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Duane Swierczynski Talks About Reviving ‘The Black Hood’

Having originally made his debut in 1940, The Black Hood is currently experiencing a renaissance thanks to a bold new reinvention of the character from Archie Comics’ gritty Dark Circle imprint. Written by Duane Swierczynski (Birds of Prey, the crime novel Canary) and illustrated by Michael Gaydos (Alias), the comic chronicles the exploits of Greg Hettinger, a Philadelphia cop who takes a bullet to the face while pursuing a vigilante known as The Black Hood. Killing the Hood during their confrontation, the now-disfigured Hettinger begins a long road to recovery that’s complicated when he becomes addicted to painkillers and other drugs. When he decides to don the hood for himself, he starts to clean up the mean streets of Philadelphia and bring down the drug kingpin who tries to have him framed.

Despite sharing the same parent company as Archie, Jughead, et al, The Black Hood is an unrelentingly dark story that’s nearly as disturbing as it is compelling. At its center is a good man who has been dealt some bad blows. Realizing that the law sometimes gets in the way of justice, he takes matters into his own hands to help bring a little light into the City of Brotherly Love.

Released this week, the sixth issue of the comic features Hettinger recovering from the events of the first story arc at a California rehab clinic. Handling art duties for the standalone issue is comics vet Howard Chaykin, whose imagery shows that although California may be bright and sunny, Hettinger will never truly be able to keep out the dark. In advance of the book’s release, I chatted with Duane Swierczynski about his work on The Black Hood so far, as well as his various other creative endeavors. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you get brought on board this project and how familiar were you with The Black Hood before you worked on the comic?

Though we’d never worked together before, I was friendly with editor/writer Alex Segura. We’re both crime novelists, so we’d say hi at various cons and such. A couple of years ago, Alex approached me with the idea of doing a Black Hood comic. Not only had I never heard of the Black Hood, but I was also dubious about the idea of an Archie superhero. I have no qualms with the Riverdale gang, mind you — it just didn’t seem like something that would be in my wheelhouse, you know?

But after Alex assured me that I could pitch this as dark as I’d liked, I did some research and was amazed at the Hood’s deep pulp roots. (Legit, too — he had his own pulp mag in the 1940s!) So the idea of bringing him screaming into the present appealed to me. I pitched my take, figuring it would be way too dark, but what the hell, right? Well, Alex surprised me by asking for a revise… and encouraging me to make it even darker. That’s when I knew we were going to have a lot of fun working together.

Reading the comics from the perspective of a lifelong Philadelphian, one of the most appealing aspects of the book is how little Easter Egg touches like the inclusion of Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, the Action News van, and referencing Harrison Graham root the story in realism. I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on your collaboration with Michael Gaydos, and how much you chatted with him about the mood of Philly.

Gaydos and I have never spoken! Weird isn’t it? We’re both private guys, I guess. A lot of those Easter Eggs are scripted, but Gaydos will also come up with really amazing details on his own (pretty sure the Action News van was all him) that feel so damn Philly, you would have sworn he lives here, too. A lot of readers, I’m sure, won’t notice those details, but it’s nice to have some little things in there for the home crowd.

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