Archie Comics is known for publishing stories about Archie Andrews, the wholesome teen from the picturesque town of Riverdale. But these days, the publisher does a lot more than just that—like telling violent, hard-boiled crime stories chock full of drugs and curse words about a good cop gone bad.
That’s what you’ll find in next week’s The Black Hood #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos, the first comic under Archie’s brand new Dark Circle imprint. As the first volley in the publisher’s 2015 revamp of its superhero line (previously known as Red Circle comcis), The Black Hood hopes to set the pace for what we can expect from Dark Circle: bold, idiosyncratic stories that aim to make a clean break from any expectations readers might have upon hearing the word “Archie.”
“I said, here’s what I’d love to do, but I thought [Archie’s Dark Circle editor Alex Segura] would never go for it in a million years, because it’s Archie! They’re not going to go for this dark, twisted, drug-infested, violent thing,” says Black Hood writer Duane Swierczynski. “Little did I know that they wanted something super dark. In fact, they pushed me on the outline to go further and darker. And I thought, wow, this is a brand new Archie, isn’t it? I’m so thrilled. They’ve been so supportive of just going there with the story. “
Created in 1940 by Harry Shorten, The Black Hood is a pulp hero with a long history that has seen numerous interpretations over the last 75 years. Swierzcynsk hopes to acknowledge that history during his tenure with the character, but the take he and Gaydos debut next week is very much meant to stand on its own.
“It’s about a guy trying to do good, but the universe is pushing back on him in every way possible,” says Swierczynski.
“You can be a guy who wants to be good, but then the universe says ‘Sorry, no.’ It’s about how far you would go to get back on your feet and keep trying… you get kicked in the face, but you have to keep going anyway. And maybe you find a different route to do good than you thought possible.”
In The Black Hood‘s opening story, “The Bullet’s Kiss,” police officer Greg Hettinger is horrifically wounded in the middle of a gunfight—which sets him on the path to becoming a vigilante waging a one-man war on crime. The story is set in Swiersczynski’s native Philadelphia and inspired by a few real-life events.
“A lot of the series was inspired by real-life crime stories that I’d read every day and think, ‘Yeah this city deserves the Black Hood running around, for better or worse,” says Swierczynski. He also praises his collaborator—legendary artist Michael Gaydos (Alias)—for his depiction of Philadelphia.
“He’s captured the city in ways that I’ve never seen it before,” says Swierczynski. “You [normally] see Philly in a comic book, and people will go, ‘Oh, Liberty Bell. Oh look, there’s City Hall.’ This is Michael taking you down these back alleys that only I thought I’ve seen, or only people raised there have seen.”
But as dark and seedy as The Black Hood sounds, Swierczynski says that it won’t be about “Walter White in a mask.”
“As strange as it sounds, I think it’s still an uplifting story. This guy will become a hero, he will find his way back to a certain degree. And that’s the fun of it: watching the reverse Breaking Bad. Watching someone who’s good—he stumbles, falls down in the darkness—but the fun is watching him crawl out of it.”
The Black Hood #1 goes on sale February 25th. Take your first look below.