Being an online reviewer you sometime get the opportunity to check out digital previews of comics a couple of weeks before their release date. Usually I’ll just read the PDF that’s sent to me, write a review for it, publish the review and move on with my day. Every once in a while, however, a comic comes out that, even though I’ve actually read the digital version of the book for free, I’ll still get up off my ass and get to a comic shop and buy the physical copy. It makes no sense, I know, to pay for something you’ve been given for free but rarely, ever so rarely, a comic comes out and I feel compelled to give the creators my money so that I can feel that I contributed to the success of the book. If you’ve been listening to the Part-Time Fanboy podcast at all in the past couple of years you know how much of a big deal this is for me. In the past several years I’ve become strictly a trade paperback collector for several reasons. So it takes a lot, A LOT, for me to go out and actually put my money down for a single issue of a comic book.
Well, my friends, this week, not only did I feel the need to buy one comic but I went out and bought two comics. At full price. At $3.99 each. So you can tell that I really, really loved these comics.
Art by: Josh Hood
Published by: Black Mask Studios
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
The first book I want to focus on is the one that initially moved me the most to actually go out and buy a pamphlet comic for the first time in ages. That book is We Can Never Go Home. Why did this book move me so? The easy answer would be to state that it’s because it encapsulates everything that’s great about indie comics and adds a little dash of super heroic super powers into the mix. I can’t help it, I love characters with super powers, but I also love indie comics. As much as many factions of the comic collecting universe love to separate these two branches of comics and have them face off against each other in a mano a mano fight as to which them are actual “authentic” comics…I am a fan of both. I love superheroes and I love angst ridden tales of “real life” in comics form. I am a fan of both kinds of comics as, I suspect, many of you out there are. But oftentimes these two branches of the comic world are pitted against each other in a ridiculous fight for “hipness” or “relevance” that benefits no one. Part of the reason that I loved We can Never Go Home is that it proves that combining these essential pockets of the comics universe can work and work well. The best part of We Can Never Go Home is that it shows us that, yes, people, the farmer and the cowman can be friends.
But what made this book special for me is how it did a great job of capturing the earnest feel of the imaginary adolescence that we all wished we had lived. This comic establishes itself to be treading the same water as all of those movies that most of my generation gravitated toward in their teenage years. I’d heard that this book embodied the spirit of the classic John Hughes film The Breakfast Club but I think this book’s essence reaches toward a deeper sense of rebellion than that movie. What’s great about We Can Never Go Home is that is steps outside the boundaries of the conventional John Hughes format and embraces a form of quirk that other more audacious films went for. I’m talking about stuff like Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, or Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise. While, yes, there is a bit of the tortured teenage years present in We Can Never Go Home, this comic is more of a rebels on the run book more than anything else and this first issue sets up the story brilliantly, hitting all the right notes and setting up the reader for what looks like a wild ride. If you ever dreamed of hitting the pavement and finding your own adventure then this comic is for you. It captures the essence of being an outsider and follows in the footsteps of comics in the vein of great comics such as Kill Your Boyfriend and Teenagers from Mars.
We Can Never Go Home is backed up by a more than impressive art team. The combination of impressive artistry, colors, and graphic design make the visual palette of the book is outstanding. This is a comic that benefits from a graphic professional touch that isn’t always present in independent comic books. The art team of We Can Never Go Home should be proud of their work here as I feel that it is one of the better looking comics I’ve seen in a long time. Black Mask may have just discovered the next big superstar comic artist in Josh Hood whose style is crisp and clear but demonstrates a fluidity of motion that only the best in the biz can implement. There are shades of early Duncan Fegredo in Hood’s work and if you know who Fegredo is you know that this is an outstanding compliment. All in all this book looks like it’s going to be a launching pad for the career of everyone involved as We Can Never Go Home may be the comic that everyone’s talking about in the next several months.
The Black Hood # 1 and 2
Written by: Duane Swiercynski
Art by: Michael Gaydos
Published by: Dark Circle Comics
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
The other comic that captured my attention enough to make me want to go out and support it with my own hard earned money is Dark Circle Comics’ The Black Hood. Holy cow, who knew that Archie Comics had it in them? For those not in the know, Dark Circle Comics appears to be a brand new label that Archie Comics has formed in order to re-launch some of their superhero books from bygone days. Wait, Archie Comics has a superhero line you ask? Yep, once upon a time the publishers of Archie tried to get into the super powers biz with an endeavor called Red Circle Comics. The line never really took off and at one point in the nineties the characters were licensed to DC Comics to be used under a banner called Impact Comics. Unfortunately, even DC couldn’t even make a go of it and many of the Red Circle characters vanished into obscurity. Now, apparently bolstered by the success of Afterlife with Archie (which pits Archie and his gang against the undead in a not so kid friendly manner) Archie Comics has decided to bring these characters back again…beginning with The Black Hood.
