The Black Hood 6

black hood 6

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.

Mitch Hedberg

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. Continue reading

The Black Hood 4

black hood 4

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Black Hood 4, originally released May 27th, 2015.

Drew: There’s nothing quite like a ticking clock to heighten drama. As much as I love the verisimilitude of more relaxed pacing, I can’t help but get excited when everything has to happen RIGHT NOW. I suppose those timebomb moments reflect their own kind of reality — deadlines can force us to rush through everything from our morning routine to the intro paragraph we need to write about the latest comic from Dark Circle — but knowing that there’s no time for second chances can really make a story gripping. Of course, just about every timebomb, whether it’s the inevitable arrival of a character or a literal timebomb, has been done to death. Or so I thought. Remarkably, Duane Swierczynski finds a totally novel timebomb in The Black Hood 4, giving Greg Hettinger the urgency his mission has been so sorely lacking. Continue reading

The Black Hood 2

Alternating Currents: The Black Hood 2, Drew and Mark

Today, Drew and Mark are discussing The Black Hood 2, originally released March 25th, 2015.

Drew: Means, motive, and opportunity. We’re familiar with how these play in a criminal case — a prosecutor must convince the jury of these three elements in order to convict — but I’d argue that they’re just as important in crafting a compelling superhero origin story. “Means” would be the superpowers (or lack thereof): the radioactive spider-bite, the alien DNA, the years of martial arts training; “motive” is their reason for fighting: the death of a loved one, the morals of a father-figure, some huanting mystery from their past; and “opportunity” is the wealth of villains: bankrobbers, intergalactic warlords, or even the corruption of their hometown. As with a criminal case, means and opportunity are pretty open-and-shut — the basic whos and whats of the story — but motive is much more subtle. An audience will dismiss a far-fetched or unbelievable motive just as quickly as a jury will. Of course, that also often makes motive the most elusive of these elements — a feature Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos highlight in The Black Hood 2. Continue reading

The Black Hood 1

Alternating Currents: The Black Hood 1, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Black Hood 1, originally released February 25th, 2015.

Drew: Superhero comics are a trope-filled medium. That’s doubly true of origin stories, which need to explain what would drive a normal person to dress up to fight crime. It turns out, there aren’t a whole lot of explanations out there. Was their family murdered in front of them? Were they the victim of some kind of science experiment gone wrong? Have they inherited some kind of mythical power? Every variation has been done, but so few have been done well. Indeed, the drive to get to the actual superheroics tends to leave origins rushed and expository — not the best recipe for a great story. The Black Hood 1 manages to avoid the tropes and the gratuitous exposition — while still taking its lead from regular guy to masked vigilante — trading our expectations in for some good old fashioned mystery. Continue reading

Birds of Prey 14

Today, Patrick and Mikyzptlk are discussing Birds of Prey 14, originally released November 21st, 2012.

Patrick: Why do we read comic books? Yes, I’d like to begin this write-up with a question so abstract. I ask because sometimes the answer isn’t readily apparent. Some of the comics we read are revolutionary — expressing incredible themes and concepts in exciting ways. But I’m not a total snob: I’m just as happy with simpler pleasures. Adventures are fun, characters are iconic, art is compelling. It’s a magic spell that’s been successfully cast on me time and time again. Birds of Prey may have dropped a few steps from those early issues we loved, but the spell shouldn’t have worn off entirely. Right?

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Birds of Prey 13

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Birds of Prey 13, originally released October 17th, 2012.

Shelby: A common trope for team titles is the “member with a problem.” You’ve got one member of the team with some sort of personal issue which spills into their superhero-ing. The team wants to help, the individual says they can do it alone and end up in trouble, the team saves the day. It’s tired, but it works; as a plot device, it injects character moments into the story while bringing the team closer together and providing a quest for us to read. Birds of Prey 13 delivers perfectly on this trope, so why do I feel like I’m missing something?

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Birds of Prey 0

Today, Shelby and (special guest writer) Lindsey Peterson are discussing Birds of Prey 0, originally released September 19, 2012. Birds of Prey 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Shelby: A difficult aspect of writing a comic book has got to be maintaining the balance between new and old readers: specifically, keeping both sides happy. You want to keep the long-timers happy; without their readership, you wouldn’t have been successful in the first place. But, you need to keep your books at least a little bit attainable to attract new readers; if your readership doesn’t grow, you won’t continue to be successful. With half of zero month behind us, we’ve seen examples of origins that bore us with nothing new and origins that confound us with no background knowledge given. Then we have my favorites, those titles which have struck that delicate balance between old-hat origin and current story arc connections. Birds of Prey is definitely in that last camp.  Continue reading

Birds of Prey 12

Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Birds of Prey 12, originally released August 15th, 2012.

Shelby: Why do we form teams? Is it to seek the support of others? Is it to accomplish big tasks more quickly? Is it to bring together different skill sets in order to solve more kinds of problems? These have to be at least some of the reasons why Black Canary decided to form a team to do some good in Gotham, but she has obviously made some mistakes in choosing her roster. You know that guy in the group who just won’t play ball with the plan and forces everyone to do things his way? Well, imagine that guy is an eco-terrorist metahuman holding you and the rest of the world hostage to do what he wants, and you can begin to see the dilemma Black Canary has on her hands.
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Birds of Prey 11

Alternating Currents: Birds of Prey 11, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Birds of Prey 11, originally released July 18th, 2012.

Drew: I’ve often said that I prefer questions to answers. Questions stimulate the imagination, where answers play in the realm of cut-and-dried facts; questions keep us guessing, while answers end the guessing. This leads me to seek out narratives steeped in mystery, like LOST. As that series drew to its conclusion, I was often frustrated as we received answers, partially because they weren’t always that interesting, and partially because I didn’t care. Answers to questions I’m not interested in — however well conceived — aren’t as interesting as more guesses about the questions I am interested in. I found myself thinking about this quite a bit as I read Birds of Prey 11, an issue that sets out to give us answers about Ivy’s past I hadn’t even realized were questions. Continue reading

Birds of Prey 10

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Birds of Prey 10, originally released June 20th, 2012.

Patrick: In a lot of ways, the New 52 incarnation of Birds of Prey acts as as one of only a few blank canvasses in DC’s library. The two founding members of the group are a brand new character — as in Starling — and one reformed in such a way as to be unrecognizable as the Black Canary of old. The rest of the team is rounded out by characters either not normally associated with the Birds of Prey or (in Barbara’s case) aggressively altered by the new continuity. My first dip into this world was so fresh and new and exciting, that I started to feel a little let down as writer Duane Swierczynski wrapped up one story arc, vamped for time, and then paid lip-service to Snyder’s Night of the Owls crossover event. I’m not going so far as to claim that those three issues (7, 8 and 9) were wasted, but now that Birds of Prey seems firmly set its own two feet again, it’s apparent that this series is at its strongest when its free to develop on its own terms. Continue reading