Hard Time #9 Review

Reviewer: Andy Logan
Story Title: Seeing Red

Written by: Steve Gerber
Art by: Brian Hurtt
Colorist: Wildstorm FX
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC Comics

This title right here is a marvelous example of just why you should support your local comic book dealer. Here in England, local deale’s are few and far between; in fact, comic book shops in general are pretty much few and far between, so finding a local store is akin to finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

Case in point – in my home town of Portsmouth, Ian’s shop is the only game in town, so like it or not, unless you want to go with the mail order route, you have to go visit him to pick up your weekly fix of goodies.

So it’s a darn good job that going to the shop is always such a pleasure. You can always rely on Ian to welcome you with a smile and a few choice words of wisdom relating to his chosen philosophy of the week. In addition, he gets to know and understand all of his regular customers so well that he knows just what floats their boats and what type of stories they would like to read.

As a result, when Hard Time hit the stand, he practically insisted I had to try it, assuring me that it was just the sort of read I’d like, the sort of title that I would enjoy. I gave it a go, and boy, was I ever glad I did. Judging by the conversations I have had with other collectors, Hard Time is probably the most under-rated and ignored of the clutch of titles that I personally read, and yet it’s right up at the top of my “must read” list each month.

Hard Time has evolved and improved issue upon issue, building from a simple premise and adding layer upon layer to the story. It’s a classic example of a writer allowing the story to unfold as it wants to, in its own time. Events build slowly, but intriguingly, growing naturally to a crescendo and climax that’s all the more stunning by virtue of its previous slow burn.

Take, for instance, the attitude displayed by Ethan Harrow at the start of this new story arc. Harrow has never been much of a shrinking violet, but whereas before he hid behind a sarcastic quick wit, now he’s started to demonstrate a more caustic, angry side that burns even those who are nominally closest to him, such as his cell mate, old man Wallace. This attitude change has happened gradually, it’s evolved as various events have effected and driven our central character further away from the frightened, innocent child he was in early issues into the tougher, harder edged cynic he’s now becoming.

However, in one deliciously drawn scene, we are reminded of the fact that Ethan is still just a young man – barely more than a child – underneath it all. During visiting hours, following Ethan’s crude revelation regarding the true nature of his Mother and his attorney’s relationship, his Mother causes the youngster maximum embarrassment; chastising him and visibly reducing him back to the same wide-eyed state he was in when he first arrived in the Big House.

Ethan isn’t the only character who continues to evolve in a believable and intriguing way in this issue. Wallace, the old man who is one of Ethan’s only friends, and has acted as little more than a convenient source of exposition thus far, finally gets a little bit more meat on his bones. A flash back to Vietnam is followed by a mysterious visitor that Wallace claims he has no interest in seeing. I can’t see how this strand will service and tie-in to the main plot, but it’s nice to see the character given something more tangible to his nature than simply “grumpy old man with a heart of gold”.

One other character worth mentioning is Truro. The Latino is evolving just as Ethan is – the more innocent and naïve aspects of his personality stripped away by the harsh realities of prison life. Interestingly though, whereas Ethan is desperately trying to maintain some semblance of decency and normality in his life, Truro appears more ready and willing to embrace the darker aspects of incarceration. They are two similar characters, on the same journey, seemingly with different destinations.

Perhaps the biggest swerve to the main plot, however, is the arrival of several new characters. One of them would appear to be little more than a joke, but a brief and intense encounter with Ethan suggests something entirely different. We also, in a nice overdue touch, get to see the effects of the high school tragedy on a survivor. As they appear to be in some sort of psychiatric hospital, the effect is not a good one.

The thread that ties these characters into the ongoing storyline is the very brief mention in each of their scenes of a third – as yet unseen – character, who would appear to be somehow tied in with Ethan’s mysterious power. We’re given no clues as to what this tie in is, but it raises the intrigue level several notches, as it also suggests that the power may not be an entirely benevolent force.

The art and coloring is as consistently excellent as ever and really adds to the unique atmosphere and feel of one of the most criminally ignored titles on the market place today.