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Why I Hate The Hood: Problems with the Big Marvel Crossover Villain

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Charles Webb, Dave Wallace
One of the characters to receive the greatest profile boost since Norman Osborn became a member of the 616's Obama administration is The Hood (a.k.a. Parker Robbins). In the last year or so he's become head of a vast criminal empire rivaling that of the Kingpin, entrenched in Osborn's cabal, and a mystical threat to Dr. Strange. He's also one of the least interesting and most poorly-fleshed-out characters in recent memory who more often than not comes off as some kind of villainous Mary Sue.


Parker Robbins: The Hood


Created by Brian K. Vaughan, Kyle Holt, and Eric Powell, the Hood inauspiciously began as a lowly thug with good intentions (he takes care of his comatose mom and pregnant girlfriend) who finds a demonic cloak that imbues him with mystical abilities. In recent pages of New Avengers he has assembled the members of New York's supervillain underworld into a gang that we're told time and again is pretty impressive. In practice, they beat up Tigra and got into a couple of rumbles with the New Avengers.

Where the Hood fails for me is in his utter lack of personality or viability as a threat. Much of the impression we're supposed to have of the Hood is based on his ubiquity – by having him appear so frequently in so many books we're supposed to believe he's important. Unfortunately, I believe that Bendis has skipped the step where the character has actually done anything important to warrant all of the attention.

Dave Wallace: That's a good point. As originally created, Parker Robbins was set up to be the anti-Spider-Man of the Marvel Universe: all of the power without any of the responsibility. Vaughan's original miniseries took quite a lot of time to explore his character's selfish reaction to stumbling across a source of demonic power, providing Robbins with a complicated home life with familial responsibilities that helped to sell the idea that he could be tempted to use his powers for all the wrong reasons.

Charles Webb: As Dave characterizes him above, he seems like the quintessential Marvel character, wracked with conflict with a compelling personal life (and above all – human). It often comes as a surprise to me when this essential formula is ignored when new characters are created (both at Marvel and elsewhere).

Dave Wallace: It's interesting that you say that, because when Bendis decided to pick up the character for use in his New Avengers series, he neglected to maintain this focus on his characterisation, instead setting him up as a wannabe Kingpin whose only function seemed to be that of supervillain gang leader. This helped the writer to quickly put together a large group of C-list villains for his Avengers to fight, but had the effect of reducing the Hood to yet another overly simplistic villain whose only motivation to commit crime seemed to be money. I'm not sure that I'd call him a "Mary Sue" so much as an empty vessel for the plot.


The Hood puts the gang together.


Charles Webb: Yeah, the "Mary Sue" thing has more to do (for me) with his "oh, isn't he so cool" ubiquity. Every time we see the Hood it's in the context of some other character telling us how particularly badass he is (with very little proof outside of the severe beating of poor Tigra).

The Hood vs. Tigra


I always get the feeling when a character is pushed as hard as the Hood that someone in editorial (or the writer themselves) is playing an odd game of favorites. They're so in love with a character that they reuse them in the hopes that others will "get" them. (cf. The Sentry or Jason Todd).

Narratively, the deck is stacked in these characters' favor, but ultimately giving them a one-size fits all personality. They react how the story needs them to, regardless of how little sense it makes in the context of previous appearances.

Dave Wallace: That's true; the Hood feels as though he's had his edges softened a little in order to make him more straightforward as a character, and thus easier to use in guest-appearances and crossover stories.

Bendis also made another significant change to the character, exchanging the Nisanti demon that was the original source of the Hood's powers for the more familiar face of Dormammu. The significance of this development remains to be seen, although I imagine that we'll get some idea of Dormammu's importance to Bendis once the current "Search for the new Sorcerer Surpeme" storyline running in New Avengers is brought to a close. Still, it seems a little awkward to be retconning a character's origins so soon after his debut.


Demon-y.


Charles Webb: This is one of those cases of putting the plot before the character (and a symptom of another comics malady – "making it all connect even when it doesn't"). As originally conceived, Robbins becoming the Hood was a matter of chance which thrust a character unwillingly into complex circumstances. Now, as readers we're being told that his experiences were guided by another character. To some degree this kind of invalidates the Hood's characterization and all of his choices if it was all supposed to happen.

