Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Dark Circle
Release Date: February 26, 2015
When words like “realism” or “realistic” get attached to superheroes, they almost never literally mean “similar to our lives” or “closer to reality than what the normally fantastical genre usually presents us with.” Instead, “realistic,” with regards to superheroes, is usually a swap-out word for “pessimistic,” and that’s cool: there’s nothing wrong with a little negativity here and there.
Watchmen obviously isn’t realistic — it’s just a bummer. Neither is The Punisher — he’s just an asshole. There aren’t many widely-recognized comic book franchises or characters that could plausibly go about their usual business on the version of Earth you and I inhabit, but Archie and his friends rank highly among the few.
Which brings us to The Black Hood, one of the original Batman knockoffs, first appearing amongst the MLJ/Archie Comics stable of trademarks in 1940, and recently rebooted under the banner of Archie’s Dark Circle imprint. With Issue #1 of the new Black Hood, writer Duane Swierczynski asks, “What would make a person in the real world become a superhero that fits the street-level, Batman/Daredevil paradigm?” And he answers, “confusion, misplaced anger, debilitating physical deformity and a substance abuse problem.”
Despite its pessimism, this is a very unrealistic story to tell. We know this because an entire real-life community of selfmade, superpowerless superheroes patrol their respective cities in varying degrees of gaudy regalia battling — if not violent crime — disagreeable circumstances. According to the numerous news articles and documentaries on the subject, these “superheroes” are basically narcissistic, mostly harmless, well-intended goofballs. While it’s more than reasonable to question the underlying motivations of such individuals, the lesson they teach the rest of us is that truly realistic superheroes are much, much more optimistic than any character published under the byline “Frank Miller” or “Garth Ennis.” Maybe dumber, but definitely sunnier.
That said, Greg Hettinger’s “traumatized, guilt-ridden cop gone bonkers on percocets” narrative resonates as more grounded than Bruce Wayne’s “trust fund baby with murdered parents” origin, or Matt Murdock’s “oblivious, de-facto mob mortgagee who just-so-happens to already be a half ninja, half dolphin” backstory. As of issue one, The Black Hood is not realistic by any means, but it is a galaxy closer to life as we know it than its contemporaries snarling and brooding around in the oversaturated market of “gritty” superhero stories.
The team of artists successfully render details as specific as paint eroding on gym lockers, as well as momentary, but meaningful, facial ticks, all while nailing the cliche but crucial desolate urban wasteland. But the pictures all weirdly resemble the Marvel Knights books from 10 years ago, with Michael Gaydos recapturing the weathered aesthetic of Alias and David Mack’s multimedia textures on Daredevil. Or, maybe whoever’s paying them is screaming, “Make this look like something Brian Bendis wrote in 2004!” and should really stop screaming that.