Hoodlum – Series Review
Written & Created by Hilary Goldstein
Art by John Toledo
Back in February, Alterna Comics launched a brand-new comics series created by former IGN-editor, Hilary Goldstein. Hoodlum #1 hit the stands and instantly garnered positive buzz for its sci-fi world-building, spunky teen heroine, and moody, rich artwork. Issue #2 dropped in April and, with a third issue coming out next month, we here at Talking Comics thought we ought to catch you, our trusty readers, up to all the high-concept action ASAP!!!
Here’s the series summary from the Alterna Comics website:
“In a world where demons have all of the power and humans are second-class citizens, only a young girl has the courage to stand up to the city’s ruling class. Riley Brennan steals magic from rich demons and gives to poor humans. With the help of her mechanized ape-like guardian, John, and the demon priest Arnie, Riley will square off against Regent Steig and his demon army, with the fate of the human race in the balance.”
First of all, while there may be a hovercraft-load of previews that start with the phrase “In a World,” how many follow up with the promise of Demon-Human discrimination and Robin-Hoodery? And to say Hoodlum delivers on the promises would be an understatement: the Demon-Human racial tension is thick and heavy starting on page one and forms a lot of the metaphorical and literal conflict in the comic. To see our young heroine, Riley, go from being called a “Mudder” (Humans came from mud; Demons came from the sky—hence the racial epithet) to seeking salvation in the church of her surrogate father-and-demon-priest, Arnie, speaks to Goldstein’s willingness to complicate and subvert even his readers expectations of the racial undertones. In many ways, this story element is reminiscent of sci-fi thrillers like Blade Runner and District 9 that deal heavily with this idea of inter-species discrimination. Of course, Hoodlum places the human race at the disadvantage here (like Planet of the Apes!!! Except with scaley, giant demons instead of humanoid primates).
While many sci-fi stories may establish the differences between the humans and ::insert alien species here:: in order to set up some sort of violent and/or romantic subplot, Hoodlum eschews that standards fare for an even more throwback-Thursday foundation: the Robin Hood plot. Riley is a young thief who breaks into high-ranking Demon penthouses to steal riches and magical potions (no joke) to help her fellow humans, particularly those that come to Arnie’s church-ship for medical and financial aid.
Of course, no ongoing series could function on that conceit alone, so Goldstein balances Riley’s cavalier occupation with what might come off as a stock young-protagonist trope: the missing parental figure. In this case, Riley’s father went missing after being exiled to the “Wasteland,” which has a certain Urinetown-y feel to it (obscure musical theatre reference ftw!). Nevertheless, Riley’s tenacious mission to dismantle the Demon control of the world gains crucial emotional resonance as her quest for information about her father sometimes comes into conflict with her humanitarian pursuits.
Even two issues in, the characters are well-defined and well-developed. Goldstein demonstrates some deft character work as he balances Riley’s @$$-kicking savior-of-the-masses scenes and the quieter girl-without-a-father aimlessness. Even the banter between Riley and her best friend, Triss, strikes the perfect note of humor while also imbuing the scene with a bit of unrequited love (perhaps? Maybe I’m just reading into the scene a bit!). The antagonists are terrifying, not just because of John Toledo’s monstrous designs, but because of their precision and stature.
Speaking of John Toledo, the visual aesthetic on Hoodlum is dazzling. The sheer scope of Toledo’s world-building skill may be a testament to Goldstein’s script, but, most of the time, a comic is only as good as its artwork. And man, does Toledo deliver. His moody, shadowy lay-outs lend the sci-fi comic and significantly more sinister feel, which is critical to the moral ambiguity and emotional depth of the characters and story. The Demon designs are just grotesque enough that seeing the characters in full-on political or religious attire (even pajamas in one scene) is unsettling. The book is in Black-and-White, and while the monochromatic palette fits the story, there are times when the heavy black inks result in shadows or shading that cover up key figures or moments in darkness. It’s a minor quibble for the scope and kineticism of the rest of the book, but there are times when a literal wall of black can be disconcerting.
After reading the first two issues of Hoodlum, I can safely say that I’m hooked. At first glance, this new comic is a sci-fi action-adventure tale with a youthful female protagonist and Demons galore, but Hilary Goldstein has more significant themes at play including racism, charity, morality, and the role of parents in a child’s life. And did I mention John Toledo is killing it on art?
The next issue will be released on June 12th!!! Check below for some useful links!!!
Alterna Comics’ Hoodlum Page: http://alternacomics.com/#/hoodlum/4573120163
Get the Comic on Comixology: http://www.comixology.com/Hoodlum/comics-series/10067
The Creator’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/hilgoldstein
A Fascinating Look at Taking Hoodlum from Script to Page from the Creator himself: http://hilarygoldstein.com/2013/02/26/hoodlum-from-script-to-final-page/