Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review - The Black Hood #1

"My name is Gregory Hettinger. This is what happened."

Archie Comics is going through something of a change of heart recently. Gone are the carefree days of Archie and Veronica, only to be replaced by Afterlife With Archie and Sabrina. Some of their works are getting very dark very quick, adding a breath of fresh air into franchises that may feel a little stale. The next work to get their edgier approach is The Black Hood #1, written by Duane Swierczynski, illustrated by Michael Gaydos, lettered by Rachel Deering and colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick.

When Philadelphia police officer Greg Hettinger stepped into the middle of a gunfight, hot lead shredded his face-and he pulled the trigger, blind. Now Greg is waking up in a world where he's a killer, hopelessly scarred and hooked on painkillers. While in his mind he's a pain-killer addicted killer, the rest of the world views him as a hero. What does a man do when he can no longer face the world, yet still wants to do good? He puts on a hood.

First debuting in 1940, Black Hood was a character who suffered through his own fair share of relaunches throughout the ensuing years. In The Black Hood #1 Swierczynski may offer the most bold relaunch of the character yet. In fact, the catalyst for Hettinger's descent into wearing the Black Hood is the death of a criminal named Kip Burland, which just so happened to be the name of the original Black Hood from way, way back in the day. Burland's death is almost symbolic, as it establishes Swierczynski's incarnation of the character as the current, definitive one--and boy, is he dark. Swierczynski is no stranger to characters with an axe to grind (more recently evidenced in his run on Bloodshot), but Hettinger is a little different. He doesn't take the mask on out of a sense of responsibility and he doesn't really think he's a hero since he essentially was in both the wrong and right place at the right time. Instead, Swierczynski pitches Hettinger as a man looking for an escape--which conveniently comes in the form of a black hood--and a penchant for finding trouble in the seedier sides of Philadelphia.

Depicting a Phildelphia without emphasis on time are illustrations from Gaydos which feel filthy in a good way. Revealing Hettinger's shotgun scarred face isn't done in one or two panels, as Gaydos takes his time with it and slowly reveals it to the reader. The slow burn in this regard gives the injury more time to settle in as somewhat debilitating for both the character and the reader, eventually cresting in a reveal that shows how much damage was really done. Heavy lines and shading litter the panels, offering phenomenal contrasts between the good and bad of the city, adding a complexity to the emotions. Fitzpatrick's colors add a polluted feel to the book, as the greens and blues cast a pall over Hettinger and his new life as a decorated hero with a mangled face.

The Black Hood #1 is a phenomenal first issue. Hettinger is clearly a character who didn't ask for anything, yet must still contend with the consequences of a random investigation on his patrol. Swierczynski crams the first issue with a lot of narrative without wasting any words, clearly establishing the modern version of the character while not straying away from any mature concepts. Gaydos' artwork is appropriately rendered, bearing a filter to it that adds a level of blurriness and static to the illustrations. The Black Hood #1 is a bold re-defining of a decades old character that hits all the right notes and adds a new player in the ever-growing field of reluctant heroes.

The Black Hood #1 is in stores now.


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