: "50 to Life"
Release Date: February 4th, 2004
: Steve Gerber
Art: Brian Hurtt
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Coloring: Brian Haberlin
With issue #1 released on 2/4/04 Hard Time is the first book in DC's new DC Focus imprint. The book is centered around Ethan Harrow, a 15 year-old boy and general social outcast. Following a Columbine-esque prank at his school that goes way too far he is railroaded through the legal system, tried as an adult, and given a sentence of "not less than fifty years and not to exceed his natural life" as the judge feels that a life sentence without parole would deprive him utterly of hope.
Oh yeah, and he's developing super powers.
Initially I wasn't that interested in this title. The idea didn't really sell it for me and I felt that the DC Focus line was an idea that's been tried many times before without sucess. Given the four launch titles I expected this to be a colossal failure for DC. When this came out though a lot of good reviews started cropping up so I decided to give it a chance. My new opinion is that this line might very well fail, but Hard Time might comfortably find a new home over at Vertigo.
Aside from the superpower focus this is very much a Vertigo-style book. The first issue focuses more on the effect of media on the judicial process, on how America has become a nation of litigious victims who practically jump at a reason to sue, a populace that has their minds made up before the suspect is even booked, and how the answers may be under everyone's noses but they're too busy trying to push their own agendas to notice it or even care.
Given the strength of the writing this book has become a great deal more interesting. The potential to explore various issues about life and humanity exists in a way that the uninteresting concept of "teenager in prison... with SUPER POWERS! fails to consider. I hope that DC's marketing hasn't already killed this book as a result.
Enough about the writing though. Brian Hurtt provides art and does a wonderful job. I first became exposed to his work through Oni's excellent Queen & Country (which uses a new artist on each arc, for reference Hurtt drew issues 5-7) and enjoyed it very much at the time. I was similarly not disappointed in his art here. It's about as right as I can imagine for this title. Dark, yet very soft and fitting the realistic tone of the book.
Equally good are Brian Haberlin's colors. He uses a cool palette made up mainly of greys, blues, and purples that give the book an appropriately dark, dim look, but without being oppressive. As Randy Lander of TheFourthRail.com puts it the book looks "artistically lighted".
Lettering, well, it's not something I tend to notice or feel qualified to comment on aside from nothing that based on the previews of the other DC Focus books in the back all of them are using exactly the same font. I can't say I'm at all pleased with this decision.
Overall I reccomend this book highly at this point in things. I've heard a lot of early buzz comparing it to the HBO original series Oz, a series I don't watch, but which always seems to be said in a complementary manner. In short this is a suprisingly intelligent comic with plenty to offer. We'll just have to see how things play out from here.