We here at Panels are taking some much needed time off; in the meantime, we’re revisiting some favorite old posts from the last 6 months! We’ll see you back on July 8 with all new posts for your enjoyment.
This post originally ran on January 30, 2015.
The Black Hood #1
Script: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Michael Gaydos, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Rachel Deering
On Sale 2/25
Reading The Black Hood #1 (“The Bullet Kiss (1 of 5)” for those keeping score) was like running through a checklist of things I’ve wanted to see in a superhero comic for a while now.
Let’s start with the plot stuff. Greg Hettinger is a cop in Philadelphia. The story starts with him answering an emergency call; four men with guns are causing trouble outside a school. Well, actually, the call says four guys with guns are causing trouble on Bridge and Mulberry, it’s Hettinger who tells us there’s a school there. That Hettinger’s first thought is of the innocent children nearby is a nice way to show us something about him, almost a Save the Cat! moment, if you will. The first page is a good play on an old image, the heroic lawman riding in to save the day. He might have a helmet rather than a cowboy hat, and a police bike rather than a horse, but the idea is the same.
But this isn’t a western, and things don’t work out well for anybody involved. One of the armed assailants is wearing a mask, and we start to get the sense that, just as Hettinger is walking into a confrontation that has already started, so we are walking into the middle of a story that’s already underway. Why is there a guy in a mask?
Hettinger interrupts the gunfight with his face, but manages to take out the masked man before everything fades to black. When he wakes up in hospital a short time later, Hettinger finds out he’s been made into a hero. The cops gives him a citation, the press want to tell his story, people wants to shake his hand, but he can’t quite get past the idea that all he did was kill someone and take a bullet in the face. And, did he even kill the right person? Why was there a guy in a mask?
Now, I’m one of those people who likes to read extra layers into things. Hand me an orange, and I’ll probably try and work out what that orange is trying to say about the meaning of life, and about how we label things, and, hey, which came first, the colour or the fruit?
So when I’m reading a book like this, I’m all about looking at the subtext, and about what themes we’re playing with. If that’s your thing too, there’s plenty here. We get a look at how society society turns some killers into heroes and some into villains. There’s the idea of how people want to get close enough to the disfigured ‘hero’ to be seen in the papers, but not so close that they need to really look too much at the person whose hand they’re shaking. Overall, there’s a sly poke at conventions of the superhero genre, and how a masked vigilante would be seen in the real world. I also get the sense that there’s more than a little Robocop and High Plains Drifter in the DNA of the story, with the old western hero torn down to be rebuilt.
Something I particularly like -and what made me really fall for the comic- is the time we spend dealing with the real world fall-out of Hettinger’s wounds. He needs speech therapy and time to heal, he has problems being around people. The long and short of it, is that in addition to getting a cracking noir superhero story, we’re also getting character, and humanity. Our comic books are filled with plots that use human trauma as a springboard to costumed heroics, but maybe, just maybe, the point when someone is willing to put on the mask is the point when they are most in need of saving? We get the sense that -rather than the mask becoming a great heroic identity- it’s maybe the worst decision Hettinger could make.
How good is that art? I’m glad to have Michael Gaydos back in my life. There was a time back there where a monthly fix of Alias was really all I needed to keep me happy. His art style and storytelling chops are matched perfectly to the colour palette of Kelly Fitpatrick, giving it a smobre, realistic feel. There are shadows at the edges, and the world looks lived in. The images manage to evoke 70’s crime films, 80’s Mazzuchelli and a modern feel, all at the same time. There’s a ‘character first’ approach to Gaydos’ art that I’ve always liked, and it’s in full force here. The best example is during the shoot-out, where rather than go for the big money shots of an action movie director, Gaydos pauses to show us the human reactions, the fear or fatalism in people’s faces.
There are a lot of interesting possibilities raised in this first issue. I’m hoping we get to explore more of this world, and of the backstory. I’m looking forward to seeing whether Hettinger is on the way back up, or starting a long fall down, and I’m hoping to see more of the relationship he’s building with his therapist, Jessie.
This is only one issue, sure, but so far I’m thinking The Black Hood is the real deal; lean, tough and noir-as-hell. There’s still time for you to make sure your LCS is carrying the book, but this week is the last chance for them to change their orders. So….hey….why are you still reading this? Get down to the store.
Wait, I get it, you want to see a couple of the cool covers for your store to order, right?
Follow us on Facebook for more comics fun.