Today, Patrick and Ryan M. are discussing The Black Hood 6, originally released October 28th, 2015.
Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s like the only disease that you can get yelled at for having. “Damn it Otto, you’re an alcoholic.” “Damn it Otto, you have lupus.” One of those two doesn’t sound right.
Patrick: Addiction is ugly. It can make a human being totally (and literally) self-destruct, and in many cases there’s nothing that friends and family can do to help. The extra psychological stress of knowing that addiction is a disease that the addict seemingly inflicts upon himself can be downright devastating. Hedberg himself died of a drug overdose, despite the fact that he had been in treatment and had a strong support network and friends and family invested in his well-being. On some level, someone succumbing to their addiction seems like a personal failing, as though they lacked the willpower to simply overcome it. That’s one of the dangers of depicting addiction in fiction – so often, “getting clean” is the final step in that addicted hero’s journey. But addiction isn’t a dragon, or a witch, Darth Vader, it’s a disease that rewards someone for behavior that will ultimately lead to their undoing. It’s a heartbreaking thing to witness, and everyone involved feels powerless to it. Greg H. is an addict, but not just to painkillers: he’s addicted to being the vigilante known as the Black Hood. Duane Swierczynski and Howard Chaykin embrace that ugliness and helplessness as Greg’s addiction comes back to routinely bite him in the ass.
But like most getting-over-addiction stories, this one takes place in what I can only assume is Malibu.
Right off the bat, artist Howard Chaykin and colorist Jesus Aburto lead with some of the most beautiful imagery this series has ever committed to the page. It’s a stark contrast to any of Michael Gaydos’ drawings of Philadelphia, which were drab, gritty, industrial and urban to an almost smothering degree. It’s a remarkable tone shift for the series, and that chyron on the bottom of the panel sets up a familiar narrative: recovery. “Southern California” is no doubt Malibu — especially with that coastline — and Malibu is famous for its rehabilitation centers. But more than that, Aburto’s colors capture that quality of light passing through the Southern California haze, making the blues and greens more electric, and basically broadcasting this idea of hope. It’s beautiful, serene and almost forces the reader to consider the possibility that Greg can get better.
Almost immediately upon meeting Greg’s fellow patients, however, a layer of that beauty is stripped away. Chaykin’s character designs are not at all attractive, and he draws faces with inconsistent attention to detail, and stray lines all over their cheeks and foreheads. Sometimes he’s being expressive, but most of the time, his faces look downright ugly. None of the characters are exempt from this, but the biggest perpetrator is Elisa.
I mean, seriously, what is going on with that drawing? Aburto’s colors don’t even quite match up with the shading that Chaykin suggests with his extra pencil lines. Further, those stray pencil lines are emphasized by the absurdly thick ink outline that (I presume) Chaykin applies to her face.
At first, I was very taken aback by these characters, but I think I’m supposed to be. Sure, California may be beautiful, and Greg may be inspired to turn over a new leaf, as he confesses in his letters home to Jessie, but the people are still ugly. Not ugly in a physical sense — there’s nothing here to suggest that anyone other than Greg is horribly disfigured — but in a character sense. Chaykin is telegraphing Elisa’s eventual turn with her very appearance.
The more emotional gut punch comes when Greg’s letters start to ignore the fact that he is relapsing. In fact, after he’s been tricked in to killing Elisa’s mark, he writes back to Jessie, claiming to be all better now. Like any addict, Greg has not magically become able to deal with the world without that to which he was addicted. And it’s not even like being the Black Hood is ultimately good for him. You know how we all kind of agree that the Batman persona is probably psychologically damaging to Bruce Wayne, but that ultimately the sense of purpose that being Batman brings him probably makes up for it? There’s no such silver lining here, and the only thing that Greg gets out of donning the Hood again is more blood on his hands.
It is dark, horrifying stuff, but that just means that Swierczynski is playing to his strengths yet again. Ryan, I don’t know if you had an opportunity to catch up on Greg’s… I hesitate to call them “adventures…” before jumping in on this new arc, but I’d be interested in hearing your perspective either way. I do find myself wishing that there was a ray of light in this issue – beyond all the literal rays of light, that is. But this issue does prove that the tone of the series is persistent enough to be taken off the East Coast. What do you say? Would it be too depressing to see Greg stumbling around the LA drug scene, ruining his life further and further until he just disappears?
Ryan M.: This was my first exposure to Greg and his dual addictions and I will definitely be catching up on the back issues to get more of him. LA Noir is one of my favorite sub-genres and I really appreciate the way that this story subverted some of those conventions by stripping away the “cool” and leaving us with a more raw and tragic story. And it is deeply sad when Greg comforts himself during a sleepless night by putting on the hood. He looks directly at the reader as he compares himself to a child. And there is a vulnerability to him in the moment. We are seeing him in a truer way than anyone in his endless group therapy sessions can.
In the first scene, Greg stands alone on the bluffs above the ocean in Uggs boots. It’s a weird choice for a tough pill-addicted cop from Philly but it reinforces what he tells Jessie in his letter. He looking out at a beautiful vista, wearing a comfy outfit that has no crime fighting value with his only task being to heal. In the last scene of the issue, Elisa is wearing the sheepskin boots, and now that we have insight into her character, we see them as part of her costume. Patrick, I was also struck by the ugliness of Elisa. You can see her channeling the femme fatale archetype with bold red lipstick and heavily lashes, but she also looks tired and used up.
Adding to the bleak (yet beautiful) world of the rehab facility is the indifference of the staff. We see Greg encounter three staff members. One seems more preoccupied with maintaining the illusion of anonymity than listening, another plays with his phone as the Black Hood sneaks past and the final recoils in disgust at Greg’s face. If these men are the only people Greg has for help, it is no surprise that he hasn’t “bought in” to the program.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?