This Riverdale article contains spoilers.
The character of Archie Andrews made his debut when he appeared as a support story in Pep Comics #22 in December of 1942. At the time, Pep was arguably the most successful publication from MLJ Comics. With the first appearance of Archie, interest in all things Riverdale became the company’s primary focus and it wasn’t long until they changed their name to that of their red-headed breakout star.
But what often gets ignored is how many other characters MLJ/Archie already had in their stable. Most notably there was The Shield, a patriotic superhero who pre-dated Captain America, as well as other heroes like The Hangman, The Crusader, and The Black Hood.
That’s right, the origin of the same character who is currently wreaking havoc on Riverdale dates all the way back to 1940 when The Black Hood first showed up in the ninth issue of Top-Notch Comics. Or at least it’s kind of the same character, as the Hood’s history gets pretty complicated pretty fast.
Created by Harry Shorten and Al Camy, The Black Hood is the crime-fighting alter ego of police officer Matthew “Kip” Burland. Donning the mystical headgear from which he got his name, Burland would go out and fight bad guys without the sort of fuss, muss, or bureaucracy that marred his day job. His coloring out of the lines style of bringing the guilty to justice struck a chord with the noir-obsessed readers of the era and the Hood’s popularity soon earned him a radio show that ran for one year and 120 episodes. Unfortunately archiving in the 1940s isn’t quite what it is now, and the series was largely lost to the ages.
Below is what is considered to be the only surviving episode of the show. It’s still a rather entertaining listen, if obviously dated.
With Archie taking up most of MLJ’s attention and resources, it wasn’t long until The Black Hood was retired. But the character still had plenty of life left in him. When Archie formed their equivalent of The Avengers, The Mighty Crusaders, in the 1960s, The Black Hood was front and center. After interest in that title waned, the Hood experienced a brief period of dormancy before a new incarnation of the character — Thomas “Kip” Burland, who was the nephew of the original Hood — debuted in 1979.
“No evil can escape the merciless vengeance of The Black Hood,” says our hero on the cover of his comeback, glass shattering all around him as he leaps out at readers to catch their attention. This revival came courtesy of Man Thing co-creator/all around comics inspiration Gray Morrow and famed DC creator Neal Adams. The late 1970s was a fascinating period for Archie Comics. With their various comedy titles and digests devoured by fans each month, the company decided to return to its roots and bring back their heroes through their Red Circle imprint.
Eventually, these stories were compiled for the (regretfully) short-lived Superhero Digest Magazine that aimed to do for the MLJ heroes what the regular Archie digests did for their characters…namely act as an impulse buy for parents and kids at supermarkets and drug stores across the country, serving as an introduction to the wonderful world of comics along the way. Quickly, lack of demand and/or low sales put an end to the hero centric digest, although stories featuring the MLJ characters would pop up in the main line of Archie digests throughout the 1980s.
The Reagan era also saw a renewed push for the Red Circle line, with The Black Hoodgetting another short run and the character also appearing in a revival of The Mighty Crusaders. Perhaps due to the fact that these heroes were obscure from a mainstream point of view compared to a, say, Spider-Man or Batman, or maybe because readers wrongly believed that the same company who put out titles like Archie’s T.V. Laugh Out couldn’t possibly tell gripping, gritty tales in this genre, these books were largely ignored and relegated to the three-for-a-dollar section of stores (which is where this writer first discovered the wonders they possess). And then, it seemed like they would be untethered from Archie for good when DC got the license for the characters from the early 1990s (including several stabs published by Impact) but that too failed.
Then the unexpected happened. Archie became one of the most risk-taking companies in the industry. Light years away from the dark times that had Al Hartley licensing the characters for Spire Christian Comics, Archie was releasing headline-grabbing titles like Life with Archie: The Married Life and Afterlife with Archie. Then in 2015, spearheaded by Archie’s Alex Segura — himself a brilliant noir/mystery writer — the Dark Circle imprint was born.
Pre-dated by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel’s short run on The Fox and a testing of the waters via digital exclusives featuring the MLJ staples, Dark Circle brought back the characters of The Black Hood, The Shield, and The Hangman and grounded them in a realistic and often grim world. Although uniformly excellent, the best of the batch was Duane Swierczynski’s run on The Black Hood. This time around, the story shifts its focus to Greg Hettinger, a Philadelphia cop who is disfigured when he takes a bullet to the face while trying to break up a gang fight outside of a public school. During this melee, he kills the previous Black Hood, Kip Burland. His brain addled from a growing addiction to pain killers, he begins working as a Death Wish-styled vigilante, a move that is only heightened after Hettinger is framed for his involvement with drugs.
The inital “The Bullet’s Kiss” story arc included compelling visuals from Michael Gaydos, replete with Philly landmarks aplenty that just add to the book’s commitment to reality. It also makes some subtle statements on the opiod epidemic tha result in a story that is both compelling and timely. A new “Season 2” storyline went three issues, but the current run of the Hood is currently on hiatus. (Whether or not he turns up in the upcoming, and seemingly lighter, The Mighty Crusaders remains to be seen).
This massive infodump brings us back to Riverdale. Who exactly is The Black Hood on this series? That question is shaping up to be season two’s central mystery. From the third episode we can glean a few things. First and foremost, he sees Riverdale as a city in moral crisis. In his letter to Alice Cooper he notes that those he has attacked to date he views as sinners that he must cleanse. “I am the wolf, you are the flock, this is the bloodletting,” he writes.
Then there’s the fact that everyone so far has some link to Archie, which could be a red herring that exists to repair the season one problem of having the show’s main character regularly sidelined from the action. But it does indeed seem as if he is being targeted. Or at least he was at first. (Moose, Midge and even potentially Ethel aren’t really in Archie’s orbit on this series).
So who and why? The first and most obvious answer seems to be someone hired by Mr. Lodge to screw with Archie. We don’t know anything about Hiram’s history with Fred Andrews, but we do know that he seems to be a smoke and brimstone kind of guy — which is absolutely in line with the Hood’s Old Testament-esque anger. For all we know, Fred and Hermione could have had a thing in high school that Hiram is still pissed about, so when he learned about the pair rekindling their romance, even briefly, he could have gone off the deep end.
Who else? Maybe Sheriff Keller. Him actually being a crook explains his utterly inept crime-fighting skills. He wants Riverdale to be in chaos.
Honestly though, it’s most likely to be someone we don’t know yet but will become important later.
In the past, even when The Black Hood has been seen as a vigilante he still had good intentions. His television counterpart seems straight up evil. So what’s the deal? From a practical perspective, Archie already had the IP and the Hood looks cool, so they could use him without the aggro in creating a new character. This take on the character, whoever is secret identity is, is clearly different from all that has gone before. You can expect to see elements from previous Hoods incorporated into him, but like Riverdale itself, this guy is a bold new take on something that has been kicking around for decades. And isn’t that the most exiting part of all of this?
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!