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Dark Circle Reviews: Black Hood #6, The Hangman #1
By Philip Schweier

October 21, 2015 - 11:13

Dark Circle

I appreciate the underdog, and currently in comics, Dark Circle is a company trying its hardest to carve a niche for itself. It is an imprint of Archie Comics, Dark Circle is a re-branding of Red Circle, a short-lived imprint launched in the early 1980s.

It published long dormant characters such as the Shield, the Web, and the Black Hood. Later, the characters were licensed to DC Comics, but to limited success. Archie Comics eventually reclaimed them, and over the past year, it has revived the Red Circle line of properties with darker and more mature storylines, hence the name change.

The Black Hood
is the story of a Philadelphia police officer named Greg Hettinger. After being disfigured in a gunfight, he develops an addiction to painkillers, and while under their influence he adopts the vigilante persona of the Black Hood. Framed by a local drug lord, he pursues an investigation to clear his name and take down the criminal empire.

Issue #6 of the series begins with Hettinger in a rehab facility in California. While there, another resident approaches him, seeking protection from a possible assassin. Hettinger once more becomes the Black Hood in an effort to suss out the truth in an environment of less-than-credible people.

This was my first exposure to the modern take on the Black Hood, so certain elements may have slipped past me. Part of the story is told through the use of letters – or emails, maybe – to Hettinger’s confidant back home. I found the device helpful in understanding the nature of character. Rather than an individual who decides, “I will put on a mask and fight crime,” Hettinger is clearly an ordinary person, with flaws, as well as a desire make a difference for those in trouble. The hood is a weapon of sorts, empowering him to function outside normal channels.

Duane Swiercynski writes an emotional story, with a strong grounding in the truth of dealing with addiction and similar struggles. At the same time, there is an element of mystery, all in a compact done-in-one package. It something seldom seen these days, and refreshing. I doubt many writers could have pulled it off so effectively.

The art is by Howard Chaykin, who has reputation for a very real-world approach to his comic book storytelling. He is a perfect choice for this story, and just by his association alone, there is an added layer of realism that elevates this comic book above the typical super-hero fare.

The Hangman
is a new entry in the Dark Circle stable of characters. As the name implies, he is more of an executioner than a super-hero. He is described as, “an urban legend. A spook story told to scare criminals straight. But those who encounter him know different. They know that when he comes for you… you’re dead already.” The Hangman has a near mystical ability to discern the guilty from the innocent.

In the first issue, writer Frank Tieri introduces readers to Mike Minetta – husband, father, and mob hitman. He is on a particularly brutal job when he encounters the Hangman who determines Minetta is beyond redemption. But as the story winds down, a mysterious process takes place, and what becomes of the Hangman becomes a mystery to be explored in subsequent issues.

Artwork is by Felix Ruiz, with whose work I have been unfamiliar. It reminds me of Denys Cowan’s, and has an almost gritty look well-suited for a crime/horror title.

The Hangman #1 is a compelling debut, and goes beyond simply introducing the character. It leaves a number of questions unanswered, and suggests the character is somewhat akin to DC’s Spectre. However, I am optimistic subsequent issues will take the concept in a different direction. My curiosity is piqued, and I look forward to learning where it will lead.

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