It should be reiterated that the work going into Hardcore continues to bolster Andy Diggle and Allesandro Vitti’s regard in the comic book realm and as storytellers as a whole. The best stories tend to stack the odds against the protagonist to incentivize audiences to continue the journey to see how he/she overcomes (or fails) against overwhelming obstacles. Mission accomplished. With every new issue in the Hardcore series the stakes are ratcheted up a notch, and Hardcore #3 cranks the tension to ten — placing our anti-hero in the direst situation and leaving audiences frothing at the mouth for more.
The Hardcore facility has fallen into the hands of terrorists, but more accurately a shunned former member of the team. The program’s best chance of success lies with Agent Drake. Unfortunately, Drake is trapped in the body of an enemy of the state, Esteban, Lieutenant to General Vasquez, a known despot and potential buyer of a missing Russian nuke. Just when things seem like they couldn’t get worse, the fates saunter in with a proverbial “hold my beer” moment. Drake is stuck within a foreign country, thousands of miles from the Hardcore facility (and his body), the U.S. government has pinned the nuke and facility fiasco on Drake, and the closest thing he has to an ally is the general’s adulterous wife.
Hardcore #3 quickly picks up where the last issue left off. Drake is at the mercy of the general’s wife, Esteban’s lover. The moment is tense but provides insight to both characters. Despite the audience’s initial reaction, she knows Esteban on more than a physical level, having easily seen through Drake’s guise. It’s too early to gauge how deep her relationship goes with Esteban, but suffice to say it isn’t as shallow as initially believed. Then Diggle takes a moment also to flaunt Drake’s edginess — it may be a facade, but it works. Drake puts it all out there, confessing to her completely, including his mission to kill her husband. Surprisingly — or perhaps not so surprisingly — she is entirely on board. The relationship between her and Drake is young, but the budding nuance of how they will come to rely on each other is evident.
Agent Drake turns to the only allies he has, the insertion team that planted his mind into Esteban’s body, Agents Paige and Williams. It’s a relatively brief introduction, but their injection in the story seems to work two-fold: the first of which is the team is the catalyst for extracting Drake from the country. Secondly, they help build the world and lend gravitas to events that unfold later in the issue.
Diggle paces the story perfectly. The issue opens with a taut life-or-death scenario, yet remains personal. Allies are introduced along with some semblance of hope. As quickly as this optimism is presented, it is snuffed out in momentous fashion. We become a fly on the wall of our antagonists, gleaning further understanding into the scope of their plans. Finally, the issue closes with a bang — climactic is an understatement.
Alessandro Vitti continues to establish himself as a superb artist with a clear vision for exploring the content. Personal scenes are filled with panels that include close-ups, two shots, and clear eye lines to facilitate the mood. Action scenes are epic; the physicality, the gunfire, but most of all, the explosions are epic in fashion. I have no doubt hours of work is poured into every page, but the quality of Vitti’s work would indicate otherwise.
One of the better aspects of this title is complicated relationships/scenarios. Nothing is simple. The Hardcore program’s mission statement is questionable, every connection is subject to examination in the world of espionage, and the government’s motives and decisions towards Drake and the program only contribute to the building strain.
Hardcore #3 is what happens when the best of Tom Clancy combines with science fiction to produce a comic book thriller that experiments in social commentary. The issue is a whirlwind of the best political action films have to offer with all the benefits of being on the printed page. With each new item, audiences are enamored with these characters and prompted to see what comes next.