Constantine just barely qualifies. He has the Dark and Troubled Past and the trenchcoat, which he generally does not wear.
- Rodney Skinner (when he's visible) in the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
- While his literary counterpart below has some aspects of this, Anton in the Night Watch films is an even better example, wearing a trench coat and Cool Shades, and is clearly an alcoholic.
- John Taylor from the Nightside series by Simon R. Green fits this rather well...
- Though he does subvert it a bit by the coat being white.
- ...as does Felix Castor from The Devil You Know and its sequels by Mike Carey (given the fact that Carey wrote Hellblazer for a while).
- Cal McDonald (see comics examples above) has also appeared in a series of novels by creator Steven Niles.
- Harry Dresden has definite shades of this. Considering John Constantine has been around since 1985,and Jim Butcher is a self-proclaimed fan of the series, the real question is whether it is a case of "influenced by", "inspired by", or Captain Ersatz.
- Anton of Night Watch.
- A recent addition to the brigade is Jimmy Stark, antihero of Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim. Ragged & snarky, with a dark past and hellish powers; wearing a black silk trenchcoat with no irony, and smoking Maledictions, the cigarettes from Hell.
- Fitz Kreiner, from the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Being Genre Savvy, he seems to know it, too. He smokes, wears a leather coat most of the time and a trench coat some of the time, swears more than basically anyone he knows, has Perma Stubble (because he's bad at shaving), and is a lower-middle-class Londoner and a Guile Sidekick. He's also basically Neutral Good and quite sweet and sensitive, but most characters, upon first meeting him, distrust him.
- Castiel from Supernatural was influenced by Constantine's image. Though he's not British and doesn't smoke (as far as we know), he does wear a trenchcoat and is morally dubious, even though he's an angel.
- Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer really, really wants to be one of these after his Heel Face Turn. Unfortunately, there's a reason why Badass Decay used to be called Spikeification - Spike never quite managed to get the requisite level of cool.
- Angel borderlines it, there have even been comments about similarities between Constantine and Angel, or possible inspiration. Angel doesn't smoke, although he did once have one as Angelus, I think.
- Franklin from True Blood is introduced as one of these, but turns out to be a villainous psycho.
- Damien from Nightschool. He doesn't have stubble, but when you can stop bullets from reaching your skin, break bones by thinking about it, and can flatten NYC then you can be a nitpicker.
- Detective Badd from Ace Attorney Investigations, whose ragged trenchcoat is pockmarked with bullet holes from all the times he's been shot at. He doesn't smoke, though--he just makes constantly sucking on lollipops look cool.
- To elaborate a bit on this guy, EVERYONE, including Manfred von Karma, respects this guy, even if only grudgingly. He's one of only three known people Franziska won't ever whip. To the fan community, he's Ace Attorney's very own Chuck Norris.
- Gillian Seed from Snatcher. Subverted in that despite being modelled pretty blatantly after Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, he's well-groomed, not too moody and occasionally a bit of a Cloudcuckoolander.
- And by way of Gillian Seed, Old Snake's cover story in Metal Gear Solid 4's third act is that he's one of these.
- Riff of Sluggy Freelance fits most of the trope. His dark and troubled past working as a Hereti Corp freelancer is often brought up even today. His inventions potentially destroying all (or most) of mankind is another for which he's visibly trying to redeem himself for. He also has a string of girlfriends he left behind. He doesn't smoke though.