EXCLUSIVE: "Black Hood" #1 Returnable for Retailers, First Interior Pages Revealed

It's been more than six months since the initial announcement that Archie Comics was, as part of its continued evolution, rebranding its Red Circle superhero line as Dark Circle Comics. The name change signifies a more serious, cable drama-inspired spin on what had previously been known mostly as nostalgic characters who had failed to take off in the modern marketplace despite multiple relaunches.

After half of a year of hype, teasers and creator reveals, the Dark Circle line is nearly here, with launch title "The Black Hood" set to debut in February from the creative team of writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Michael Gaydos; with "The Fox: Fox Hunt" and "The Shield" to follow. In an attempt to help get "The Black Hood" #1 in the hands of comics fans who may have ignored Archie's superhero properties in the past, CBR has the exclusive first word that the publisher is making the issue returnable for retailers who order a minimum of five copies, in the hopes that lightening the risk on retailers will yield larger circulation at the dawn of the new imprint.

CBR News spoke with Dark Circle line editor and Archie Comics ‎SVP of Publicity and Marketing Alex Segura about the decision to make "Black Hood" #1 returnable, and what the decision may bode for the line as a whole. Plus, we have the exclusive premiere of "Black Hood" #1 interior pages by Gaydos, the first glimpse inside the Dark Circle launch title.

CBR News: Making Black Hood #1 returnable for retailers is a sign of commitment, and a bit of a risk. What kind of insight can you share as to what prompted that decision? Is this the first time Archie has gone that route?

Alex Segura: It is the first time we've done this, yes, and it's a byproduct of us now being on FOC with Diamond, which is a big step for the company as a whole -- and hugely important to Dark Circle as an imprint. We want retailers to feel empowered to be bold with their orders on this book because we're very confident in not only the quality that Duane, Michael and the entire creative are building but with the sales potential.

"The Black Hood" isn't a typical superhero book -- in fact, if forced to choose, I'd say it's more of a crime story akin to what you see on cable television. Duane's no slouch in that arena, having written many acclaimed and bestselling books that just ooze with noir, and Gaydos's pedigree is unmatched. The pages we're showing really spotlight what this book is going to be. Basically, we want to make it as easy as possible for retailers -- and, in turn, the fans -- to take a chance on this book, which we think is going to be very special.

Is there a chance the other Dark Circle #1s will also be returnable, or is "Black Hood" a special case since it's the first out of the gate?

We'll see. I think we're trying to balance looking at the line as a whole while also treating each book as a unique and important launch, if that makes sense. We want the Dark Circle brand/logo to be a sign of quality, like FX or HBO, as opposed to something that implies continuity or complex, interweaving titles. It's definitely an option we'll use carefully, though, like variants. We're trying to give fans options in terms of the books they buy and how instead of pressuring them to get everything because of some greater über-narrative.

I also want to note that this isn't a G-rated reimagining. When I liken the content to HBO and other cable programming, I'm also taking about the entire package, not just the tonal delivery. Which is basically a nice way of saying the issue will feature its fair share of mature themes, f-bombs and violence, in tune with most Teen-plus material.

You've talked a lot at this point about changing perceptions on the former Red Circle characters -- obviously the true test will be when the books are actually in shops, but at this point, do you think the message you're looking to send is getting out there? Has the early response been close to what you were hoping for?

I think so. Like you said, the proof will be in the numbers -- but everything going in has us feeling positive and excited, from the artwork and script to response from fans. We had a packed panel at NYCC and didn't have any books out, which struck me as a good sign. I've tried to avoid even referring to this line as a relaunch, because we're really treating this like a pure launch -- these are different, bold, new takes on characters that most fans aren't supremely familiar with.

In many ways, this'll be their first exposure to The Black Hood, Fox and Shield. Which is good -- because we're really putting our best foot forward with some of the best talent out there. I think we're also doing it while balancing what's come before and appreciating the long-time fans who've supported our properties. I think a lot of that will become clearer as we get closer to launch and when the books begin to roll out. Overall, I'm really pleased with the response and excitement people have shown.

"Black Hood" #1 is scheduled for release on Feb. 25.

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