Since The Black Hood debuted in February, the Archie imprint Dark Circle Comics has released one inventive rebirth of the classic MLJ superheroes after another. Each of these have featured at their core elements of darkness that are completely unexpected. But none so much so as the latest Dark Circle title, The Hangman. Written by Frank Tieri and illustrated by Felix Ruiz, this take on the character (who has been around since the 1940s) is an absolutely brutal tale of crime and punishment that owes more to pulp sagas and Scorsese films than its four-colored origins.
The book opens on Mike Minetta, a seemingly loving — if somewhat cocky — husband and family man who is in a rush to get to work. When his daughter realizes that her beloved stuffed bunny is in the trunk of his car, he is forced to retrieve it. The problem being that there is also a man in the trunk. Here The Hangmanfirst pulls the rug out from readers, turning their expectations inside out. It turns out that Mike is an enforcer whose latest task is to dispatch of a man who has been screwing around with his boss’s wife (in a jaw-dropping sequence that involves strawberry jam and some very hungry rats). After his victim eerily warns him about retribution for his evil deeds from a mysterious figure known as the Hangman, Mike finishes his task and heads home. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that the Hangman is real and looking to enact some swift justice upon him. The issue wraps up with an intriguing cliffhanger that ensures that Mike will be, er, hanging around for awhile.
Debut issues are tough in that they have to establish characters, get the exposition out of the way and lay the groundwork for the series to come. This installment manages that skillfully thanks to Tieri’s swift plotting and shockingly realistic dialogue (including the dropping of a c-bomb to casually describe an act of violence Mike is planning on commiting that is absolutely horrifying). Art wise, Felix Ruiz’s work is infused with a gritty realism that reflects the world these characters inhabit. The pairing of this team with colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick has resulted in the book looking terrific, from the brightness of Mike’s kitchen to the darkness of Brooklyn’s underbelly.
Make no mistake, this first issue of The Hangman is a challenging work featuring an unsympathetic lead who will be transformed into a vigilante anti-hero in issues to come. Seeing his journey towards redemption — or something approximating it — is going to be a fascinating one. For now, the book is a slow burn whose greatest strength is throwing some light on the shades of grey that define us.