Does anyone else remember Impact Comics? It was an imprint from DC Comics back in the early ’90s, the last time that DC licensed Archie Comics’s super-hero characters. There were some fun titles in there, but isolated off in their own universe and branded for all-ages, the line was soon doomed to cancellation. Now DC’s giving it another try, and bringing in J. Michael Straczynski in to write the initial four one-shots planting the characters firmly in the DC Universe.
“The Red Circle: The Hangman” is the first of the one-shots, setting the initial stage in the American Civil War where a Union doctor is left behind enemy lines, and an act of mercy proves to be his undoing. Offered the powers of the Hangman, over 100 years later he lives on and continues to fight to protect the wrongly accused. It’s a pretty standard origin story, and in it lies the problem with “The Red Circle: The Hangman.” It’s a very generic, by-the-book story that doesn’t feel terribly original or exciting. Straczynski’s script itself almost seems to mock this, with the origin being read to children out of a generic “Weird Western Tales” anthology as if it’s nothing more than a campfire ghost story. His characters don’t sound particularly real either; there’s a moment where a hospital worker says to the Hangman (in his civilian guise), “You know, some day one of us is actually going to see you after dark. Then we’ll all know your secret.” It’s not the sort of thing someone would say when their boss declines going out for drinks after work, and just sounds clunky. And while it’s supposed to be a sly nod towards the reader about Dr. Dickering’s other identity as the Hangman, it has all the grace of a lead balloon.
On the other hand, Tom Denerick and Bill Sienkiewicz should definitely work together often. It’s an attractive combination; Denerick provides the solid shapes and base of the figures, while Sienkiewicz’s inks harkens back to some of his more classic works, with that scraggly, dark, loose edge to the lines. Scenes like Dickering’s transformation into the Hangman, or the appearance of what could be the devil, come across as creepy and dark in a way that the script on its own doesn’t quite hit. It’s a nice looking comic, and easily the high point of the experience.
Hopefully the remaining three characters to get their own “The Red Circle” one-shots (Inferno, the Web, and the Shield) will have a little more pizzazz in their introductions. Right now, this first one-shot is an attractive comic but it just isn’t hitting the high mark that it needs to for people to get excited, wanting to read more.