The white flag is seen as the last resort. The declaration that one can no longer maintain the status quo. In 2014, two white flags appeared mysteriously over the Brooklyn Bridge. In the end, it turned out that a couple of German artists had made the switcheroo for a grand, cultural experiment And while their motivations have never been entirely clear even to this day, for artist and writer Dean Haspiel, the flags were a creative wake up call and the genesis of a new direction in his work. Indeed, just as the Jasper Johns-esque white flags invoked the stark physical deconstruction of an America symbol, Haspiel seeks the same in the realm of comics.
Behold, the Red Hook and the creation of the New Brooklyn universe. Originally published as a webcomic, the first arc of the Red Hook has been released in lovely trade paperback from Image and it is, without a doubt, a triumph of sequential storytelling. Besides being one of the most prolific and hardworking auteurs on the scene, Haspiel’s chops, imagination, and ingenuity are all on powerful display here as he tells the tale of a thief magically coerced into becoming a hero. It’s a thrilling and thoughtful ride.
Haspiel goes for the jugular by presenting and framing his story around a grand idea: squeezing new identities out of the ruins of an old paradigm. Readers see this clearly in the set-up to the comic: the secession of Brooklyn from the American mainland and the rise of arts and creativity as the means of quotidian commerce. But even more so, the locus of the action comes not from punching or bruising (though there is plenty of that, supplemented by gorgeous Kirby-like crackle), but by the momentous shedding old identities and assuming a just new mantle. Indeed, the entire postulation of a vibrant New Brooklyn is by rejecting the pecuniary myopia of the American mainland and striving for something more.
And of course, this conceit is present within the main character of the book, the eponymous Red Hook, also known by the street name Sam Brosia. While Sam’s past as a petty crook should solicit some reticence on the part of readers looking to take vicarious pleasure in his quest against authority, Haspiel doesn’t take this route. Rather fate is foisted upon Sam through the transference of a heroic Omni-Fist of Altruism which clings to Sam’s heart. This is no mere metaphor. Should Sam stay from his metaphysical enterprise, then he ceases to be.
None of The Red Hook‘s story would be compelling if there wasn’t art to match the ambitious scope of the tale at hand. Haspiel’s Kirby influences are self-evident, but the art throughout the book ebbs and flows from quietude to bombast. Every turn of the page reveals something extraordinary, which is an even greater feat because the book debuted without physical pages. The coloring in this book too is simply extraordinary. There’s an eclectic mix of pages that alternate between muted two color palette followed by huge explosions of hue and brio. There is always something new to discover here.
The land of New Brooklyn is a fecund playing ground for the modern superhero. With the Red Hook, Dean Haspiel has created is a masterwork of the comics form. He goes for the high concept and succeeds in sticking the landing.