I have a long relationship with The Red Hook. Among the most complete that a fan could boast—having seen the very first Red Hook “test” story in 2012 in all its primary colored-glory. It evoked comics tradition in a candy-colored and bold way. It had lines that conjured the wacky rogues galleries of comics of yore, Golden Age and Silver Age, but it had a deep emotional message for a short story as a thief-turned-hero faces off against a femme fatale. It was called “Hooking the Red Hook”, and you’ll find it collected in print for the first time in The Red Hook Volume One: New Brooklyn currently out from Image Comics.
I figured, having seen that story, that creator Dean Haspiel would do something further with the character, but it would end up being a longish road with some surprising turns. After creating a couple more shorts, the comic ended up being part of a pitch to Line Webtoons, the free online comic platform with a “scrolling” format, that Haspiel presented in 2015.
More than that, in the meantime, the Red Hook had become a character with a larger framework and setting, that of New Brooklyn, a shared universe in which some other comic creators could also work. Within New Brooklyn, a series called The Brooklynite (by artist Shamus Beyale and writer the late Seth Kushner, later also realized by artist Jason Goungor) and another called The Purple Heart (by artist Ricardo Venancio and writer Vito Delsante) took shape, and the whole shebang because a raft of series on Line Webtoons.
Haspiel gives a concise history of the property as part of the introduction to this newly collected volume, so I’ll leave him to reminisce for you, but for me as a reader, the concept was always a strong one, the art approach dynamic, and the subtext quite emotional and meaningful. The story featured a washed up boxer turned thief, Sam Brosia, in cahoots with another thief, his girlfriend, The Possum, and together they struggled to survive in a semi-sentient Brooklyn that had thrown down its bridges and seceded from the city of New York. It’s no spoiler to say that The Red Hook goes from devil-may-care thief when the superhero-riddled skies of the borough drop a semi-cosmic being in his path and he’s given little choice in assuming the “omni-fist of altruism”.
In fact, it’s a terrible burden that compels him to do good, or else he feels nauseated. He’s given the mandate from this transformation, “Save people or die”. Hero comics work hard to establish motive for heroic behavior—often it’s some kind of personal loss or sense of regret. Haspiel takes a fresh approach here by making The Red Hook do good against his own will until, emboldened by these experiences, it does eventually become a role he grows into. But he doesn’t reach that point without a LOT of personal suffering.
The bedrock of all of this is not just a sense of fun and artistic expansiveness in drawing on the traditions of so many superhero comics that have come before, but also the twisting knife of personal relationships. The stuff that makes Sam writhe in real life—his care for the Possum and for his mother, who becomes a vigilante known as “The Coney”—become part and parcel of what makes him writhe as a hero. He begins to feel for other people the way he previously felt just about a couple of people in his life. And it’s excruciating.
There’s very little understated about The Red Hook. This is a comic of extreme acrobatics, larger than panel sound effects, crazy-ass villains with names like “The Iron Knee” (say it fast), and plenty of Kirby crackle. But it’s also a comic of real emotion, unpredictable twists and turns, and a great origin story for a memorable character.
This initial run of The Red Hook won the first annual Ringo Award for best webcomic and it’s easy to see why. Haspiel has always been a webcomic person, but one who usually takes his work, in turn, to print at some point, and this Image collection brings us, not only the award-winning comic presented with the printed page in mind, but extras including a two-part Red Hook story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents last year, and the ultimate artifact of the first ever Red Hook story. There’s also an afterword by Vito Delsante to round things off with a discussion of New Brooklyn.
Here’s a collection that will encourage you to “embrace the heartache” of comics tradition as well as engage you as a person, making you wonder at all the crazy and wild elements that make up superhero comics, and consider further what they can become in the hands of a 21st century creator with a wealth of tradition to re-interpret and re-invent.
The Red Hook has been so successful online that it’s sequel, War Cry, is currently live on Line Webtoons, and who knows? The Brooklyn hero’s story may extend still further online and in print. Here’s your chance to hop on his trail while it’s still fresh.
The Red Hook Volume One: New Brooklyn is currently available from Image Comics.