The world of comics is a medium ripe for storytelling. Experienced readers know there are worlds of conspiracy, magic, and high concept science fiction outside of the “Big 2” waiting to be explored. Hardcore #1 is a shining example of how to capture readers attention from the very first page. The series is a remake of the original title created by Robert Kirkman (Yes, that Robert Kirkman) and Marc Silvestri. Andy Diggle and Alessandro Vitti have taken the reins of the duo’s brainchild, building on the concept’s foundation while driving the narrative in a bold new direction. Much of the original script remains intact; however, a fresh polish has been applied, and the series looks to reach beyond the original’s single-issue run.
The Hardcore Program is a government initiative intended to infiltrate any organization. The Program’s technology allows agents to take over human bodies the way one might pilot a drone; serving as analogs to be taken over and controlled by the best soldier for the job, Agent Drake. However, there is one caveat. The Implant used to control the host biodegrades within a 72-hour window. Drake must unplug from the system before degradation or risk terminal brain damage. Of course, when do things ever go as planned? During a new mission, the Program is hijacked, leaving Drake stranded in a host body with 72 hours to eradicate the conspiracy.
Granted, Hardcore #1 is a remake of a previously failed comic series, but if the first issue is any indication Image/Skybound has a potential hit on their hands. Launching a new title and catching readers up to speed can be a delicate process. Wonderfully, Hardcore #1 manages to check all the right boxes on how to open a new series. Unforced exposition? Check. An interesting (albeit rote) protagonist? Check. A compelling narrative that immediately sucks you in? Check. The most significant accomplishment Diggle’s script achieves is balancing high octane action with the necessary step of introducing the concept and characters to its audience. Drake struggles with the physical limitations of his host body while doling out “justice” to homeland terrorists.
Therein lies the benefit of the first issue, embedding conflict into every scene. Drake pitted against a mob of thugs wanting blood, the program under the watchful eye of Department of Defense, and former agent Marcus’ secret agenda against the program. The issue is paced extremely well. Opening with high octane action, slowing things down with scenes that service the plot but reveal much about the characters, then picking back up again in a climactic closing. Most notable are the themes introduced, however brief the exchange may be. The Program works in the morally gray. The hosts are considered collateral for the Hardcore program, often taking the fall for the agency’s assassinations, murdered as traitors. No arrests, no court, just biased judgment for the “greater good.” The program is comparable to a similar controversy our world faces, the morality of drone strikes. I won’t lecture you with a political stance, but the topic is unquestionably controversial — I tip my hat to the creators for broaching the subject.
A comic book is never complete without art to support the words on the page. Alessandro Vitti does not disappoint. His skills are most prevalent in the action scenes. Every bullet fired, punch swung, kick thrown, and the crack of a bone feels potent and visceral. When things slow down, he gorgeously captures the emotion of the scene among the characters and their surroundings. The panel layout never feels cluttered; your eyes are always directed to the next panel to soak in his work.
An artist can shine or falter with how scenes are depicted. You never want to confuse the reader with the action, but you always want to capture the moment as dynamically as possible. The entire issue feels intense, and the tension is palpable from start to finish. Vitti’s art isn’t photorealistic, nor is it surreal or cartoonish. It finds a happy medium in a place all its own. I never felt distracted from the story, always flowing seamlessly from moment to moment while still aware of just how special his talent truly is.
As far as good starts go, Hardcore #1 is a quintessential model for kicking off a series with gusto. With so much potential for this series to indeed become a must read, I highly suggest readers join in on the ground floor.