Apr 13, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 778: Hardware #1, April 1993


(Link, because my Web Fu is bad: https://www.comics.org/issue/871010/)

We've got two cover images today, one for the actual cover, and one for the polybag within which the comic is shipped. What this tells us is that Hardware was produced in that time of comics that was all about collectibility, rather than readability. Fortunately, in this case, the comic is more readable than it was collectible. At least, it is now.

First, let's briefly talk about Milestone Comics. Far from being a thing of the past (almost 25 years past), Milestone, as a home for creators of colour, is alive and well, as the above link attests. As the editorial in the middle of the comic, written, I'm assuming, by EIC Dwayne McDuffie, notes, "Diversity's our story, and we're sticking with it. The variety of cultures Out There make for better comics In Here." I don't think I could say it better. This is especially important to note given the recent comments from Marvel on potential reasons for a market slump (and, as I noted when that article blew up the Internet for a bit, there's no mention of the rising price of comics [the reason I've stopped buying so many], or the drop in the U.S. economy). One of the few comics I still regularly read is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a thoroughly positive and diverse bit of comics if I've ever seen one.

We've already thought a bit about penciller Denys Cowan in Iron Man from a few days ago. Today's comic comes about 4 years later, and one can see that there's more passion behind this project than the mainstream Marvel fare. It's not surprising, really, that a creator would put more passion into a project that hits a little closer to home. In my own work I'm far more passionate about teaching comics (or occasionally Lego) than I am many other things. And Mr. Cowan's (and writer Dwayne McDuffie's) passion seeps through these pages, creating a story that engages the reader as much as it probably engaged the writers. So let's talk a bit about writer Dwayne McDuffie, a powerhouse creator in the comics world who sadly passed away in 2011. As with Mr. Cowan, Mr. McDuffie's passion for this project is palpable. Hardware, a.k.a. Curtis Metcalf, is a very, very angry character. As the tag on the cover proclaims, "A cog in the corporate machine is about to strip some gears," though it would be more apt to say that the gears are blown up and sprinkled as dust across Dakota City. It's appropriate to bring up Iron Man in the context of this comic, as Metcalf is a scientific genius who is exploited by a tech magnate very much like Tony Stark. (What a great story that would be to see Stark accused by one of his employees of institutionalizing racism in Stark Industries.) We have, of course, seen stories of the downtrodden corporate employee retaliating against their bosses, but very often the character is Caucasian, and in the end becomes a villain. And while Hardware kills a fair few people in this issue, it's hard to call him a villain. In fact, I could see the series moving into the territory currently being explored on Arrow vis a vis heroes who kill. Though given the time period within which the comic is written, perhaps the hero who kills is not that big a moral problem.

Mr. McDuffie's writing bears some resemblance here to the style of the early Image titles, which is unsurprising given their popularity at the time. But Curtis Metcalf's angry inner dialogue rings much more true than the over-muscled badasses of Youngblood or Deathblow. (As I write this, my English class are writing their final exam, and one of the terms we've covered is "verisimilitude." This is the insertion of detail into a fiction that allows the fiction to more closely resemble reality. Hardware's grievances with society are far more verisimilitudinous than any member of Youngblood.) What this accomplishes for a reader like myself is to see that the kind of dialogue that I despise in some comics actually works and is far more appropriately deployed and executed in a comic and setting where it actually makes sense. Dwayne McDuffie will undoubtedly come up again in this project. He left an indelible mark on comics, working not only in the print media aspect, but also the business and animation sides of the industry. But Milestone might be his most significant contribution, and one that will hopefully live a long and prosperous existence.

To be continued.

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