Forever Fangirl: How Hardcore is Kirkman’s Hardcore?

Robert Kirkman's Hardcore

Robert Kirkman's Hardcore

Written by Robert Kirkman

Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze

Cover by Marc Silvestri

Robert Kirkman does it again, but will his newest title, Hardcore, published by Image Comics and their partner Top Cow Productions, reach the enormous popularity of Walking Dead or Invincible? The answer, I believe, is no, but not for lack of trying. Let me explain the premise of the story, and lets see if you spot my reasoning for my prediction.

Sometimes, especially in the far-cooler-than-reality world that most comic books inhabit, the only way to get rid of the really really bad guys is to use some implausible tech that sounds completely awesome on paper but in reality would probably end up causing cancer of the… well, cancer of the everything. Exhibit A, the very device that this book is named for, The Hardcore. Whenever a group of bad guys is in need of killing, a shadowy organization (I don’t recall seeing their name) sniper rifles a tiny little control device into one of the villainry’s minions, which gives them control over the hapless baddie. From a floaty, impenetrable dyson sphere looking tank, black ops agent Drake proceeds to kill the hell out of the target using the henchman’s body to do so, explaining to the DoD representative who comes to evaluate the project, that he has only 72 hours inside the bad guy before the Hardcore device erodes and causes him permanent brain damage. Here’s where the longevity of this title suffers.

As you might guess, this sort of work is not necessarily for the kindly, though Agent Drake has the prerequisite Save-the-Cat moment where you see him sneaking groceries to an elderly fixed-income neighbor, and enter Markus, a sleazeball drummed out of the program. How do you know he’s a sleazeball? Two words. Popped Collar. Got a picture in your head now? Yeah, well that’s Markus, and he is none too pleased with his expulsion considering how instrumental he was in developing the project, according to his expository but well written dialog. So, in a move that everyone but Agent Drake can see coming, the DoD rep shoots everyone in the program before minioning off to Markus, who bwahahahas his plan to the now trapped Agent Drake. He must find a way out of the body he is now locked into and be shot when he emerges from the sphere, or he can hang around for the next 72 hours until the Hardcore dissolves and lobotomizes him.

Agent Drake, trapped in the body of the second in command of a South American general, has three days to live.

And there it is. The only glaring flaw in this book. The time limit. We know, of course, how it’s going to end up. Drake will somehow succeed, kill Markus, and save his life before he goes short bus special, and we’re excited to see how that happens. After all, Second in Command is pretty sleazy himself, having an affair with the General’s wife and everything, so we know Drake is going to have a dark and rocky path to walk, and this situation just about guarantees at least one explosion that Drake can walk away from without looking back at it. But once he’s saved his skin, then what? This book limits itself by opening with this particular story and everything after it is going to seem like uninteresting overkill. Now, if this is meant to be a limited run, well, bring it, because it looks awesome, but I don’t know about the sustainability, and I don’t know if I want to invest in the characters if I’m only going to have them for five issues.

The story in and of itself is awesome, mind you. Kirkman knows how to write, oh yes he does, and with story input by Cover Artist and Top Cow Grand High Muckity Muck Marc Silvestri, there’s not a wasted moment in this book. Even the “this is what we do and how we do it” speech Drake gives to the DoD is done with a succinct and straightforward style without sounding stilted, but also without wasting words on silly repetition (You listening, Bendis? See my last column for more on THAT subject) The artwork by Brian Stelfreeze is clean without being boring and dynamic without being confusing, always a big plus in my book. Even the strange color pallet with its very stylized orange highlights and pea green shadows, done in crisp and tight geometrics by Sunny Gho of Imaginary Friends Studios, is pleasing to the eye, giving the book a unique look to what is really not that unique a tale, to be honest.  But I once heard that there are only seven stories in fiction, so the key is telling them in a new way, which Kirkman and crew do expertly.

So, do I recommend this book? I do, but with a healthy dose of its limitations. There’s nothing wrong with telling a short story, just don’t try and convince yourself that it’s a novel.

Now, if this was made into a movie? THAT would be awesome. I wonder if it’s been optioned yet. Excuse me for a moment, I think I have to call my lawyer…

Until next time, this is the Forever Fangirl.

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