Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Hangman - Heroes and Villains

Now that THE HANGMAN co-feature from THE WEB, published by DC Comics has come to an end, I thought I'd take some time to talk about some of the villains and heroes who have appeared in the Hangman stories. 

When I took on the role of writer for THE HANGMAN I was coming into it one issue after BABYLON 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski was asked to reintroduce this old character from the Archie Comics line of superheroes published under the banner of Red Circle Comics. Straczynski also handled relaunching three other Red Circle characters, The Shield, Inferno, and The Web into the DC Universe. My concern was purely with continuing with what he'd done with the Hangman. The stuff I liked I used and often expanded on. Other things he did which I didn't like (such as having a man who automatically transforms into a masked vigilante at sunset having a career as a trauma surgeon. Does he just cut out of work in the middle of an operation?) led me to come up with ways to deal with the issues I had. Even though the character was essentially a new, using a word I dislike "reimagined," version of the original Red Circle character, I and the other writers of the new Red Circle backs wanted to not only incorporate them into the larger established DC Universe, but to also keep them connected to their original Red Circle Comics roots. One of the ways I chose to do this was to select some of the original Red Circle villains and update them for modern comics as well. 

Some of the bad guys I used were my own brand new creations such as the all pink scooter riding girl gang called THE BUBBLEGUM GIRLS (seen below), others had their origins in the 1940s.

Oddly, one of the first villains I made up as an original character had an established parallel character in the original Red Circle Comics. This was the character of DEAD HAND LEGENDRE (shown below) who makes his first appearance in issue #2. 
Legendre was a shriveled man who was quickly rising to become a serious kingpin of crime. He had one particular ability that instilled fear in those who worked for him, and against him. His dead, shriveled, right hand had the ability to drain the lifeforce from someone else and transfer it into Legendre. Doing so restored his health by degrees, making him younger. He could also reverse this flow, using his dead hand like a ghastly defibrillator to push lifeforce into a dead body which would return to a semblance of mindless life to do his bidding. When he did this, his physical health diminished and he aged. 

The impulse for creating him was to mirror the idea that the Hangman who is essentially immortal isn't simply someone who can never die, but is also someone who isn't truly alive anymore either. 


While the name was taken from Bela Lugosi's character, "Murder Legendre" from WHITE ZOMBIE (because of his control over mindless zombie slaves), the real inspiration for the character came from Koura, the evil magician played by Tom Baker in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. From the time I first watched that movie as a kid, I latched onto the concept that every time Koura used his dark magic it aged him, and left him physically weaker. I've always meant to incorporate that into a character of my own, and finally got to do so with Legendre.

It was only after Dead Hand Legendre was established that I found out that there was a Red Circle villain named BLACK HAND who initially appeared in BLUE RIBBON COMICS #16 (Sept. 1941) as an opponent to Captain Flag. Black Hand apparently had a diseased right hand which he used to kill people. Given that DC already has a villain named Black Hand who was featured prominently in their big event series BLACKEST NIGHT, a name change would have proven necessary anyway.

The first of the original Red Circle Villains I chose to reintroduce was THE UGLY MAN (seen below) who was actually a foe of the Hangman, appearing in Pep Comics #22 (Dec 1942). All I knew about him was that he was supposed to be the ugliest man in the world and that he went on a killing spree. This was enough of a blank slate for me to feel like I could build on this without distressing an fans of the original characters. 

My Ugly Man was inspired by actor Rondo Hatton whose distorted features were the result of acromegaly. He would make the perfect henchman and fit in with the noirish look of the Hangman.

The Ugly Man also appeared in issue #2 as an enforcer for Dead Hand Legendre. Despite his physical appearance I wanted the Ugly man to be a snappy dresser as well as smarter, more articulate and much faster than his size and appearance would imply. My original plan was to introduce him in a story set in the 1930s, but other ideas for the character led me to include him in the modern age.

The next character I pulled out of the Hangman's past was THE JACKAL. He was perfect. He had a distinct physical trait, he only image I found of him (below) implied a personality, AND he even came with a plot I could use on the new series. Appearing in PEP COMICS #18 (Aug. 1941)  according to his entry on The Mighty Crusaders Network

"The Jackal is a criminal mastermind who puts on a Hangman suit himself and starts committing murders in the Hangman’s name. He is identified because he has two thumbs on his right hand."

