Hardcore, the new sci-fi action epic from writer Andy Diggle and artist Alessandro Vitti, envisions a world where spies remotely occupy the bodies of state enemies the world over.
“You never really know a person until you climb into his skin and kill someone in it.”
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
In Hardcore, the adrenaline-doused new series from writer Andy Diggle and artist Alessandro Vitti, drone warfare is no longer limited to unmanned aircraft or bomb disposal. New technology has allowed a government agent to possess anyone on the planet and use them as a weapon. It’s an indispensable tool, if one that poses some moral qualms.
But what happens when that technology turns against the agency using it?
In the Skybound ongoing, the body-hopping Agent Drake finds himself isolated inside a possessed asset—the right-hand man to a South American general—as a rogue agent with a vendetta takes over his government agency’s headquarters and the technology he's using.
“Drake is trapped in another man’s body, and he only has 72 hours to get back to his real body,” Diggle explains. “That sets up all sorts of logistical problems like, why don't the bad guys just shoot the real Drake? He’s right there in the command and control center with them. So that adds another level to the ticking clock.”
The concept originated in 2009 when Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri introduced the sci-fi blockbuster through Top Cow’s Pilot Season, an initiative that witnessed thousands of readers vote on a series of one-shots, with the winning comic obtaining a series order. Their story revolved around a government group that can hijack the body of anyone on Earth, controlling state enemies through remote “drone pilots” for missions of recon and murder. In 2012, Kirkman and artist Brian Stelfreeze launched that introductory one-shot, a breakneck descent into science-fiction/spy suspense. Seven years later, Diggle, Vitti, colorist Adriano Lucas, and letterer Thomas Mauer have jacked back into that premise with the expanded story of devastatingly powerful technology and what happens when it’s wielded against its users.
Diggle previously worked with Kirkman on the series Thief of Thieves—the story of a career criminal who only targets fellow larcenists—for 23 issues, paving the way for another handoff on a high-octane ongoing. “Action and espionage are very much in my wheelhouse,” Diggle says. “So when they offered me Hardcore, it felt like a good fit.”
If the name weren’t a giveaway, Hardcore is a tense and tightly paced action thriller that thrives on Diggle’s taut choreography and Vitti’s propulsive movement. “I like to choreograph the action in detail, moment by moment, so that the artist can bring it to life as clearly as possible,” Diggle explains. “It’s important that readers understand the visual geography of an action scene. Clarity is everything. Action, reaction. And every action scene needs to move the story forward. Otherwise, it’s just pointless noise.”
Vitti is no stranger to action comics either, having worked on various projects at both Marvel and DC Comics. But Vitti says Hardcore allows him to play with a new degree of detail and action. Even in the quieter moments of the story, Vitti’s detailed art gives every movement a sense of purpose. “It’s been fun to study the kinetics and functions of every single object,” Vitti says. “It’s been exciting.”
Hardcore swings out of the gate flashing every tool in its arsenal. The opening fight scene in a corporate boardroom introduces the book’s concept, as Drake occupies a Russian gangster who suddenly springs into violent action, assaulting his brother and fellow henchmen as they discuss a warhead transfer. Diggle’s narrative fight architecture allows the reader to follow every character through a bustling action scene without losing any of its tight pacing. Drake demands that HQ shut down his pain receptors as his human “meat puppet” struggles with the physical demands of assassinating his target, ending in a truly shattering moment.
Vitti’s art style, which leans toward realism, bends with the action to allow a more impressionistic flow to the combat. The artist conveys muzzle flair and blood splatter as sharp squares of color. Every action is surrounded by thin black wisps of ink, which Vitti calls kinetic lines, leading the readers’ eyes and conveying a furious speed.
Vitti says that action movies were a big influence on the art style of Hardcore, particularly in terms of capturing momentum.
“I really love the cinema,” Vitti elaborates. “It's the main inspiration for my scenes. I watch many movies, and in this particular case, I've been really helped by action movies I like: Daniel Craig's James Bond, The Transporter, Jason Bourne, and so on.”
Like those movies, Hardcore’s premise allows the book to quickly jump between exotic locales, from corporate boardrooms to hi-tech government labs to lavish villas. Vitti says he enjoyed studying the villas, but that one of his favorite locations to draw was a cargo ship in one of the upcoming issues of the series.
For the technological aesthetic of the series, Vitti says he took inspiration from anime and manga, particularly from Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo. This degree of detail is especially visible in the Hardcore Capsule, or as described by its users, the “Pressure Cooker,” the machine that allows Drake to pilot other humans. Vitti says he looked at studies of biomechanics to design a system that would believably allow Drake to mimic the movements of the drones. The result is a womb of wires, monitors, and mechanical joints, cast in ominous red mood lighting—all built around one man making the world a better place one assassination at a time.
But beneath the thrilling action, serious questions resound at the heart of Hardcore. Drone technology, and the impact on the human operating those drones, has changed substantially over the last 10 years. Though drone operators work safely out of remote locations, the U.S. Air Force has begun offering counseling for it pilots, as it recognizes that witnessing horrific acts on a daily basis invites endless stress.
“At the start of the story, Drake’s quite dismissive of the ethical implications of his job because he’s always been able to jump out of the host body the moment the target is down,” Diggle says. “But now that he’s trapped in a host body in hostile territory, he has to deal with the consequences of his actions for the first time. Suddenly, things aren’t quite so black and white for him anymore. He’s got to clean up his own mess.”
Diggle likens the premise to the early ’90s body- (and history-) hopping show Quantum Leap with more spy flair. The book delivers epic action set pieces, but on a deeper level, the premise also forces government hitman Drake to empathize with the people—often terrorists and gangsters—he’s inhabiting.
“We’ve seen Drake be an action hero, so it’d be fun to drop him into the body of someone wildly different from himself,” Diggle says. “Let him walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and see how people treat him when he’s no longer a straight, white, all-American tough guy.”
That cocktail of the thrilling and profound defines a comic bound to ingrain itself in the consciousness of its readers, much like Drake storms the psyches of his victims. And with a premise this suspenseful and versatile, Hardcore promises a wild ride piloted by two creators who promise to never slow down.
Hardcore #1 will be available on December 19, 2018.
We’ve seen Drake be an action hero, so it’d be fun to drop him into the body of someone wildly different from himself. Let him walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and see how people treat him when he’s no longer a straight, white, all-American tough guy.