(Slight spoilers within).
There’s an exhilarating moment at the end of the first issue of The Black Hood where the titular character leaps into action to take on some thugs who are trying to rob an innocent. This decision is a shattering one, because it marks the arrival of a new vigilante in comics that subtly echoes Dark Circle’s entry into an already crowded comics landscape. But as this debut chapter in “The Bullet’s Kiss” storyline more than illustrates, both the character and his imprint are poised to be too powerful to ignore.
The Black Hood first made his debut in October of 1940, and since then has been the subject of various relaunches over the years, not only from MLJ/Archie-owned labels but from a short-lived stint at DC’s Imprint Comics in the 1990s. This new homecoming has the character revitalized and ready for a new readership, as if all of his previous incarnations were just buildup to the story audiences are now being thrust into.
After he is left disfigured in a gun battle that left a mysterious figure known as the Black Hood dead at his hand, Philadelphia cop Greg Hettinger struggles to readjust to his old life. Hettinger quickly becomes addicted to painkillers, and is increasingly enveloped by an encroaching darkness — one that becomes quite literal when he dons the mask of the very vigilante who played a fateful role in the shooting that left him physically and emotionally scarred.
Although this premiere installment is mainly exposition to establish the Hood’s morally ambigious, percocet-addicted origins, it is nothing short of an astonishing read thanks to the one-two punch of the creative team. Writer Duane Swierczynski is not only a comics veteran but a popular noir scribe who was born and raised in Philadelphia. As a Philly resident myself, I can assure you that Swierczynski gets the details perfect, allowing those who live in the City of Brotherly Love to enjoy — or, more likely, be disturbed by — the darkness of the story on a whole other level.
Complimenting his gritty and unforgiving style is Michael Gaydos’ naturalistic art. Gaydos draws Hettinger with a brutality that complements the character’s own feelings of ugliness both superficially and internally. His Philadelphia is one rich with shadows and emptiness. It’s a place where the American Dream hasn’t so much died as suddenly evaporated out of existence. His photo-realistic backgrounds of the city’s decay are doing the tourism board no favors, believe me.
Vigliante stories are a dime a dozen in comics, so the fact that The Black Hood succeeds on every level is a testament to Dark Circle’s curating of talent. As the book’s much ballyhooed use of the f-word indicates, this is a bold attempt by Archie to further reinvent its image and show that these characters aren’t a distraction from what’s going on in Riverdale but instead a shattered funhouse mirror reflection of the bleak side of existence that the company has never before attempted to showcase with such skill. The industry may not realize it yet, but Dark Circle Comics just became a major player.