Rating: 5/5 – Moody Noir Fiction Kicks Off Archie Comics Dark Circle Line.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.
The Black Hood is the first series that Archie Comics is relaunching as part of their Dark Circle Comics imprint, itself a relaunch of their Red Circle Comics imprint. Like its predecessor, Dark Circle Comics will feature Archie’s superhero line, which includes classic characters that predate most contemporary superheroes. I love everything that Archie Comics has been doing recently, so I jumped on this without hesitation despite not being overly familiar with the original Black Hood or any of his subsequent incarnations. I’m going into this relaunch with a fresh outlook and no baggage for comparisons, but also with high expectations since Archie Comics has been hitting home-runs with me of late.
That Dark Circle Comics tapped writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Michael Gaydos to revive the Black Hood already scored big points for me, but also raised my level of expectation. I’ve had books disappoint because of high expectations, but I’ve also had them exceed those expectations. In the case of the Black Hood, I can definitely say it was the latter. Right out of the gate, the Black Hood struck a decidedly darker and more mature tone from Archie’s usual offerings. The protagonist, Philadelphia police officer Gregory Hettinger, finds his life changed forever when he is wounded in the line of duty. Proclaimed a “hero” by the public, he spends the remainder of the first issue on a downward spiral toward rock bottom as he deals with the physical, psychological, and emotional trauma of what has happened to him. Duane Swierczynski does an excellent job of placing the reader squarely into Hettinger’s state of mind with a distraught and drug induced narration that sometimes teeters on paranoia and madness. There isn’t a classical hero in this series in the bright tights and cape crusading tradition, but if Hettinger works through his inner demons he can certainly be the type of hero his city needs. Swierczynski masterfully paints a picture of “the mean streets of Philadelphia” and I felt throughout the issue as if the city itself is a character in the story. It’s a city beloved by its natives, but also a city of contradiction that mirrors Hettinger’s current struggles–continually on the edge of violence and despair, but capable of producing many great things.
I fell in love with the art of Michael Gaydos during his run on Marvel’s Alias and I cannot think of a better match for this story. His artwork is the kind that grounds the source material in reality and strips away any hokey superhero vibe that would otherwise paint the story as unbelievable. There’s a grit to his work that gives the series a dark and rough noir feeling that complements Swierczynski’s writing perfectly. With the color palette of Kelly Fitzpatrick and his own heavy inks, Gaydos’s art made me feel like I was descending into Hettinger’s madness right along with him, whether I was reading the narration or not. His portrayal of the Philadelphia streets also lends to the feeling that the city is its own character and that, as the back-up article articulates, there is “something bred in the bone about [its] crime and corruption.”
The tale of the Black Hood is about as different from those set in idyllic Riverdale as one can get. Set in a city that is dangerous and unforgiving, the man destined to become the Black Hood is at best an anti-hero, though his journey towards redemption is only just beginning. Duane Swierczynski adeptly flexes his crime writer skills to present a piece of noir fiction that marks a distinctly dark turn for an Archie publication, but it’s refreshing that the publisher is taking chances to tell this kind of story. Together with the amazing art of Michael Gaydos, I think the Black Hood is a strong start for the Dark Circle Comics imprint and raises the bar for its other upcoming releases. As if I wasn’t on board already, I now await more Dark Circle comics with great anticipation.
Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
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