In superhero comics, reinvention comes about as often as the Sunday paper. New costumes, new alter egos and new series constantly work their way onto the stands for even the biggest characters in the business, but making a reinvention stick over the long haul can be tricky. For DC Comics, the latest in a long line of heroic reinventions and revivals is the publishing of the "Red Circle" heroes – a group of classic superpowered characters that originated at Archie Comics over the course of the '40s through the '60s. Wave Two of those characters' introduction into the DC Universe starts this week with "The Web" #5 from writer Marc Guggenheim, introducing the lstest version of the vigilante hero the Black Hood.
"I actually do have some affection for these old characters. My exposure to them was through a copy of Archie’s Super Hero Comic Digest No. 2, which I still own a copy of," Guggenheim (who works with guest artist Talent Caldwell on the issue) told CBR. Though the writer explained that his first pitch for the billionaire hero who franchises his suit and powers out to would-be crime fighters online didn't automatically float towards expanding DC's new franchise.
"Well, my original idea was that the Joker contacts the Web for 'help.' That’s really all I had to start, but it’s also all I ended up needing since I found out that the Joker was, perhaps unsurprisingly, unavailable to me for this story. But it got me thinking about a criminal being the one to ask the Web for help. That was the initial impetus, the springboard, behind the story."
What Guggenheim's springboard led to was the recreation of Black Hood, an outlaw hero whose previous iterations included takes as wildly different as a spy-smashing hero, a rogue cop, motorcycle pilot, the rider of a robot horse and in the '90s, a totemic hero mask passed around between characters. With all those disparate ideas as possible starting points (not to mention the initial Red Circle bible written by J. Michael Straczynski), Guggenheim had a lot to mull over in bringing what he hoped would be a lasting interpretation to the page. "[DC] gave me all of JMS’ original material as well as some of the mythology worked up by the other Red Circle writers, but I don’t remember there being anything in there about the Black Hood and, if there was, I don’t think I ended up using it, at least consciously," he explained. "That’s not to take anything away from what JMS or the other writers did, however. All of them have done a brilliant job of reinventing these characters and building a place for them in the DCU. I just think that in the case of the Black Hood, there was pretty much a blank slate to work with. Thus, it became more of an exercise in integrating the character into the world – particularly the Web character – that the other writers had developed."
That integration of the Web's internet-driven heroing and the core Black Hood conceit led to an all-new hero with a complicated past all his own. "This iteration of the character is a guy named Mateo Burland. He’s Latino, and he’s arguably the most grounded version of the character we’ve seen to date. At least, I hope so. My goal here was to take the now-familiar model of the street vigilante – the Punisher and the Adrian Chase Vigilante – and turn it on its head. In both instances, the character is an establishment man – a veteran in the Punisher’s case and a D.A. in Adrian’s – someone whose background means he stands for law and order. I wanted to go the opposite way; I wanted to start with a character who was, basically, the kind of 'street scum' these vigilante-type characters typically go after. And that, I realized, dovetailed nicely into my original idea for a criminal asking the Web for help. See? It all comes full circle...or, um, Red Circle."
And while his stay in the Red Circle line will be brief (writer Matthew Sturges picks up with February's "The Web" #6 before a new wave of heroes takes over the series co-features), Guggenheim will continue on the monthly beat both with his upcoming work on "Action Comics" and his ongoing series of humanity's survival in the wake of an alien attack – Oni Press' "Resurrection."
In recent issues, that series has thrown its own re-inventive wrinkle into the mix as the main cast of survivors stumbled upon President Bill Clinton (who in the comics timeline was still in office at the time of the attack), and began a trip with him to Washington D.C. to see if the country could be put back together. "It’s been a lot of fun adding Clinton to the cast," the writer said. "The idea came about as I was working out the details of what I call 'Volume 2' of the series – i.e., when we started renumbering with colored, monthly issues. It actually worked quite organically into a storyline I was plotting out about the presidential line of succession. Basicallly, I wanted to reveal that one of the more familiar characters of the book – Ben Dellacroix – was part of the presidential line of succession and then, just as you think Ben’s going to be president, put Clinton on the stage.
The president's involvement hasn't made for political commentary so much as it has for interesting drama as members of the group have begun to suspect that the man might not be all he seems or that the Secret Service guards who have protected him all these years may not have the most feasible plan for reestablishing a government in a world still savaged by alien forces and at the mercy of wild road agents. "Initially, I was worried about having Clinton say or do certain things because he is, after all, a real person and someone who looms very large in my esteem, but I quickly realized – though I often have to remind myself – that the best thing for me to do is write him as a would any other character. In this case, President Clinton is just a 'character' I’m more familiar with than most."
As for who would play the "hero" of "Resurrection" with Clinton's own motives and power in doubt, Guggenheim explained that part of the draw for the series was that it remained the story of a large cast, and in some way, all of humanity. In fact, he plans on playing with those elements more in the coming months. "I don’t consider any one character the 'main' character. To the extent there is one, it’s [the recently pregnant survivor] Sara Lisco, but she doesn’t appear in every issue...at least, she won’t in the future.
"The next arc – or 'book' as we call them in Resurrection-land – has our characters encountering the one city in America that hasn’t been decimated by the alien invasion," Guggenheim teased. "And its inhabitants believe they were spared because they worship the aliens like gods. I have the book worked out to, roughly, issue fifty – though things may expand (or contract, I’m mercurial) as my ideas change and grow. I have answers for all the big mythology questions of the series, but I’ve given myself permission to go left where I’d initially planned on going right when the inspiration strikes me."
"The Web" #5 is in stores today from DC Comics. "Resurrection" #7 from Guggenheim and artist Justin Greenwood hits next month.