If there was ever a comic that was going to be the polar opposite of anything that the publishers at Archie had ever done or what you would ever expect them to do you couldn’t go much further than The Black Hood. The Black Hood is one of the darker superhero/vigilante books that I’ve read in a while and it embraces the best elements of what a street fighting hero should be. This comic delves into a darkness that few anti-heroes have in the recent past. The Black Hood presents a protagonist who is seriously damaged, both physically and mentally, and who uses the pain he’s steeped in to lash out at a world that he ultimately feels powerless against.
While at first glance this formula may seem culled from the bones of Batman or The Punisher, The Black Hood comes from a place that these street fighting heroes never have. The Black Hood is dark from the outset and while, yes, we’ve seen a Batman addicted to drugs or a Punisher who has been mentally damaged…there’s always an unauthentic tinge to that suffering because these are characters that must recover from their traumas in order to present themselves in a somewhat positive light. The Black Hood gives us a lead character that falls into a deep downward spiral because of some terrible circumstances but his need for vengeance is not based in the somewhat noble struggle of his comic book predecessors. Instead of struggling for justice or righting wrongs that have been done to loved ones, The Black Hood’s fight comes from a vengeance that springs from damage done to him personally. This, to me, shifted the dynamic of this vigilante’s core to something darker and made his struggle ring with a bit less dignity than, say, Batman’s struggle to avenge his murdered parents.
It’s because of this that I found The Black Hood such a compelling read. Every comic fan under the sun knows that characters like the Punisher owe some of their genesis to the late seventies/early eighties slew of vengeance films that draped the pop culture landscape at the time of his creation. Movies like Death Wish and Dirty Harry provided much of the DNA for Frank Castle and his myopic brethren to litter the comic book landscape. But over the years the cease of urban blight has made comic book vigilantes a bit less relevant and their struggles for psychotic retribution a bit less identifiable as the core of their character has been diluted somewhat by years and years of having to appeal to a mass audience. The Black Hood is a return to those roots with perhaps an even darker, more grounded slant provided. Where the Punisher’s roots may have been somewhat derived from Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood, The Black Hood’s birth seems spawned more out of the Bernhard Goetz mold…which is what makes the book such a compelling read.
The Black Hood’s first issues appear grounded in the uncomfortable “reality” of the world outside our window. This is not the vigilante genre as a noble warrior for justice. This is crime fighting with a messy heart reminiscent of Times Square in the 1970’s. The Black Hood gives us a hero that walks a heavy grey line, a character born of tragedy and striking out in obvious pain. The protagonist in The Black Hood is one that seems to be the most humanly flawed of any recent anti-hero created in the comics world. Yes, there are shades of what has come before but this comic is a breath of fresh, crime fighting, ass kicking air in an industry that’s stacked with gun toting crime fighters. All of this isn’t to say that the hero of this book lacks humanity. As a matter of fact, writer Duane Swiercynski makes the lead character incredibly sympathetic…which is what makes his change into a knuckle brawling vigilante all the more interesting.
And the book looks stunning. It captures the feel of grit and grime of a city filled with crime. I haven’t felt this immersed by the look of a vigilante book since Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil run. Michael Gaydos certainly seems to have aped Maleev’s style a bit but also makes the book his own, creating a dark and foreboding world that makes the rise of a character like The Black Hood believable. Looking at the art is like watching a gritty print of your favorite grind house film. It makes you uncomfortable in all the right ways. Gaydos creates the perfect environment for The Black Hood to exist in and each page is the perfect visualization of a world gone wrong that would see the emergence of someone like The Black Hood.
So, there you have it…two comics that I loved so much that I had to go out and buy them with my own money. These two titles have the makings of some interesting stuff and I can’t wait to see how they both grow. If anything, We Can never Go Home and The Black Hood are evidence that it’s an interesting time for comic fans. The options of where to go for entertaining content just keep growing and growing. If We Can Never Go Home and The Black Hood are a watermark for the kind of quality we can expect from Black Mask Studios and Black Circle Comics…then I hope they’ll both be around to entertain us for a long time to come.