Fleeing from a ruthless despot wanted for treason from the United States, as the threat of a fatal brain shutdown creeps ever closer; the stakes have never been stacked so heavily against Drake, and readers wouldn’t have it any other way. Hardcore #4 turns up the dial on action, thrills, and tension. Marcus seems to have all the cards in his favor, but Drake’s relentless force of will says otherwise. If you’ve approached the Hardcore series looking for the ultimate action thriller in the form of a comic, look no further. Hardcore can (and should) translate to a tentpole summer action film. With that premise in mind, issue #4 feels like the end of the second story arc, setting the stage for a strong third act without ever skimping on a well-laid plot.
The opening salvo in Markus’s plan has come to fruition. The president was murdered in a nuclear blast. American authorities are on high alert, and Drake is under suspicion for his involvement in the terroristic act. Thousands of miles from home, Drake struggles to escape an entire country out for his blood, only to break into… an entire country (USA) also out for his blood. There are less than 48 hours left before the hardcore unit shuts down his mind, effectively killing him. With the Colonel’s wife, Lupe, as his only ally, Drake must save himself and prevent all-out war in the process.
A good hero can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. If that trope rings true, then Drake is one of the greatest heroes of all time. Markus has access to the hardcore implant, seeing what Drake sees, hearing what he hears. How can Drake plot against his enemy when his body is bugged? Writer Andy Diggle plays up this factor to throw a ratchet into Drake’s quest (as if he needed any more), but also to toy with the notion of the “Devil on your shoulder.” A standout moment in the issue has Drake arguing with Markus via the implant. Markus’s constant presence is insistent, nagging at Drake like a festering wound. The scene concludes with Lupe walking in on Drake arguing with himself, a nice touch to hammer home the ridiculousness of the situation.
Setting the stage early, the comic revs up the thrills. Bullets fly in a negotiation gone wrong. Lupe saves Drake’s life, only adding to the tumultuous relationship between the two. The rapport between Drake and Lupe remains at the forefront of the story. Lupe struggles to remain at Drake’s side, knowing he has inhabited Esteban’s body only to assassinate her estranged husband, leaving Estaban to take the fall. With the Colonel out for her blood as well, she’s left with little choice. It’s a situation worthy of even the best of day time soap operas. Drake’s intentions don’t go unnoticed either. Lupe calls him out on what he is, an assassin, regardless of the euphemism Drake uses to justify his actions.
Hardcore #4’s action is grounded in real-world scenarios cranked up to ten; gun battles, high altitude dog fights, and hostage negotiation are all here with a Hardcore twist. Drake is at his best in combat. More so than the previous three issues, readers are witness to his quick thinking, combat prowess, but most importantly a strategic mind. Instead of remaining on the run from authorities Drake comes knocking at their door. He presents a scenario where the only logical outcome is trusting him, sending Drake into a hostage situation for his own body. The irony doesn’t go unnoticed. Despite continued evidence that Drake will find a way to remedy any situation, we turn every page wondering “how will he get out of this?”. Therein lies some of the crux of Diggle’s run, crafting one scenario with high stakes after another, keeping readers engaged.
From start to finish, Hardcore #4 grabs the audience’s attention and never loses its vice-like grip. Every dire situation is followed by another, all while Drake keeps a cool head. Of course, the action wouldn’t be as significant if artist Alessandro Vitti wasn’t at the helm. If the supporting material from issue #3 is any indication, Vitti does his homework. He researches vehicles from all angles, studies how characters should be rendered based on positioning, and draws each panel from the best perspective (or shot if you will) possible to support Diggle’s script. For every new plot twist that arises Vitti is ready and willing to bring it life with his art.
With only its fourth issue to hit comic stands, Hardcore continues to be a must-read book for fans willing (or looking) for an alternative to the tried and true world of superheroes. The only question that remains: How will Drake survive what Diggle concocts next?