Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A Forgotten Gem - The Black Hood (!mpact Comics)

Yes, you read that right - !mpact Comics. Well that is how it was written in the trade dress on the covers, but in fact they were Impact Comics, however I have always favoured the exclamation mark.

The first Black Hood I encountered was through the !mpact imprint, I'll be honest about that, even though it wasn't the first Black Hood to be published, not by a long way. !mpact was an imprint of DC Comics that featured characters licensed from Archie Comics, something that DC would try again 15 or so years later with their Red Circle project (not to be confused with MLJ Comics (and later known as Archie Comics) usage of the Red Circle name with characters with the same names - sorry!) (see the discussion of The Shield and The Web titles if you like). I'll also be honest that because I was only tentatively discovering having a local comic shop at about that time, my collecting of the line was patchy at best. I have since gone on to complete my collection of the !mpact books, thanks in no small part to ebay. I am glad I did, for the enjoyment that reading and re-reading the Black Hood series has offered me. !mpact Comics may be a 'Dead Universe' (I wish, I wish I had been the one to coin that phrase, since it sums everything up so well in discussion about defunct comic book settings), but that does not stop me enjoying leafing through much of the output from time to time.

My original impression of the !mpact Black Hood was that he looked very cool. Unfortunately I didn't really get to read much of the character(s) at the time. That said before even reading the title I thought it was a Punisher knock-off. Then reading a couple of issues left me a little confused as to what the book really was.

Of all the eight titles from the !mpact line, I felt this was the strongest (closely followed by the Fly). That is something I put down to the writer (Mark Wheatley) working very well with the primary artist (Rick Burchett). Together they offer a well-designed mythos featuring a character who must have appeared to be a Punisher-type clone to many at first sight, as it was for me, but in reality was anything but that (although the first incarnation of the hero that we saw added to that confusion - see below; quite intentionally I feel). In talking of mythos, there is a great deal of that in the book. From the history of the magical hood giving powers to those who wear it whilst compelling the wearer to do good, to the fictional setting evolving from the unification of two criminal families, to the intertwining of both of these strands, especially when the hood falls into the hands of a somewhat unexpected character (a criminal no less - who is of course compelled to act justly by wearing the hood!; see second image). We also get to see a sympathetic lead in Nate Cray (as the main Black Hood) who is just a good kid compelled to act in the cause of justice.

The notion of the hood being passed from wearer to wearer is a great nod to the Archie/MLJ Black Hood mythos, whilst still adding a different spin due to the magical nature of the item. Interestingly the original publisher (Archie) may have had similar plans in the 1980's when they were still actively publishing their super-hero line.

I found the !mpact Comics Black Hood title to be an absorbing read, and having read the Archie-Red Circle Black Hood after perusing the DC-!mpact incarnation, it is interesting to note the parallels - both even feature back-up strips with the Fox, for example!

This is a book I would recommend as a good read, with cool visuals and an adeptly woven tapestry that is the main story, spinning out from the events of the climax of the first issue through to the checkered and interesting journey that the hood goes on, through the hands of Nate Cray and others. Any preconceptions that a potential reader may have had were surely overthrown by a mix of stories incorporating themes of justice, heroism, criminal intent and will to power, technology, environmentalism, and lots more besides. I found the series to be a really engaging read that I'd suggest anyone who hasn't picked it up to give it a try. Yes it has nothing to do with the MLJ/Archie/Mighty Comics-Mighty Crusaders Black Hood, nor with DC's latest iteration of the Black Hood (see The Web issue 5 released in January 2010) but if you can put that aside and are able to pick these 12 comics and annual up cheaply, you may discover a real gem.

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