As part of the launch for the upcoming Red Circle titles, DC is publishing a series of four one-shots by J. Michael Staczynski to introduce the old MLJ/Archie characters to a modern audience. First up, The Hangman.
We start off in Cleveland County, Arkansas during the Civil War, April 24th, 1864 to be exact. Our first image is one of a desolate battlefield where the remains of Union and Confederate soldiers riddle the battlefield.Â The art work looks slightly familiar, and after a little research I find that the penciller is Tom Derenick, who has penciled various titles for the big two in the past. The inker is familiar familiar, Bill Sienkiewicz. To list even a small amount of his credits would take a while; letâ€™s just say that he has the chops needed for pro work.
Back to the story, we are given a look at the everyday life during war time by the letters of Lt. Robert Dickering, a doctor in the Union Army.Â His letter to his love Helen paints a dismal picture, and the accompanying images are grim and gruesome. Besides lamenting on the state of the War, he also wonders â€œwhere is the hand of justice amid so much injustice?â€ It is at this point that he is waylaid by raiders who knock him unconscious and take his valuables. When he awakens he discovers its morning and heâ€™s been left behind in what is now enemy territory.
Running in the direction of the Union Army, he hears a voice calling for help; an injured Confederate soldier. Knowing that it is only a matter of time before he is discovered, he weighs his options: Run for safety or help the soldier.Â He remembers his oath, I assume the Hippocratic Oath, and stops to help. After helping the blinded soldier, he is quickly captured by Union soldiers and taken before Major Fagan.
Although he had discarded his uniform, he has apparently forgotten to get rid of his papers identifying him as a Union soldier.Â Major Fagan makes a battlefield judgment and sentences Dickering to hang for spying. Dickeringâ€™s protest, have no affect and he is taken away to be hung.Â As a side note, I think that we may see Major Fagan again. He was drawn in a memorable fashion and also plays a direct hand in The Hangmanâ€™s origin.
Next, we find Dickering mounted on a horse with a black hood over his head and a noose around his throat.Â The two Confederate guards ignore his declarations of innocence, and one of the guards raises his hand to slap the horse into a gallop, finishing the sentence.
In the instant before the horse bolts and his neck snaps, time stops for Lt. Dickering.Â Opening his eyes he finds himself still astride the horse, but in a reddish dark version of the real world with a dark stranger standing before him.Â The stranger asks a question that is as old as time, just how badly do you want to live? Dickering tells the man he would do anything to live, but stops short of selling his soul.Â This answer seems to throw the stranger for a moment, and he asks if Dickering knows who he is. Replying that there are only two options, and that he feared both possibilities, the stranger then plays â€œdevilâ€™s advocate.â€Â He gives Dickering two possibilities, one for if he speaks for the Devil, one if he speaks for God.Â He then asks if the lieutenant wants to take a chance, and he agrees, then the deal is struck.Â He is told that from this moment on, he will â€œwander the Earth, drawn to the torment of accused souls. You will determine their guilt or innocence.â€ It is his job to find them innocent or guilty, and his job to punish or save them. He is to do this until the end of time, or he is â€œdestroyed by methods equal to my own.â€ Knowing this price, Dickering accepts the deal. Flashing back to the real world, the soldierâ€™s hand strikes the horse and sends it galloping away. The rope grows taunt, snaps and the horse rides away with its rider.Â â€œThis is how the legend began.Â But it does not end here.â€
A nice splash page montage shows the Hangman through time: stopping a black man from being hanged on the gallows, firing on a delivery truck crossing the Canadian border, fighting demons to save a scantily clad girl. We quickly get the feeling that the Hangman has been around for a while, in the shadows.Â We also get a nice waist up shot of our â€œheroâ€ on this page.Â He looks rather menacing with his cowl and cape, the remnants of a Union uniform and a noose around his neck.Â His face is in the prerequisite snarl and he is holding a pair of blazing six-guns.
Flash to the future, and we discover a man reading the legend of the Hangman to a group of sick children in a hospital while the nurses watch. One nurse ends the story time, and the kids tell them how much they enjoy Doctor Bobâ€™s stories. The nurse picks up the book the doctor was reading from, Weird Western Tales (nice touch) and takes it back to the doctorâ€™s office.Â From their exchange, it seems that they do this quite often, and we see that â€œDoctor Bobâ€ is our Lt. Robert Dickering, only now in the modern day. There is some light flirtation, a complaint about patient paperwork and government bureaucracy, and a hint from the Nurse Sarah that they never see the good doctor out at night.
Shortly thereafter we see the sun setting and we witness a transformation as the doctor becomes the Hangman! Flash-forward to a warehouse; a group of thugs are terrorizing an old man and a couple of women. Somebody snitched, and the gang members think that it was the old man, and they also intend to make him pay.Â Suddenly, just as things look their worst for the old man, the Hangman comes crashing in astride a smoky white horse.Â We see the Hangman riddled with bullets and see him quickly heal, and he just a quickly dispatches all the thugs. The lead thug, and last slime standing, has taken the brave step to grab a hostage, and then quickly fires on the Hangman when he does not stop.Â Throwing his rope (the noose that was around his neck) it wraps itself around the thugâ€™s neck and shimmies up over an overhead beam. Stringing the thug up, Hangman warns the thug to stay away from the man and his family or the rope would return to hang him.Â Having elicited that promise, the rope drops the man and we fast-forward to dawn.
A shirtless Doctor Dickering is dressing in his office and we see that apparently all the damage that he receives as the Hangman does not disappear when he transforms back.Â As he finishes, Nurse Susan runs in and tells him that an ambulance is bringing in near drowning victim.Â A cruise ship exploded overnight and this unidentified man is the only survivor. Turn the page andâ€¦
â€¦we get a DRASTIC art change. As the Doctor and his staff get the unknown man stabilized, they try and get some information from him.Â All they get is some vague descriptions of what may have happened and a name, Frank Verrano.Â The red-haired stranger does not know if that is his name, because he cannot remember anything. The curtain closes and we are told that the story is to be continued in the Inferno one-shot out this Wednesday, August 12th.
The art has a nice raw feel to it, a little reminiscent of the Villagrans. There are some occasional hiccups with the colors, but overall it is visually appealing. The cover by Jesus Saiz is a real treat, and I actually prefer his rendition over the muscle bound one in the story, but it works with the team drawing it. The story is an old one, with the Faustian deal and night induced transformations, but you can see some upcoming plot twists with alter-ego conflicts. But I think that, for its intended purpose as an introduction, this one shot serves well. Having said that, I think that it could have been a little more served by showing the character in action through history and just introducing Dickeringâ€™s current situation in the last few pages.
Matthew made it out with hisÂ Rapid-Fire Review of this title before I could file mine. While I respect Matthew and his opinions, I think that he might have been a little quick on his one and a half star review of this J. Michael Staczynski penned title. I agree that the story is lacking, but it serves itâ€™s purpose, despite the lead in to the Inferno one-shot being forced. Iâ€™m judging this as part of a large series, all the Red Circle one-shots, and give it 2.5 Stars out of 5.
Oh, and if anyone is interested, there is a 4 page Magog preview in the back. I was not impressed.