The Black Hood is a big deal and I’m not just saying that because it’s the first comic series published by Archie to drop the F-bomb. Writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Michael Gaydos band together for this shadowy tale of a policeman’s fall from grace. Kicking off the premier of the revamped Dark Circle imprint, The Black Hood brings the right amount of grit to the comic book medium.
Greg Hettinger is a shining example of an officer on Philadelphia’s police force. One day, Hettinger receives a tip about men with guns fighting near a school, and races over to halt the violence. After a shotgun blast hits his face, however, Hettinger fires blindly, and he later learns that the man he shot may not have been the best target.
Nevertheless, Hettinger is hailed as a hero. Sadly, the entire left side of his face is scarred and he has difficulty enunciating. Though he sees a speech therapist and receives pain medication, he falls deeper into a malaise and enforces the law more roughly than before. Spiraling into addiction, nothing seems to be able to save Hettinger, unless he can find renewed purpose beneath a mask. Alas, forces conspire to destroy Hettinger’s image in such a way that only The Black Hood may be able to call down justice.
Swierczynski provides a gripping noir tale within The Black Hood. A Philidelphia native himself, Swierczynski makes the intriguing choice to set the story within the Pennsylvanian metropolis, anchoring the personal connection which is evident within the narration. Every issue also includes an essay in the back about crime in Philadelphia, which is highly interesting and engaging.
The best part of the writing, however, involves the protagonist, Greg Hettinger. Watching this once proud cop sink into drug addiction and vigilantism is at once painful and gripping. It’s difficult to know whether to root for our protagonist as he goes beyond the limits of a normal police officer to enforce his brand of justice. The character study makes for a compelling read.
Without Gaydos, however, The Black Hood would not amount to nearly the level of praise it deserves. His work is tight, realistic, and shadowy, elucidating the grim streets of Philadelphia and the challenges of police work. Expert panel layouts and pacing make the story read at a beautiful clip, and make every page a joy to behold. The moments of brutality are especially well executed, as Gaydos shows the hard truths of a man pushed beyond traditional limits.
Gaydos’s art is further supplemented by the talents of Rachel Deering and Kelly Fitzpatrick, the series letterer and colorist, respectively. Deering places caption boxes so as to not only avoid obscuring Gaydos’s art, but also enhance it by training the reader’s eye to flow across panels in the proper orientation. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, chooses an earthy palette that suits this noir tale.
The Black Hood just released its third issue a week ago, but already is proving to be one of the best comics of the year. It’s well worth it to check out this series, and I’m sure it will only get better as Swierczynski and Gaydos pull us deeper into the struggles of our byronic hero Hettinger.
-gripping tale of a man trying to piece his life back together, and failing
-complex themes of morality and justice
-beautiful, expressive artwork
-only published once per month
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