Review: The Black Hood #1

More and more, I shy away from ‘mainstream’ comic books. Certainly Marvel and DC have their places, but since the introduction of the New 52 (which wiped out the history that was what I enjoyed about DC) and the oncoming reboot of the Marvel Universe (whose vast, intricate multiversal continuity has always fascinated me), it seems that the big boys seem destined to focus on supporting their film properties through print rather than maintain a separate universe with a unique and vibrant history.

This has occurred, prior, in my collecting years, most notably during the early 1990s, at which time, there came to be a wide variety of non-‘Big Two’ material available on comic shelves (there still is, but I digress). These titles ran the gamut of tales, from Dave Sims’ critical work Cerberus to Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which, sadly, was transformed from gritty satire with interesting story content into a banal children’s program and has never quite matched the original); from Michael Gustovich’s brilliant, totalitarian superhero team, Justice Machine to Strangers in Paradise, by Terry Moore; from Bone to Beanworld to Image Comics to Dark Horse; and yes, even to the Vertigo and EPIC lines from DC and Marvel, respectively.

Throughout the course of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the options for those who were seeking something beyond the standard Marvel and DC universes was rather diverse.

This includes Impact!, which is, generally, spelled with an exclamation point, but I will divest the imprint of this punctuation for the remainder of this article.

Impact was an imprint published by DC that re-introduced a number of characters from the Golden Age that had fallen into the public domain or into DC’s greedy little hands. It was never clear why, exactly, these characters were developed separately from the DCU, but the comics seemed to be aimed at younger audiences and were, for the most part, along the lines of most ‘kiddie’ entertainment, of the time. Well, except for Black Hood.

Based on a character who punched people in the face, wore a black hood, and called himself ‘Kip,’ introduced in 1940, the Impact Black Hood updated the idea by making the Hood, itself, the character of the tale rather than the wearing. It was notable as, in the first issue, the violent vigilante who had been seen wearing the Hood in other Impact stories, was violently gunned down at the very end of the story.

The Black Hood had more promise than any of the other series in the Impact! line, but it was met with apathy and, twelve issues and an Annual later, it was cancelled alongside the rest of Impact!

There was another Black Hood introduced in the DC Universe, proper, but no one cares about him.

We do care, however, about Greg Hettinger.

In The Black Hood #1 – The Bullet’s Kiss, Part 1, we are introduced to Greg Hettinger, a beat motorcycle officer for the Philadelphia Police Department. Being a biker cop in California seems like a cool idea, but I imagine the appeal would be lessened in an area such as Philly. This theory is soon proven to be true as, while investigating a fight between several individuals, Hettinger takes a shotgun blast to the side of his face. Before he loses consciousness, he manges to get off a shot from his service pistol and puts a hole in the head of a guy wearing a mask.

Turns out, the guy was named ‘Kip.’

Throughout the remainder of the first issue, Hettinger attempts to come to grips with this singular event. His face is permanently scarred and he can barely talk. He’s in constant pain which is mitigated only slightly by the percocet to which he becomes addicted. He suffers guilt for having slain someone who may have only wanted to help people, despite the fact that he his praised for having helped take out a dangerous vigilante.

By the time you’ve turned the page of the comic four times, you’ve seen this man assaulted by some of the worst a human can imagine.

But it feels real.

The Black Hood clearly does not take place in one of the shining comic book worlds to which we lend our suspension of disbelief on a regular basis. No one is lifting cars off the ground, nor flying and mach 9, nor developing fancy gadgets to temporarily apprehend sociopaths rather of sitting in therapy and talking about childhood loss.

Instead, The Black Hood brings the city and the streets of Philadelphia to life for good or ill. The characters in it come of as people rather than caricatures of people. Hettinger’s inner monologue offers a narrative that seems as though he could be our next door neighbor or, worse, the kind officer who let me off, last week, because I helped him with a technological issue.

I feel as though there will be reviewers that may refer to this book as gritty, but I don’t think that ‘gritty’ is a proper label for a tale which grounds it’s foundation firmly in the tangible world in which we reside.

It’s a breath of fresh air, frankly.

As a reviewer, it’s generally a rare honor to be able to thank the creators for developing the content you are offering to judge for the general public. However, I must thank Duane Swierczynski for his spectacularly grounded tale and Michael Gaydos and Kelly Fitzpatrick for their moody, moving artwork that perfectly compliments the tone of Swierczynski’s writing.

Certainly I have enjoyed my fair share of super-powered mayhem, in comics. I have definitely picked up books with Punisher or Batman and, on occasion, noted that they seemed more real than other characters. The Black Hood, however, isn’t some punchline pretending to have walked from the realm of our headlines. It builds upon itself in a way that breaks the comic stereotypes we have come to embrace; often to the point at which we have forgotten that they actually exist.

The Black Hood offers those who are looking to read stories that are grounded in the thoughts and emotions of people we could actually know something to look forward to in their comic book store ventures.

This is not the DC Black Hood or the Impact Black Hood or the Golden Age Black Hood. This is a new Black Hood with motivations and difficulties that transcend those generally embraced by the medium.

I’m glad to add something different to my comic book purchases for the first time in quite some time. I look forward to taking this journey with Swierczynski, Gaydos, Fitzpatrick, and Rachel Deering (who was the letterer and did a fine job, as well) for a long time to come.