‘Hardcore #3:’ Advance Comic Book Review

The next level of drone warfare is Hardcore. In the government's top-secret Hardcore Program, agents project into living human hosts to eliminate high-level targets. But the new technology has just fallen into the wrong hands. In this month's Hardcore #3, writer Andy Diggle and artist Alessandro Vitti build off the intensity of the previous installments by expanding the scope of their story and significantly raising the stakes.

The protagonist Drake is your classic action hero. He's a fearless field operative with zero compunctions about the morality of drone warfare. Also, he helps his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Grace, with her groceries. At the start of issue three, Drake and Lupe have successfully eluded General Vazquez, but time is running out. Drake is still stuck in his host, and if he stays "plugged in" longer than seventy-two hours, he'll suffer irreparable brain damage. They attempt to escape with the other members of his field team, but with Markus still in control of Hardcore HQ, nowhere is beyond his reach. Meanwhile, people at the highest levels of government scrap together intel from the botched Hardcore mission, and they begin to suspect that Drake has gone rogue.

Hardcore is the brainchild of Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri who passed the torch to Diggle, Vitti, colorist Adriano Lucas, and letterer Thomas Mauer. The high-octane visuals are heavily influenced by action movies. Vitti's energetic panels are like frames out of Pacific Rim or The Fast and The Furious. The characters' rough facial features and dark shadows blend well with the bright colors Lucas brings to the high-tech backgrounds and exotic locations. And even though I'm not the biggest expert on anime, I did recognize and appreciate how some of the hyper-stylistic choices echo the anime aesthetic. One example being Vitti's dynamic use of sharp leading lines to increase the intensity of bullets, shouts, and big explosions.

In the first few issues, Diggle did an excellent job of quickly establishing the rules of Hardcore. Once that foundation had set, he began building a narrative on top of it that was both simple and action packed. Drake is the hero, he's got a problem with a ticking clock, and we're all along for the ride. It gave me the initial impression that Hardcore might be a more contained narrative, using only a handful of characters on a relatively small scale. But issue three literally blew up that notion. And in the final pages of this installment, Diggle broadens the story in a way that left me genuinely intrigued.

In some ways, I think the simplicity of the story is both a strength and a weakness, as Hardcore does fall prey to some less favorable action genre tropes. A few disposable side characters have already come and gone, and antagonist Markus has remained, in my opinion, pretty one dimensional. I know he's the bad guy because he's sneering maliciously in all of his panels, but why is he wreaking all this havoc? And what exactly is his end goal?

That being said, I still recommend you give Hardcore a read. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that I'm a huge fan of the speculative science fiction sub genre, and that’s why I was first drawn to Hardcore. If you're like me and you're interested in another not-too-distant-future story about drone warfare, you might enjoy William Gibson's novel, The Peripheral, which has a similar premise.

Early on in the story, Hardcore raised a lot of question about the ethics of drone warfare. And further complicated those questions by adding in the unwilling participant (i.e., the hosts). This comic has the potential to address these complex issues head on, but it hasn't done it yet. But I'm optimistic that future issues will use the hunter-becomes-the-hunted archetype to confront the morality of this emerging technology the way only great science fiction can.

Creative Team: Andy Diggle (writer), Alessandro Vitti (artist), Adriano Lucas (colors), Thomas Mauer (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics / Skybound Entertainment
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