Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Red Circle: The Hangman – A Review

The Red Circle : The Hangman

Publisher DC Comics

Writer J. Michael Straczynski

Pencils Tom Derenick

Inks Bill Sienkiewicz

Colors Guy Major

I think one of the most impressive things about this book is what I read about what JMS did when he was writing the introductions for the Red Circle characters. Originally the idea was to introduce each character in Brave and Bold as a team up as has been done with the Milestone characters. For the record I have skipped those issues of Brave and Bold as meaningless exercises. Regardless that was the plan, but I hear that JMS had finished one to almost two issues and that production had even started on the first issue. At this point he called DC and told them to rip up his scripts for no pay to him and he would pay for whatever artwork had been done. He wanted to do them as one shots and wanted to do what he thought would work better. I know that JMS has more money then some writers and has been successful on many levels, but to me that was one heck of a show of integrity and an unwillingness to not do his best when writing a project. I have not liked everything he has ever written, but I have liked large portions of it and he sounds like a heck of a guy.

Of course that all sounds well and good, but you still have to stand and deliver when the actual book hits the stands. Mr. Straczynski has been on a roll in my mind with The Twelve and Thor standing as evidence that his work is at the top of the charts. Still we are talking about the Archie heroes and a rather generic hero called the Hangman. To say that it is a challenge to bring a character into the DCU and to make them more then just a grade “C” add on, is an understatement. JMS did it and if he was writing the character on an ongoing basis I would be happy to continue to read his adventures. I’m not saying this guy will replace the Batman or even the Spectre (who he most closely resembles) but he is certainly worthy of at least a look at this one shot. I will even follow up with the new series to see what the next writer does with the foundation that has been laid.

The Hangman is a doctor for the Union Army in the Civil War. The Robert Dickering, the doctor, is portrayed as a good man who is questioning where God is amidst all of the death. Through a series of circumstances he falls behind enemy lines and is captured by the Confederate Army. At this point in the war any suspected spy is put to death. The noose is around his neck and he is on top of his horse, just as his death sentence is about to be carried out he crosses over into a mystical realm. There he makes a deal with either the devil or an angel, we don’t know which and he is given a mission to save those who should be saved and take vengeance on those who deserve to have justice meted out to them. This is not the same mission as the Spectre or other such characters. By making it a mission of both sides you are not locked into any set sort of story. I think this is important in establishing the reason for a character’s existence, otherwise a limited mission means a limited premise to work with.

We jump ahead to the present and find Dr. Bob is still a practicing physician and hopefully not amputating limbs at every chance at this point like they did in the Civil War. We also see that the Hangman only comes out at night and it appears to be an uncontrolled change. We get to see him take on some bad guys and save someone. This was essentially a nice little scene to show our boy in action. The end was a quick cut where we see the doctor back in the hospital being called into the ER and a mystery patient is brought in. We are given a hook to lead as into the next one shot. This part felt forced, but all in all this was a great start for the Hangman. We got his origin, his mission, his current personal situation and a show of how powerful he is.

The artwork was also well done. Now Tom Derenick has been a workhorse for DC over the last few years and he does a decent job, but when it comes right down to it, he is Sal Buscema and not John Buscema. What I mean by that is you get a professional job, good layouts and solid work, just nothing that will give you that “wow” factor you look for when reading a super hero book. I thought for this type of project DC should have chosen a different artist to start off the Red Circle material, but DC did the right thing because they let Bill Sienkiewicz ink him. Bill adds the “wow” factor to Tom’s work. Bill’s scratchy style inking makes the work look totally different and I first saw this team-up in the “Reign in Hell” mini-series. Bill’s inking added to Tom’s ability to tell a story is a perfect match-up and gives the art that extra something to take it to the next level.

Overall Grade A – I’m very torn between a “B” and an “A” grade, but I think not only did JMS start off the integration of these characters into the DCU on a high note; he also built a great foundation for this character. This will allow the next writer to have a great place to start telling stories from, heck I have a few ideas. Plus the art team made it work, so I think my natural inclination is to give them the “A”.

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