Archie Comics is in the midst of redefining their line, and that's not just limited to the Riverdale gang. Through the new imprint Dark Circle, Archie is revitalizing its classic superheroes with new series -- and none would seem more starkly different than The Black Hood.
Written by crime author Duane Swierczynski, The Black Hood follows a downtrodden cop tumbling headlong into some dark days, taking on the mantle and mask of the Black Hood in a manner that could save him or make it worse. Illustrated by Alias artist Michael Gaydos, The Black Hood has been pointed out both positively and negatively as arguably the first Archie Comics book to use the F-word, and Swierczynski takes it all in stride as he pulls this hero down a dark path.
With The Black Hood #2 due out March 25, Newsarama talked to Swierczynski about the reaction thisfar to the series since it's debut, the future for a "hero" like this, and working with a relatively clean-cut brand such as Archie on a hero that is decidedly not.
Newsarama: Duane, The Black Hood #1 just came out -- and is arguably the most dark and dirty comic Archie's ever done. How has the reception been for you?
Duane Swierczynski: I can honestly say that I’ve been receiving the best reviews of my comics career so far. Either my editor Alex Segura is greasing the right palms with hard, cold cash, or the story of The Black Hood has struck a dark note with people. (Maybe a little of both?) Actually, I’m just kidding. I know that everybody’s showing up for the amazing Michael Gaydos pages.
Nrama: The Black Hood #2 comes out this week, the second part of the introductory arc you titled "The Bullet's Kiss." Where are we at with Greg Hettinger here in this one as the new Black Hood?
Swierczynski: In the first issue, we watched Greg plunge into a free fall, only to bounce up a little at the end. Well, as readers will see in The Black Hood #2, that little bounce was only a tree limb, and there’s a long way to go before he reaches rock bottom. My favorite thing about noir stories is that you never really know when you’ve reached the absolute nadir. The universe has a funny way of pulling the earth out from under you when you least expect it…
Nrama: We've seen heroes under the influence of drugs, alcohol and other stimulants before, but this is really pushing it in a way Marvel or DC can't. I have no doubt Alex Segura and Archie hired you to be Duane Swierczynski, but did you anticipate any push back when you proposed this story and specifically in doing this issue?
Swierczynski: I anticipated a polite, “Um, no thank you” when I pitched the idea of a disfigured addict cop—but once they not only approved it, but embraced it… well, I guess it left me feeling emboldened. I feel like I have the same freedom I do when I write a prose crime novel, and that’s a wonderful thing. For me, the story is boss. I’m just doing what the boss tells me to do.
Nrama: There's a scene in The Black Hood #2 where Hettinger goes so far as to do heroin with his mask on, even though he's alone in his own home. That really hit me as a big moment -- how would you describe the state Greg's in here?
Swierczynski: Have you ever heard the story of how some gourmands eat a bird called the ortolan? Basically you drown the poor little thing in brandy, drape a napkin over your face, then eat it whole (except for the head), enjoying the meat, bones as well the booze-soaked organs. A priest reportedly started the trend of wearing the napkin so that he could hide his gluttony from God. I think Greg’s doing something similar here.
Nrama: The Black Hood is set in and around your hometown of Philadelphia. Why'd you pick that area?
Swierczynski: This city is where my imagination goes to play, but it’s so rare that I get the chance to set a comic here. I also wanted to show readers parts of my city that are rarely shown in stories—much like the same way David Simon showed us unfamiliar parts of Baltimore in The Wire. My dream would be to run a Black Hood Bus Tour showing off locations in the comic. Though everybody would have to sign a waiver first.
Nrama: I'd bet this is the first Archie comic to have the f-word in it -- so what’s that like for you?
Swierczynski: At first I was surprised that people made such a big deal about this. Now I find it kind of hilarious. I’ll bet my parents are proud.
Nrama: Working for Archie with, to borrow a phrase, "your very specific set of skills," what's that like. You ever ask, or get asked about, hey, do you want to write Betty & Veronica or something?
Swierczynski: I wish more people would ask me to write for unexpected places. Fuck, I’d love to write a Betty & Veronica story. Of course the first rule of writing such a story would be finding ways to avoid using the word “fuck.”
Nrama: Some people say that for heroes, their origin story is their most powerful and poignant one -- and the reason they're revisited so often in superhero comics. Would you call this the origin of the new Black Hood -- and is there an end to it?
Swierczynski: You’ve just touched on something that’s very important to me, Chris—the idea of the ongoing origin story. I don’t think this is something that can be neatly wrapped up in an issue or two. Who in real life has a specific “origin” story? We’re all messy, weird, struggling works in progress. And this is definitely the case with Greg. There’s never going to be a point where we all kick back and relax and say, “Ahhhh, okay, now he’s the Black Hood, let’s watch him go off on some adventures.” The hood will always be something he wrestles with, even if he hangs it up for good in a particular issue. In fact, it would be perverse fun to have him quit at a certain point, followed by 30 issues of him grappling with the implications of that decision. (That sound you hear right now is Alex Segura grinding his teeth.)