THE FIRST STORY PITCH came in. It was for Archie’s Dark Circle Comics, and its new Black Hood series. The writer was Duane Swierczynski, so known for his gritty crime novels and superheroes. But what was this?
Alex Segura, the Dark Circle editor, knew that Swierczynski might be ambivalent about the assignment. Because of that, Segura says, the writer submitted “the darkest and most messed-up pitch he could.”
Turns out, that’s just what Segura was looking for.
“There are a lot of great crime writers that do dabble in comics,” says Segura, who also serves as senior vice president of publicity and marketing for Archie Comics. “I think Duane first came to mind because I’m such a huge fan of his novels, and I feel like there’s this great kinetic energy to his writing style.”
The creative result is the first issue of Black Hood, which makes its Dark Circle debut tomorrow on comic shelves physical and virtual. Segura tells The Post’s Comic Riffs that the Black Hood series will be greatly grounded in reality — and, as such, should appeal to fans of HBO’s “The Wire” and the comic “100 Bullets.”
In Black Hood, the only mask we see is the tattered hood worn by the protagonist, Greg Hettinger, a Philadelphia cop who has a chilling connection to the original Black Hood, as he deals with scars mental and physical.
“It’s a new character. It’s not an older version of the Black Hood that’s being reimagined,” Segura tells Comic Riffs. “It’s a new name. It’s not tied to previous continuity.”
Segura is also pleased that Michael Gaydos is the artist submitting the Black Hood pages. Segura says he considers Gaydos’s work with Brian Michael Bendis on the Marvel Max title Alias to be “one of the iconic crime comics of the last 20 years.”
After Dark Circle’s Black Hood launch will come the debuts of The Fox and The Shield over the next two months. When Archie announced this first wave of Dark Circle comics, “a lot of people took the name of the imprint really literally and just thought that all our books were going to be dark and noir,” Segura tells Comic Riffs. “Being a fan of that [genre], I have no problem with that, but I think each [Dark Circle title] has its own really unique personality.”
The idea behind Dark Circle, according to Segura, was to make more genre-specific comics. He says that Black Hood will be more of a crime-caper story than a Batman or Daredevil superhero-style detective story. And The Shield, he says, is shaping up to be more of a conspiracy thriller.
“We want people to know that Dark Circle is not limited to just certain things,” Segura says. “It’s all about exercising these different kinds of perspectives. Bringing creators and letting them explore their vision for these characters.
“We wanted each of these books to have their own personality and really kind of be an exercise in genre, be very cinematic and literary. Probably closer in tone to an Image [Comics] book, as opposed to something from the big two.”
Archie Comics’ willingness to create darker series has boosted the characters’ popularity and relevance, says Segura, citing such recent releases as Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. And credit, he says, should go to Archie CEO Jon Goldwater.
“Archie has succeeded because it’s continued to be vibrant, and it has adapted to the times, which you probably couldn’t have said 10 years ago before Jon Goldwater came into the company,” Segura says. “I think when [Goldwater] came in, he said all bets are off. As long as we’re true to these characters and flexible and creative, people will know it’s Archie.”
Segura hopes the Dark Circle imprint’s presence will give comic-book fans an option that doesn’t require crossovers and major catching-up or binge readings.
“There is some fatigue from comic fans in regards to events,” he says. Dark Circle “didn’t want to come in and say: ‘Buy everything and then you’ll finally understand what’s going on.’ Or ‘this is Part 1 of 48, and it’ll all culminate in this big crossover.’ If people like The Black Hood, then they’ll like The Black Hood. And if they like The Shield and The Black Hood, all the better. But we’re not going to try to impose it on them where they have to buy them all. But I think you’ll also get something out of each one.”
In his previous job at DC Comics, Segura worked with some of the world’s most popular comic-book characters in the world. Now, he is taking the lessons learned from handling PR for stories about the Man of Steel and Dark Knight, and applying them to being responsible for the tales of the Dark Circle universe.
“We have three titles as opposed to 40,” Segura says of Dark Circle’s initial debuts over the next few months. “I knew that we could go in and instead of treating the logo as [though] it’s another superhero company, it becomes kind of a seal of approval.
“If you really connect with The Black Hood and you see that Dark Circle logo on The Fox or The Shield, you’ll know going in: Okay, this is a very thoughtfully crafted comic book.”