The Hood: Comic Book Creator Brings Back Hero to Battle Thugs and Structural Racism in L.A.

 

I first met Stephen Townsend in 1993. Back then he was an idealistic 22-year-old comic book artist with aspirations fueled by the recent  ’92 civil unrest that had cut a wide swath across South Central. A native of the Crenshaw district and a UCLA grad, Stephen became determined to contribute to the rebuilding of the city through his art—creating a counter-narrative to the economic stagnation and street-level violence besieging black neighborhoods in the ‘90s. These things were not abstractions for him. Shortly after the unrest, a friend and fellow UCLA grad was killed in a carjacking that made local headlines. For Stephen it was a pivotal moment.

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Enter the Hood, aka Anton, a modern superhero who goes about town intervening in violence and trouble as he strives to bring some measure of justice and peace to L.A.’s black inner city Stephen’s first issue published in ’93 introduced a youthful crimefighting figure patterned in some ways after Batman; human, but outfitted with clever technology to compensate for a lack of otherworldly powers (eschewing a cape, Anton shrouds himself in—what else?—a hood). Like Batman, Anton is also obsessed with righting wrongs after losing a family member to violence, in this case his older brother. And like youthful crusaders like Spiderman, the Hood is frequently beset with doubt about his own mission: is he doing the right thing, going about things the right way? Is he truly making a difference?

Some of the story elements echo Stephen’s own life. His father is a former LAPD detective who also worried about violence—not on the streets, but violence within police culture directed at people of color. When Stephen was a teenager and started driving, his father gave him a card on which he wrote a note explaining to any fellow cop who might stop Stephen that he was a good kid who shouldn’t be  mistreated. It was a preemptive strike against racial profiling that Stephen’s dad understood all too well. The son admits that the note saved him more than once.

The Hood debut made enough of  a splash to get Hollywood’s attention; Stephen landed a job with Dreamworks. His own life story arc as a hopeful young black man was suddenly encouraging, if not quite comic-book spectacular.

Twenty-three years and a few reality checks later, Stephen, now 45 and the father of two teenagers, is reintroducing The Hood—call it the millennial version. Times have changed. The protagonist and his signature garb is the same, as is his grassroots crimefighting mission in South Central. But the world of the Hood has  gotten more complicated. Anton is no longer a solo act; he works with a whole community support team of social justice advocates that includes a woman. Things have gotten more complicated morally. The line between good and bad guys in the neighborhood is less sharply drawn; there is another crimefighter on the scene, a rough doppelganger to Anton, named the Midnight Mercernary. Anton’s late father is an LAPD detective killed in the line of duty, and his mother worries about losing both sons to violence.

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Some of the story elements echo Stephen’s own life. His father is a former LAPD detective who also worried about violence—not on the streets, but violence within police culture directed at people of color. When Stephen was a teenager and started driving, his father gave him a card on which he wrote a note explaining to any fellow cop who might stop Stephen that he was a good kid who shouldn’t be  mistreated. It was a preemptive strike against racial profiling that Stephen’s dad understood all too well. The son admits that the note saved him more than once.   click to continue 

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