Although we had high expectations for Hardcore, the reintroduction of the body-drone government program stumbled at the gate with issue #1 from Image Comics.
Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri originally created the concept of Hardcore as part of Top Cow's Pilot Season, debuting back in April of 2012. This event started in 2007 and allowed readers to vote on one-shot pilots to be released throughout the year. To date this further, voting took place via MySpace, and included titles such as The Angelus and Aphrodite IX. With big shoes to fill as Kirkman went on to create The Walking Dead and Silvestri later becoming the CEO of Top Cow Comics, Andy Diggle and Alessandro Vitti struggle in the shadows of their predecessors.
We are introduced to Agent Drake inside the body of Emil Sokolov, an overweight gangster whose sheer mass serves better as a battering ram than hand-to-hand combative. His introduction is cut short as we learn those in the Hardcore program are expendable, with Drake throwing the body-drone out of the window and quickly exiting the mind program.
Bonnie Prince, a representative from the Department of Defense is waiting for Drake and quizzes him about the ethical implications of the program but is quickly dismissed when he tells her "America has enemies." He explains further that the program works when intel selects a suitable host and a sniper tags them with a Hardcore implant containing nanotechnology which infiltrates their central nervous system. From a Hardcore capsule, Agent Drake is able to take of the target's body, effectively turning them into a "meat puppet."
It isn't until Agent Drake experiences a betrayal that the readers learn of the dangers of the Hardcore program; you stay in a body for 72 hours and you'll die from a brain aneurysm unless you log out.
On paper, the concept of Hardcore is interesting. Our current political situation in the United States begs the question; how far are we willing to go for security, and is the cost of human life worth the safety? Diggle approaches this idea but steers away from this in a more convoluted style of writing, resulting in an ultimately a muddled and uninteresting first issue.
The comic progressed quickly but still left us feeling bored, meaning Diggle introduced too much too fast and did not give us a reason to care about the characters. Agent Drake comes across as callous and uncaring, chalking up the moral ambiguity of his job with a dismissive "a mission's a mission." The reader should care about him, but with the "enemies" of the United States never clearly defined, it's hard to feel any sympathy to his trials at the end of the comic. In fact, Diggle doesn't actually present the reader with any likeable character and makes their selfish ambitions obvious quickly.
The art was the best thing about this release, with Vitti creating scenes that felt incredibly claustrophobic, which was fitting to the overall concept of Hardcore. Colorist Adriano Lucas did a phenomenal job elevating the feel of the comic and was especially remarkable in creating stark color contract between the Hardcore pod and its command center.
Although the first issue fell short, we hope to see Diggle use the subject matter to develop these characters instead of moving the plot too quickly. No one in the comic came off as particularly sympathetic and it was especially difficult to empathize with the dangers of Agent Drake's job. We recommend this comic for readers who followed its original concept and are interested in continuing with their knowledge of the Hardcore program. However, for anyone looking for a fun new story with a cool and problematic anti-hero, Image fails to deliver anything even close to being "hardcore."