A preview for Constantine #1 was widely circulated last month and the reaction around these parts was somewhat less than enthusiastic. IIRC, someone in the comment section renamed it “Heckblazer.” I’ve read the full issue and it’s not as bad as the initial impression, but it really isn’t Hellblazer, either.
There have been some changes to the comics after the preview ran, which seem to be to make it a little more edgy. Fire flickering around Sargon’s face. More sinister images of the Cold Flame cult members. Slight dialogue changes. Narration captions split into multiple boxes. Doctor Occult swapped out for Tannarak. The Cold Flame cult changes aside, it seems mostly like editorial was still noodling with it.
On the whole, this seems to be Constantine by way of Sam Spade. He acts a bit more like a dodgy noir private eye who knows some magic than the conniving trickster of the Vertigo run. He still gets to say “bloody hell” and “bastard.” He still smokes. It’s still not particularly safe for be friendly with Constantine. But there’s a certain gravitas to the personality that’s gone. Constantine seems less of a grand bastard in this. Then again, the opening caption reads “Nearly destroyed by its temptations in his youth, John Constantine knows the price of magic’s corrupting influence all too well. Now, he fights the battle to maintain balance and prevent anyone from becoming too powerful…”
Constantine having a mission to maintain the balance (Holy Eternal Champion Cycle, Batman!) is a large break from Constantine basically being out for himself and sticking to the odd dark sorcerer. This is a balancing act (pun intended) to have some of Constantine’s anti-hero tendencies still surface while having him serving more of a cause. There’s also a monologue about people with super powers and capes to hit the reader over the head about Constantine now being set in the world of Superman and Batman, which opens the comic.
Which is to say, it wouldn’t take too much more tweaking to make this a different character. This could be a Doctor Occult comic, just as easily. (Especially since he’s apparently been written out of the story.)
On it’s own merits, it’s an average enough action-magic (not quite horror) story. There’s a quest for an artifact. A villain blows things up. It’s not to the level of the Animal Man material I’ve read, but is in that general direction. For that matter, the cover’s image of Constantine struck me as a Doctor Strange pose.
Strangely, the Deadman story arc in DC Universe Presents struck me as being much more in the spirit of Hellblazer than Constantine did. (Pun intended.)