Andrew Diggle’s writing and Alessandro Vitti’s art combine to form a potent formula for a standout ongoing series in Hardcore. The second chapter of the ongoing comic continues the series’ trademark action movie style perfectly rendered through the ink on the page. Each iteration of Hardcore contributes more plot details accompanied by set-piece moments ultimately contributing to a compelling story. If issue one was the explosive action-filled opening, then Hardcore #2 fills the need for a bombastic chase scene, upping the stakes in the process. Dire situations, tense interactions, and adrenaline-fueled fun fill the pages of Hardcore #2.
Picking up moments after the climactic continuation of the first issue, former Hardcore agent Markus has assumed control of the program through lethal means. Anyone who worked within the walls of the secret base is dead, save for agent Drake, who remains in the Hardcore containment unit. Markus and his mercenaries are desperate to break into the container that houses Drake, the only obstacle that remains in Markus’ path. If Markus’ imposing will isn’t enough, Drake only has 72 hours to exit his host’s body or die as a result. Drake’s physical body remains in the unit, but his mind remains thousands of miles away in a man just as desperate as Drake…
Drake has assumed control of Colonel Estaban Montenegro. Montenegro was chosen by the program as Drake’s real-world avatar to assassinate the General. Unfortunately, fortune does favor Drake. Estaban has been sleeping with the general’s wife, and Drake has woken up in Estaban’s body shortly after a night of passion. Thousands of miles from U.S. soil, surrounded by an army of the general’s goons, and playing a deadly waiting game back at Hardcore; Drake’s odds get worse by the second.
As audiences grow more familiar with Hardcore, one glaring factor becomes clear: part of the joy of the plot derives from how Drake navigates overwhelming odds. Issue #2 is relatively short regardless of how you look at it, but certainly leaves fans wanting more. Writer Andy Diggle manages to split an A and B storyline among a single character on two fronts. First, there is Agent Drake’s physical battle of attrition at Hardcore headquarters. Secondly, there is agent Drake’s assassination objective as Estaban, which devolves into an all-out escape mission.
It may be a trope, but the best villains often have a connection with the protagonist. Hardcore toys with this concept both literally and metaphorically. Markus’ past connection to the program — and agent Drake — is evident but remains ambiguous to the specific nature of Markus’ former role. Regardless, Markus is a dark reflection of Drake himself. A man with a similar past but whose decisions have led him down a bleaker path. Literally speaking, Markus has access to Hardcore technology, granting him entry to the audio and visuals of Drake’s host body, Estaban. How can Drake overcome the odds when his worst enemy is privy to his every move? It remains to be seen, but all the more reason to stay faithful to the series.
Writer Andy Diggle ups the ante on a second front as well. Estaban’s illicit tryst with the General’s wife has been exposed, making both the target of an entire army in a hostile country. Every turn, every corner, every unknown face presents a threat.
Diggle opts to approach the narrative with first-person narration. It makes sense considering Drake’s situation. As a secret agent without a handler, Drake is alone. There aren’t many allies to bounce ideas from to grant the audience exposition, Drake’s inner monologue provides deeper insight. The first-person narration also projects a sense of isolation. Considering Drakes situation with no allies to turn to, it seems appropriate. But Diggle doesn’t let off just yet, ending the issue with a strong finish that escalates things further. More tension, more captivation.
Artist Alessandro Vitti puts in a strong effort to the art, and it shows. Conveying motion in still images can prove difficult, but Vitti moves beyond merely showing movement and goes for broke executing theatrical cuts amid a car chase that includes a helicopter. The panels evidence the frenzied pace on one page in particular: a close up of tires burning rubber, cut to Estaban’s hand as he switches gears, a medium shot of the sports car spinning 180 degrees into position, cut to Estaban’s foot on the gas, and culminating in a wide shot of the Lamborghini roaring towards an exit. If this had been a movie, every panel would translate smoothly to camera shots meant to invoke a sense of immediacy. An interesting blurb in the back end of the comic touches on the research Vitti put in to perfectly capture the issues tone. Vitti’s efforts on the issue (and on the series as a whole) should be applauded.
Hardcore #2 adds another layer of depth to a series that is quickly establishing itself as a mandatory read. If frenzied action, espionage, and intricate plots interest you, then Hardcore #2 ticks all the proverbial boxes.