The dark and gritty reboot can be a pretty tough sale these days. Even the phrase “dark and gritty reboot” is enough to illicit groans of annoyance from the general public when referring to any form of storytelling. It has been done over and over to the point that there is almost nothing that hasn’t gotten the treatment by now. Some times it can still be pulled off and sometimes it’s a bit more of a struggle. The Dark Circle relaunch of Black Hood fits in the latter category.
In Black Hood #1, we follow the story of Greg Hettinger, a Philly PD officer who responds to a call outside of an elementary school that results in Hettinger being shot. In his daze after a shotgun blast to the side of his face, Greg shoots and kills the masked vigilante known as The Black Hood. The rest of the story follows Hettinger trying to recover from both the physical and mental wounds of his ordeal, but he doesn’t seem to fair well with either. Anger, aggression, and dishonesty plague him as he struggles with gaining recognition for an accidental shooting and develops an addiction to his pain medication. Greg has soon developed a ritual of taking his stolen pain meds while wearing the mask of the vigilante he killed, in order to feel like he’s someone else for a while, and in an event to hide his broke life from others he stumbles upon a mugging while still wearing the mask. Greg Hettinger decides to still try to be a hero.
Alex Segura, SVP of Publicity and Marketing for Dark Circle Comics, has likened the company’s re-branding to a collection of HBO-style drama series. Sadly this comparison feels like the company is trying too hard to jump on the Modern Age bandwagon thirty years after the fact. Blood, violence, cursing, drug use, and a damaged protagonist feel like the creative team picked up a how-to guide for dark and gritty and followed it step-by-step. Like a true relaunch, the book ignores the previous incarnations of the characters, except for in the first few pages when the previous Black Hood is said to have been Kip Burland, the previous Hood from when the series ran in the 1970s. It makes sense for a relaunch to start from scratch, but hopefully the book doesn’t completely abandon the character’s history.
Writer Duane Swierczynski settles into his crime drama style quickly and easily. He sets the story in his hometown of Philadelphia and doesn’t waste any time offering a dangerous and violent world. There is very little learned about Greg Hettinger over the course of the issue, but we are led to believe he was a fairly handsome and honorable man who would willingly take on criminals alone if it means protecting the innocent. After bumbling into a facial scarring and a medal for heroism, Greg falls into a funk of depression and pill abuse. As the issue closes, and Greg makes a snap decision to take up the mantle of the Black Hood, it is a desperate move from a man who doesn’t feel like the hero he keeps being told he is, and grasps for a chance to finally do something heroic. These layers of character could lead to a very interesting character-study in future issues, but it takes time to see past what feels like a series of very clichéd anti-hero traits.
Michael Gaydos’ art builds a very fitting visual style to the story. The dark lining, heavy shadow, and washed-out color scheme solidify the rather disconnected attitude of Hettinger’s life. The rough coloring invokes a pulpy and classic crime drama feel of comic stories from previous decades. His character designs stick to a fairly realistic style, feeling more like portraits than drawing, and telling more with a facial expression than even Hettinger’s inner-monologue can say.
Black Hood #1 is not a terrible comic. It offers a different take on the possible creation of an anti-hero in a realistic world. Sadly, the over-zealous attempt to capture the dark and gritty realism for the story bogs the book down and makes it feel a bit amateur in execution. This, however, is not enough to write-off the series after only one issue. The creative team has had a rocky start but offers up enough possibilities to fully win an audience in the next few issues. If done properly this weak start could even come around to feel brilliant based on where it is going.
Black Hood #1 hits shelves today and is being published by Dark Circle Comics.