Swierczynski Puts The Black Hood Through a Noir Meat Grinder

When Archie Comics rebranded its superhero universe as Dark Circle Comics, their opening salvo involved dropping the publisher's first F-Bomb in the pages of "The Black Hood." But the plans writer Duane Swiercynski has for Season 2 of the noir vigilante saga makes that decision look more like something you'd see on the Disney Channel.

Arriving this week, the all-new "Black Hood" #1 sees the drug-addicted, deformed former cop on the lam after his last crime bust in Philadelphia went awry. That shootout not only left Greg Hettinger in disgrace, it also left his partner dead and the only woman in his life finally fully shut out of his dangerous lifestyle. But now the man who can't stop living the lifestyle of the Black Hood (even when he's homeless) is being stalked by The Nobody – a crazed serial killer with a vendetta against Greg's vigilante forebearer.

All those ideas collide with blood, breakdowns and boatloads of cussing as Swierczynski and returning artist Greg Scott pick up the action this week. CBR News spoke to the writer about the method behind his increasingly destroyed anti-hero, the impact of the Black Hood's publishing legacy on the book and whether or not we'll ever see the truly superpowered heroes of the Dark Circle universe arrive on Greg's doorstep.

CBR News: Duane, I think it's safe to say that a lot of people who will be coming onto this new volume of "The Black Hood" were in for the ride on Season 1. But for anyone that needs catching up, how do you define what this take on the character is all about?

Duane Swierczynski: Well, Greg Hettinger is definitely NOT a superhero. He may do heroic things from time to time, but he’s a basically still a very damaged guy — a drug addict with a badge, a gun, a motorcycle. And a black hood, when the occasion arises. What I’ve tried to do with the first season of "The Black Hood" is take a good guy who wants to do the right thing…and then press him through the meat grinder of life and see what oozes out the other side.

One defining quality of Greg in the first series was that he was always an underdog in his vigilantism – oftentimes brutally so. We're picking him up at an all-time low after his work led to the death of his partner in Philly. At this point, is it possible at all for Greg to rebound as a hero? To find redemption?

Great question. By issue #10 (the end of Season 1), Greg's pretty much hit rock bottom. So the challenge (and fun) with Season 2 is to start chipping away at that rock, and see how far down we can get. That said, I don’t want to chronicle Greg's slow, long slog to the grave. If there’s no hint of redemption, why keep reading? I think Greg’s going to surprise a few people in this coming arc. He’s got inner reserves of strength — or maybe just stubbornness — that he didn’t quite realize.

The villain this time out is The Nobody, a mysterious killer with links to the Black Hood legacy. What really interests me about the bad guys in this book in general is that they do have that comic book villain feel – code names, a flair for the dramatic – without ever veering into "super" villain territory. What's key to you about pulling off that balancing act in creating a big bad for this book?

Yeah, I thought it would be fun to offset the uber-gritty realism with a bit of pulp — after all, the Black Hood started out as a pulp hero. So he faces villains who have these enormous egos and delusions of grandeur. The kind of guys who expect Batman or the Punisher to show up…and instead, they get Greg. Which is not only amusing, but helpful to Greg, because the bad guys always seem to underestimate him.

As the start of Season 2, the "Nobody Murders" arc (even in its name) seems to be challenging Greg's resolve as a character. In what way do you think this latest mystery serves as a thesis statement for the kind of book you want "Black Hood" to be?

When we catch up with Greg, he’s wallowing in his own personal hell. The appearance of The Nobody reminds him — hey buddy, it’s not all about you. There’s some seriously evil stuff out there, and you’re either going to step up and do something about it, or you’re going to step into traffic and end it all. Thankfully, Greg seems to veer toward the former. Again, and again, and again. You know how Robert Kirkman famously described "The Walking Dead" as a zombie movie that never ends? Well, I’d love for THE BLACK HOOD to be a noir film that continues to grow darker, and darker, and darker… until you’re watching pitch black celluloid spinning through the projector.

You're working here with artist Greg Scott, who's no stranger to the Dark Circle world or to this book having chipped in on Season 1. But how does it change your approach knowing that Greg will be with you for a full arc? What strengths does he bring to the series as it stands, and what changes might he inspire as well?

I always try to write a story that I think my creative partner will enjoy drawing. In this case, it’s easy, because I know Greg and I are both noir/crime nerds. That said, he’s always surprising me. I'll see little sneak previews of his pages and I’ll think, "Wow, that looks amazing! Wonder what Greg is working on now…oh wait, that’s 'Black Hood.'" His twisted point of view is essential to the storytelling.

Looking at the long term threads in the book, we've got the mystery of original Black Hood Kip Burland. Originally, everyone thought that character had died when Greg first took on the mantle, but at the end of Season 1 you revealed he's somewhat back in action. Whenever the pair finally meet back up, what do you think each Black Hood will make of the other's approach to crime fighting?

Well, that’s not quite what happened -- issue #11 was a prequel, where we saw what the original Black Hood was doing right before he met up with Greg Hettinger in Philadelphia. But there is some unfinished business for ol’ Kip, and you know that pulp heroes have the annoying tendency to crawl up out of the grave…

I think Kip Burland would be absolutely mortified to hear about what Greg’s been up to while wearing the Hood. They may have some words.

Of course, the series is technically a part of the wider world of Archie's superhero universe, and while you haven't been interested in letting the capes-and-tights set crash into your book, you have tipped your hat at the idea in the past – particularly with the villains called the Crusaders. Moving forward, what ways can you work in the history of Archie's superheroes without crossing into that super powered territory?

I like to pretend that in Greg Hettinger’s world, superheroes (you know, with actual powers and stuff) are about as real as UFOs and the Sasquatch. Some people believe in them, sure. But not Greg. He’s got too much real-life drama to worry about. Which will make it all the more shocking when a super-powered being shows up on Greg’s front porch in Philly someday...

"Black Hood" #1 is on sale this week from Dark Circle Comics.

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