Vertigo's Hellblazer was, for a short time before it was cancelled as part of the New 52 initiative, the longest running original numbered comic book, and, to date, the best series to star DC Comics' trench coat mage. Since Hellblazer's end, John Constantine, as a character, has been in a sort of limbo as the following series, Constantine and Constantine The Hellblazer, never really captured the spirit of the original series. They both ended as well, and now, John Constantine starts all over again as part of DC Rebirth initiative, in a new numbered series titled The Hellblazer. Here's hoping the third time is truly the charm.
The Hellblazer, in the capable hands of writer Simon Oliver (The Exterminators, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics), gets off to a good start by eschewing the compulsory introductory notes and more or less picking up just after the end of the previous series. It's a smart move. Oliver utilizes some flashbacks to the previous series to establish what's going on, but leaves enough unsaid that it might stimulate readers to pick up the trades of the previous series get caught up. Right from the start, Oliver recognizes the importance of giving Constantine a history to work with. The character has always been defined by his legacy and history, and has always worked best when he is maintained in a long term continuity. He also manages to capture Constantine's bad boy roguishness a little better than Robert Venditti (Constantine) and James Tynion IV and Ming Doyle did (Constantine: The Hellblazer). Part of this is directly related to artist Moritat's (The Spirit, Elephantmen) style. His Constantine looks to be more the proper age, i.e. the age he was mostly portrayed as in the original series. Moritat is also a master of drawing highly emotive visages on his characters, and this contributes (and harkens back) to the starkly humanistic bent that many of Constantine's best story lines embodied over the years. Constantine's stories are best when the supernatural (or super heroic) elements are kept to a minimum (or used sparsely to powerful effect) and the human condition rises to the top. Of course, Constantine is a magic based character, but it's more the humanity of Constantine as opposed to his supernatural characteristics that drives the best Hellblazer stories.
Speaking of the story, and history, Oliver opens this newest chapter in the story of John Constantine by replaying one of the most important events in the history of the world, the murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, which launched the First World War. Unbeknownst to history though is the story of Marid and Adnan, two celestial beings who battled over the choice of one to stop the assassination the day that it occurred. It's an interesting frame for the events of this first issue and the two characters will have roles to play in the upcoming issues of The Hellblazer. How Oliver will tie these characters and their motivations together with Constantine's adventures in this opening story arc will be worth coming back month after month to read. It's also good to see that, however tangential, political events and themes might begin to find their way back into Constantine's stories. Hellblazer was a highly politically themed book. While we probably won't see as hard core political stories in The Hellblazer as we did in Hellblazer (since DC Comics is desperately trying to mainstream the character), we might see some similar themes seep back into the Constantine narrative.
While I personally don't think that the grandeur of storytelling and literary, social, and political heft of the original series will ever be achieved again in a Constantine starring book, The Hellblazer looks to be perhaps the closest we will get to the glory that was Vertigo's Hellblazer.