Artist. Tom Derenick gave the modern Jackal, who debuted in issue #5, an equally dumb haircut, and somewhere in his development his two thumbs on his right hand became a sixth finger on his left. Our Jackal was smart and ruthless and earned his name in a two-fold manner. He makes his living in the criminal world by picking over small time criminal organizations and gangs and by eliminating members he sees as worthless and gathering the members with potential who he hires into larger organizations for a fee. He also picks over the corpses of those he murders and takes from them a souvenir which he adds to his collection.

In the modern comic, he also masqueraded as the Hangman and set out on a murder spree in order to keep the police busy hunting for the Hangman and the Hangman busy eluding the police, so that Legendre could go about his citywide conquest of criminal activity. This was meant to be a longer, more involved subplot which was to be used to throw light on how the Hangman is perceived among all walks of life in the city he protects, as well as to further illuminate the genuine Hangman's methods of dealing with crime. It was also going to be a way to bring the police into the series and connect them to the Hangman. Because the series ended up with a short life, the barely introduced story element was brought to a quick end and the more expansive elements were all dropped. 

A couple other Red Circle villains made brief cameo appearances. THE BULLFROG from PEP COMICS #32 (Oct. 1942) was a foe of the Hangman who started out as an Opera Singer who turned to a life of murder dressed as a frog because a frog was let loose on stage during one of his performances. I can't say I would have chosen that as the origin for the modern Bullfrog, and viewed mine as a half man-half frog creature.

From SPECIAL COMICS #1 (Winter 1942) comes THE CLOWN, who murders a woman because she refuses to ever marry a clown. He was also a Hangman villain. Like the Bullfrog, since he merely appeared in one panel, I did not provide the modern Clown with an origin.

The Bullfrog and the Clown were paired together for their cameo in issue #8. I had originally written the BULLFROG into my portion of THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL, but removed him when I restructured my part of the story.

One of the Red Circle villains who DID appear in THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL was THE BUZZARD. His inclusion was decided by co-writers Brandon Jerwa and Eric Trautmann, who also masterminded the project. Here's how he appeared  back in MIGHTY CRUSADERS #11 (March 1985)

Here he fights the modern Hangman in THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS SPECIAL.

The last original villain I put into THE HANGMAN wasn't really a villain, or original, but was Umi-Bozu a water Yokai from Japanese folklore who appeared in issues #3 and #4. I wanted to feature a character of a more supernatural nature because of the Hangman's own supernatural nature and one that I could use to illustrate the side of the Hangman's mission to serve the innocent rather than the aspect of him which punishes the guilty.

A couple established DC villains made their way into the final issue. THE SCARECROW is a character I've enjoyed writing before, and was one I planned to feature in an upcoming Hangman story which ended up being encapsulated in one panel. Also featured on the same page was CHEMO, the giant semi-sentient walking container of chemical waste. This was for a panel showing the Hangman working alongside the other Mighty Crusaders and I wanted an image that evoked the covers of Fantastic Four #1 and The Brave and the Bold #28 which introduced the Justice League of America, so chose Chemo for his size and color.

THE WEB also made a cameo appearance solo in the last issue. Since THE HANGMAN was a co-feature in THE WEB, I felt it only made sense.

Because the Hangman has been alive since the 1830s, I was looking forward to telling stories which would pair the hangman with various DC characters from various time periods between then and now. The closest I ever got to do so was a couple of isolated panels and some back story from THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS, where we see the Hangman working alongside EL DIABLO (incidentally the man who steps into that black hole becomes the modern incarnation of another Red Circle villain, THE ERASER), AIRWAVE (and his parrot, STATIC), and the Golden Age GREEN LANTERN. 

In the second issue of THE WEB, we are given a one-panel glimpse of the Hangman on a case in New York City's Chinatown with the Golden Age SANDMAN, a pulp inspired story I was really looking forward to telling.

Note: Images and source information was borrowed from The Mighty Crusaders Network an invaluable resource pertaining to every aspect and incarnation of the Red Circle characters. 


Robert Pope said...

Great post. The Bubblegum Girls would make swell villains in any "mainstream" DC super-type book, to be sure. And Legendre, for whatever reason, radiated a Thomas Harris villain vibe to me (perhaps his ghoulish hand reminded me of Mason Verger's only mobile appendage and it's spider-like movements from "Hannibal." Hope that comes across as a compliment, 'cause it's meant to be!)

Shawn Robare said...

It was really cool to get the BG behind the choices you made and where you got your ideas for some of the new characters. I love peeking behind the process like this...

John Rozum said...

Thanks, gentlemen. Robert, I'll take that as a mighty high complement. There were supposed to be some more unsettling moment with that hand, but having to close up shop rushed things to a climax.