Back in the day, I used to do recurring posts here on UM called The Box wherein I would grab some random comics from a huge box my inlaws gave me and give them a read. I thought it would be fun to do something similar, but with a somewhat narrower focus on horror comics from those same boxes (though now they have a special place on my comic shelves). As it turned out, I had a bunch of 70s Marvel horror comics, so I jumped right in with those! Horror had a nice resurgence at this time because the Comics Code loosened some of its restrictions. In these five comics I’ve got Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Son of Satan and all sorts of anthology tales!Enter, if you dare…
Written by David Tischman, drawn by Timothy Green II
Collects Fraction #1-6
A few years back DC tried something interesting called Focus, the idea being to tell superhero/fantasy/sci-fi-based stories not constrained by the larger DCU. None but Hard Time seemed to have any legs as the rest got cancelled mostly within six months. That definitely presents a problem when collecting these comics and it’s a huge problem with Fraction. The concept is solid, with a quartet of friends coming across a battle suit while on a crime spree and splitting its parts between them. The boots let one guy fly, the gauntlets shoot energy blasts, the helmet has a lot of discoverable functions and the chest plate is protective.
The strengths of this book include Tischman’s solid characterization of these four dudes (even if they might come across as a little basic given the first six issues), the concept and Green’s excellent art. He was actually the reason I decided to read this book as I became a huge fan of his when he worked on Starlord.
The problems with this book are in the execution of the story. SPOILERS AHEAD. There’s a guy working for the company that created the suit who has been hired to get the parts back from our “heroes.” He’s a pretty big threat until his boss shuts him down. Unfortunately, that happens around the fourth issue (it’s hard to tell because they don’t break them up with the covers like a lot of other trades) and we’re left without a larger antagonist for our boys to be afraid of. Sure, they’re dealing with the law, but nothing bigger. Four more dudes in the armors get sent out, but the book ends with them literally still in the air on their way to get these guys. Wah wah. It’s kind of like if Darth Vader had been defeated 2/3 of the way through New Hope and the Emperor doesn’t send anyone else to kill Luke Skywalker.
Anyway, with the book’s cancellation or just a poor ending to a six issue run, Fraction doesn’t really pay off for the time it takes to read unless you’re just a fan of looking at Green’s art, which is exactly as awesome as you’d think it would.
HARD TIME: 50 TO LIFE (DC)
Written by Steve Gerber, drawn by Brian Hurtt
Collects Hard Time #1-6
After reading Fraction, I remembered that I had the one and only Hard Time volume sitting in one of my to-read boxes. I figured that would make for an interesting themed post, so I went with it. Hard Time is a take on the Columbine killers if one of them didn’t really want to hurt anyone, didn’t kill himself, had some kind of superpowers and went to jail. When Ethan passes out a red energy monster thing starts running around and taking vengeance on his enemies. This volume focuses on the crime itself (Ethan never hurt anyone and only went in on this as a joke, but his powers did kill his friend/co-criminal) and then Ethan’s early days in prison. It’s a pretty interesting and ballsy comic which should come as no surprise when you look at Steve Gerber’s career. I am surprised DC put the book out though. I’ve been on a Prison Break kick lately, so reading Hard Time was like checking out a different side of that coin.
But, the book is not without its problems. I have trouble buying the idea that a teenager would get sent to gen pop in a prison, especially knowing that he didn’t kill anyone. That’s ridiculous. Having so much trouble with the fulcrum the story balances on nearly made me put the trade down, but I kept with it. The other problem I have with the story is how vaguely defined Ethan’s supernatural abilities are. After six issues all we know is that it can smash a guy into bars, throw toilet paper all over the cell block and walk around mostly unseen throughout the prison. That’s it. I was hoping to have a better grasp of that by the end of the collection, but was left feeling kind of empty.
Unfortunately, DC hasn’t collected the rest of this series which went on for two volumes and 19 issues total. At the end of the first trade, I’m not completely sold on whether I should track down the rest of those issues or not. I’m kind of intrigued, but not super interested, especially if it would cost a significant amount of coin. I think I’m going to let this one fade out of my mind with a possible eye towards the cheap boxes at cons for what I haven’t read yet. I know this book had it’s fans, what do you think?