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Hard Time: 50 to Life
Written by Steve Gerber
Drawn by Brian Hurtt
Published by DC Comics; $9.95 USD

Hard Time is the story of Ethan Harrow, a fifteen year-old kid convicted of murder after he and a friend staged a Columbine-like incident, which left five dead, including his partner-in-crime, Brandon. Now Ethan must learn to adapt to life in prison while also trying to cope with the fact that he has gained some sort of super-power that he cannot control.

There are many obvious plot points within the book that can be drawn to outside material. It’s parts Shawshank Redemption, Oz, and The Green Mile, with a little bit of teen angst thrown in. But, Gerber manages to meld what he does borrow from other stories with his own ideas, and turns it into something somewhat compelling.

For starters, the main character is guilty; possibly not of the crimes he has been convicted for, but very much guilty. At times Ethan is a bit pigeon-holed into the stereotypical high school nerd, complete with the hatred of the popular crowd and the wise-ass remarks, but there are other times where he breaks free of those chains and makes some headway into becoming a three dimensional character.

The supporting cast is one of the true surprises of the book, and while some of them are mirrors of other characters from other prison dramas, there’s enough originality spun in them that they feel like new characters. The biggest standouts being Cole, the first and only person willing to lay down the rules for Ethan and look out for him; Gantry, the religious fanatic who’s convinced he’s doing God’s work by killing people who disagree with him; Curly, Ethan’s cell mate, and a lifer on B-Block; and then there’s Cindy.

Cindy is an interesting character, and likely the single greatest thing about the book. With Cindy, Gerber has taken a touchy subject, one that is usually mishandled, if not entirely overlooked in the first place, and turned it into a fascinating, albeit brief, character study. At first glance Cindy seems to be the typical prison-gay, effeminate, “chick-looking guy” that most writers tend to write with complete disgust.

Not Gerber. Not only is Cindy as developed as every other member of the cast, but by the middle of the book you really want the focus to shift so that you can learn more about her. After being given only a glimpse of the kind of life she’s led, you cannot help but connect with the character, and she’s infinitely more interesting than anyone else, including Ethan.

Hurtt’s pencils fit well enough with the plot, but one would expect something less simplistic and darker in tone given the nature of the story. The fact that he does his own inks helps a bit, and he keeps every character diverse while still maintaining an overall flow. It’s nothing fantastic, but it works for the most part. Some of the characters aren’t as developed as others, which can make for a bit of confusion, specifically Arturo and Gatherwood.

The book's biggest, and potentially devastating, downfall is the coloring. Each scene, or set of scenes, contain an overall color scheme, sometimes red, sometimes blue, maybe beige, even green, sometimes both on the same page in different panels. While something like that may work well in the film world, on paper it’s almost migraine inducing, especially given the all-encompassing nature of it. Ultimately it turns a decent penciling job into a complete nightmare. It makes some of the lesser visually developed characters often unrecognizable, and occasionally even the main characters as well.

Taken as a whole, Hard Time is a very interesting, occasionally excellent read, and brings a newer genre, of sorts, into the spotlight. The packaging is specifically noteworthy because it’s presented as a whole, rather than its separate parts. There’s no cover or “previously in Hard Time…” type of interruptions in the narrative, which works in favor of the story. Instead they’re thrown in at the end as a type of bonus feature, along with quite a few character sketches.

The story and characters all have great potential, and while the art won’t blow you away, it does its job, but the coloring works against both of those things and in the end almost winds up ruining the entire experience. Grade: 3/5

-- Logan Polk



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