The latest offering from Top Cow Productions is a technological spy thriller-y type deal. It’s from writer Robert Kirkman (The Astounding Wolf-Man, The Walking Dead) and artist Brian Stelfreeze (Shadow of the Bat). Set in the modern-day U.S. of A and opening with a fight scene at what looks like a mob meeting, it only takes a few pages to make clear that all is not as it seems: there is some kick-ass, if somewhat nefarious technology at work here. They are essentially, operating within a moral and legal gray area, using a piece of equipment called ‘the hardcore’ (hence the title of the series). They do work under the government, so, y’know, they’re allowed to explore a few shades of grey (if you get that pun, I’m sorry).
Through some short scenes with the main character, Agent Drake, we get an explanation about the tech we’ve just seen in action. It’s a good way to info-dump without an actual info-dump via narration or boring exposition. The explanation is smooth and thankfully, not too technical. It also takes care to explain the limits of the tech – this comes into play later on. Drake himself obviously has a rudimentary understanding of the technology he’s using, and no qualms about essentially committing a double homicide every time he does a job. However, his leaving groceries for an elderly neighbour in his apartment building suggests a more nuanced character than just an assassin that likes to hassle the technicians.
My only critique of the art is that the angular, enigmatic lines on the characters only allow for basic facial expressions to come through. The characters do look distinctly different from one another, though most of the men look oddly like they have battle scars all over their faces. The colour scheme is a mix of pastels and dark colours, which sounds like it should clash horribly but it really makes the action stand out from its backdrop of cityscapes and lab equipment. There’s a fair bit of gore, since Drake’s work involves killing people, but it’s drawn so that it’s the action and dialogue, not the wounds, that are the focal point of the panels. There’s a fight scene with a female antagonist at the end of the issue (I won’t spoil it with a name-drop) and I LOVE the fact that she’s drawn with muscular legs. The shot of Drake in the tank does remind me a bit of Aphrodite IV in Artifacts #0, but that’s probably just because she’s my favourite character of that series.
The idea behind this technology is not blindingly original, but there are already some nice subplots that are intriguing. There are hints at a complicated history which has caused the events of this first issue to come to fruition, and I can’t wait to find out what they are. Agent Drake, though we only just ‘met’ him will I’m sure, prove to be an interesting protagonist, if he gets out of the dilemma on the last page. Hardcore is definitely worth picking up, if only to see where they’re going to take it. Such powerful technology always comes with the threat of abuse, and it’s refreshing not to have the government be the bad guys for once! Marcus does say he has government contacts, but I’m not so sure they’d approve of his actions. Lab techs take a lot of training and they tend to get cranky when you shoot them.
Speaking of Marcus – his name is actually spelt with a ‘k’ in his first appearance and then with a ‘c’ later on. Oopsie! Hopefully they won’t make that mistake again.