A Hero In The Cycle of Addiction

An article by, Aaron Burton

In my time growing up in the United States psychoactive chemical substances have been broken up into two categories: regulated and illegal. They also include pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors. Under the law, many of these chemicals are regulated in terms of access and abuse. I think we are all familiar with the variety of illegal drugs. In most cases, these substances are prohibited outright. Regulations and prohibitions are only as powerful as the people applying them. These parties can be seen in every aspect of the United States government. This includes both federal agencies and local police departments.

You can't spell enforcement without force. The laws and regulations surrounding drugs, both legal and illegal, are upheld through our legal system. Enforcement comes in many flavors including property loss, incarceration, and violence. People can be fined, locked up, and even suffer physical harm in the face of breaking drug laws. When you add these elements together you are left with what our society refers to as The War on Drugs.

Drugs aside, when any product is prohibited it gains its place in what is called the black market. These products are typically more expensive and dangerous to acquire than their legal and regulated counterparts. Sellers of illegal products cannot call upon law enforcement to protect their property rights. This forces the seller to take matters into their own hands. This is where we see much of the violence connected to The War on Drugs. The mere fact that certain items are illegal causes people to commit brutish acts to keep themselves safe and in business.

What happens when an individual plays both sides of the fence? This creates quite the conundrum in the face of legal morality and is a motif seen in the 2015 revamping of The Black Hood. This character was first introduced to comic book readers in the 1940s. This character is a property of MLJ Comics, now known as Archie Comics. The 2015 retcon is published under Dark Circle Comics, an imprint of Archie Comics.

The classic character of The Black Hood is a police officer who moonlights as a costumed hero. He is known for both his detective skills and fighting prowess. The 2015 version, created by Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos, adds a unique twist to the character. It is still about a cop who decides to become a vigilante. The difference comes in when officer Greg Hettinger becomes addicted to painkillers after being injured on the job. During his recovery, he decides to don a black mask and enact his own brand of vigilante justice on the drug dealers in his hometown of Philadelphia. This shift in perspective pushes the character into antihero territory as opposed to being the model “White Knight” hero.

As you could have guessed, the subject matter in this book is dark. Swierczynski’s writing gives readers insight into the bleak outlook held by the main character. These feelings are enhanced by Gaydo’s art style. The visuals are just as dark and gritty as the story. The use of shading and darkness gives the book a vibe similar to pulp comics of the past. These creators hit the nail on the head in terms of building a harmonious relation between the art and writing. It is a truly immersive reading experience.

No one is perfect, but reconciling imperfections is what develops a person’s character. This book does a great job of showing the duality between someone who believes in upholding the law and someone addicted to drugs. Though these two ideas are not mutually exclusive, the blending of them offers up interesting questions in morality. Can you break the law and still be a good person? Is it hypocritical to enforce the laws you yourself are breaking?

Swierczynski and Gaydos excel at creating a character that walks this line. Throughout the issues you can see how Hettinger's addiction affects the people in his life, especially those trying to help him during this traumatic time. At the same time, you get to see the effects of a vigilante locking up criminals, a concept near and dear to the hearts of comic book lovers. Readers will get to see the characters struggle with their own personal philosophies on almost every page. 

The Black Hood offers a unique look at the antihero genre while providing readers with an insightful look into the effects of drug laws and regulations. Greg Hettinger may not be the cleanest hero in comic book history. He is, however, a prime example of what a hero could look like in a time where drug enforcement is at the forefront of the legal system. He is a victim of The War on Drugs while simultaneously being a proponent of the same ideology. This classic character has been reinvented for the modern era, and the gritty pulp-noir style serves as the perfect medium for the themes held within.   

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