This type of retcon tends to have the feeling of an exercise in being too clever by half, particularly when it has no consistent thread running through it to unify the grand plan of the villain orchestrating it all. It's one part sloppy world building and another part lazy plotting shortcut if the writer is unable to explain why it's important that this change has been made (other than to give Dr. Strange someone to magic fight).

Dave Wallace: Yeah, that's a good point. Bendis' introduction of Dormammu to the Hood's backstory does seem to be a case of him letting the needs of his New Avengers plot take precedence over any attempt to maintain a consistent characterization (there's a shock!).

Other than that, the Hood's main function in the Marvel Universe has been as part of the "Dark Reign" event. Unfortunately, this storyline has seen the Hood continue to be used as a plot device first and as a character second. His greatest asset seems to be his ability to facilitate easy crossovers with other titles that want to tie into the "Dark Reign" event, but which prefer to make use of a generic villain without too much baggage rather than any of the other Marvel Universe big guns that comprise Norman Osborn's "cabal."

It's ironic that the Hood's highest-profile appearances (in New Avengers, Secret Invasion, and "Dark Reign") have been his least satisfying. I prefer the way he was employed by Ed Brubaker during his Daredevil run, as the writer managed to successfully incorporate the character into a gang war storyline in that book (to a limited degree) whilst also sketching out some fairly interesting characterisation of Parker Robbins as a rising player in the New York underworld. Dwayne McDuffie's take on the character in Beyond! also worked well, with a straightforward selfish-kid-with-powers take on the Hood that was perhaps the closest that we've seen to Vaughan's original vision, despite the cosmic setting of the story.

Since those appearances, writers have seemed determined to keep Parker Robbins in a state of arrested development, a mid-level thug who can be used to propel other stories along, but whose own story never really goes anywhere. Perhaps the Hood is just one of those characters who are destined to work better as a supporting character than as a major player in the Marvel Universe. Whilst I still feel as though the character has potential, I have a feeling that Marvel still has a lot to do if they're to convince readers that the Hood is worthy of the high-profile status that has been bestowed upon him over the last couple of years. Having said that, we're gradually seeing writers begin to explore the character in more depth in stories such as Rick Remender's vignette in the Dark Reign: The Cabal anthology one-shot, and the character's guest appearance in Remender's Punisher series. There's also the prospect of Jeff Parker's upcoming solo miniseries, Dark Reign: The Hood, which promises to shed some more light on his character. We'll have to wait and see how successful it is.

Charles Webb:While I didn't enjoy the Cabal story very much (mostly because it was too brief to convince me I should care for the Hood or the person in the casket), I have in spite of myself been enjoying his appearances in Remender's Punisher.

He's actually as one-dimensional here as he's been portrayed elsewhere, but Remender isn't going for subtlety with this particular book. So Robbins being an over-the-top villain who would be at home in the MAX titles actually works for me. I'm still not sure anyone has convinced me one way or the other if he's supposed to be a Machiavellian mastermind or a thug with lots of muscle (a la the Owl).

Now, having griped about the character at length, I think the fundamentals (as laid out by Dave) still work. Here are some suggestions on how to "fix" the Hood:
  1. Give him his own ongoing or miniseries so we can get inside his head (or inside the heads of the people who work around him everyday). (ETA: Marvel's Dark Reign tie-in might fit the bill, but my concern is that it will focus on all the Cabal shenanigans.)

  2. Limit his exposure in the Marvel U. Nothing has killed the mystique (but apparently not the sales) of Wolverine more than his being in 80 books a month. The Hood isn't a big seller so why is he everywhere when no one is demanding him?

  3. Clarify the one-line description of Parker Robbins' personality. Who is he and why should we care about him? Why does he think he's the "good" guy?

  4. If he's supposed to be such a clever and deadly threat to the Marvel U, then make him clever and deadly (without making the heroes look incompetent). Not just by beating up C-list Avengers (sorry Tigra) or killing D-list hoods, but by actually showing him outsmart heroes and other villains on a regular basis. When Frank Miller used the Kingpin in his early Daredevil run, he went to great pains to show the ways Wilson Fisk set about destroying Matt Murdock's life.

  5. Speaking of which: who is the Hood's archenemy? He doesn't seem to come into contact with any character particularly regularly and Dr. Strange is essentially just facing off against Dormammu by proxy.

Dave Wallace: All great points. The character definitely isn't beyond redemption, so maybe Marvel's editors will be listening and will take some of these suggestions on board.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the Charles Webb's work at Monster In Your Veins

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