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Comicscape: Dancer/Hardcore

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Comicscape: Dancer/Hardcore

Sniper Alley

By Joel Rickenbach     May 23, 2012
Source: Mania.com

I was planning on giving you, my dear readers, a typical twofer review column, however, the two books that piqued my interest last week ended up having a lot more in common than I expected, so I decided to do a little compare and contrast for your reading pleasure.
The two books in question are Dancer by Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein, and Hardcore by Robert Kirkman and Brian Stelfreeze. Both books follow assassins as our main protagonist and both books pull out issue ending twists to hook us for more. They get there in very different ways, and one is head and shoulders above the other.

Since these are both #1's with set up aplenty, I am going full on spoilers for both books in the name of science, and per the rules set forth by the great state of Nebraska. 

 

Both books, shockingly, open with an assassination. Dancer pulls back its curtain on Maracaibo, Brazil at a posh restaurant along the water. Notes of Jazz are snaking through the tables as a bullet cuts through the air. Panic ensues as we see the fractured skull of its intended target face down in his dinner. A dark dressed man on a docked boat disassembles his rifle and takes off. Hardcore begins with a cigar smoking man holding a meeting with his crime family on the upper floor of a skyscraper. He is suddenly attacked by his portly, yet incredibly nimble brother. We quickly find out the brother is actually being controlled remotely by an agent hooked up to some form of virtual reality/mind control station. The agent is having a tough time adapting to his host's weight difference, so he decides the quickest way to end the confrontation is to tackle his target straight out the window. The agent unhooks himself from his host during the fall, leaving his hapless victim and target to splatter on the pavement.

Now that the opening hooks are out of the way it's time to see if there's any meat on these narrative bones. This is the hardest part in any story to get right. Sure they dazzled us with cracking openings, and they will undoubtedly end with something that has us wanting more, but can they make us care in the meantime? Dancer shifts its focus to Milan, Italy where we meet Quinn, a redheaded Irish ballerina being chewed out by her Signora for her pirouettes. The sniper from the opening scene in Brazil, looking a bit older, is waiting for her to finish. They go to dinner at their favorite spot, and discuss their future. Quinn is nearing her final performance, and wants them to move somewhere else when she's done. Greece perhaps? The man, Alan, is distracted. Something isn't right, and he can feel it. He grabs a confused Quinn's hand and they flee as undercover cops surround them. Alan and Quinn are chased through the streets as a sniper's bullets start cutting down everyone around them. They narrowly escape in an underground metro car, where Alan comes clean. He hasn't been entirely honest with Quinn, she knew he worked for the US Army, but she didn't know he was a top CIA assassin. She has little choice but to trust him as they make a run for his apartment, and his hidden weapons cache. 

Hardcore's second act has agent Drake disconnecting from the station only to be greeted by Bonnie Price, a D.O.D. operative sent to evaluate this new tech Drake is using. Wearing little more than a towel, Drake takes Price out to the Balcony for a little exposition. Drake is the only one in the agency that can work this new tech, and it works thusly: The agency employs spotters, or snipers, who find someone who is close to their target. They fire a small device, a Hardcore, into the base of the target's neck.  Once the device installs itself in the brain stem, Drake has full access to the target's brain and body functions. The idea is to find a host that is as guilty as the target, as the hosts usually don't last too long after the target is neutralized, and you might as well kill two birds with one stone by enslaving a second in command or a trigger happy bodyguard. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way, and things get a bit more complicated. The catch is the Hardcore only lasts 72 hours, after that it dissolves without a trace. If Drake is still hooked in when it dissolves he will suffer severe brain damage, and most likely die. After this info dump, Drake heads back to his apartment where his brother Markus is waiting for him. Markus seemingly just dropped by to vent his frustrations about being locked out of the program he designed, and that Drake doesn't deserve to operate the tech. Drake doesn't have time for Markus' shenanigans, he has an assassination tomorrow, and has to read up on his target.

Now come the twists. Can the writers hook us for the long haul, or at the very least a second issue? When we last left Dancer. Alan had just recovered his gear hidden in his apartment. As he leaves the building, sniper fire rings out again, narrowly missing him. He takes shelter behind a car, and uses the side view mirror to find his assailant. When he gets a bead on the sniper's location, he risks a look with his binoculars to find out who's crosshairs he's in. What he sees isn't possible. The assassin is... him. This is when we flip back to the beginning and realize the assassin in the opening isn't the Alan we're introduced to, but instead this... double, clone, decoy? And now we're hooked.

Hardcore finds Drake already plugging into his next host- the second in command of a general in some far away country. It all seems routine enough until the observing Price goes all terminator on everyone in the lab, and opens the door for Drake's brother Markus. Markus wants what he believes is rightfully his- the Hardcore tech, and now Drake is stuck in a body thousands of miles away, and has 72 hours to stop his brother, and unplug himself before he goes brain dead.

So, which of the two sounds more interesting to you at this point? I'd love to know.

Hardcore is designed to grab you quick, and is very high concept, but Dancer is a much, much better book. For all of Hardcore's big ideas and slam-bang action, it feels like a story we've seen many times before. That's not enough to kill the book, so to speak, after all- it's what you do with the ideas that counts. However, Hardcore doesn't present us with one likeable character. Drake is, for lack of a better word, a prick, and his brother, Markus, is the most hollow of evil-plan-spouting-villains. The twist is definitely interesting, if not full of some questionable plot holes, but without the proper set up, how are we supposed to care? Robert Kirkman's name will get people to pluck this book off the shelves, but to be honest, he has his share of misses just like the rest of us. Hardcore's future is uncertain, it was originally supposed to be part of Top Cow's "Pilot Season" of books two years ago, but it never saw the light of day. Now it's out on shelves most likely on a spec basis. If it sells we'll probably see more, if it fails to make a dent Drake will be stuck in the Hardcore tech forever.

Dancer, on the other hand, is a gem. It moves with the confidence of a great crime film, only giving us enough information to keep us hooked and interested in its mysterious characters, but plays enough of its story close to the vest to keep us begging for more. Equal to Edmonson's story is Nic Klein's phenomenal art. Its noir stylings and moody locales draw us in every bit as much as the story. There's a panel early on of a bullet cutting through a cascade of red wine as it's being poured into a glass that had me smiling ear to ear. I could almost hear the rumble of the film projector.

Do yourself a favor- put Dancer on your pull list, I have the feeling it's the beginning of something pretty special.

 

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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 4 of 4
1 
Roqueja 5/23/2012 6:24:24 AM

I find it odd that there isn't anything by Archaia press being presented in the lineup on here.  Mouse Guard, Rust, Labyrinth and Cow Boy are all consistantly well done, and Return of the Dapper Men won the 2011 Eisner award for Best Original Graphic Album.  Mouse Guard won for Best Anthology for Legends of the Guard.  The storylines aren't your usual capes and tights stuff, but they do not fail to deliver, and they owned Free Comic Book Day this year with their hardcover collection that made the big publishers look positively flat.  You listed 60 different publishers in the article, but not Archaia Entertainment.  Just curious.

As for the choice of either Dancer or Hardcore, neither one makes me want issue number two right now.  However, Dancer is now one that I will scan as it comes out to see if it warrants picking up the trades.  I can see this one on my shelves in the future, but in a collected longer reading format.  It sounds like the interest in the character development is going to pay off in the story as it progresses.  Is there any information as to the intended length of the series?  Or will it be an ongoing sales dependant?

joelr 5/23/2012 8:51:41 AM

 @Roquja if there's ever a book or publisher you feel is being ignored please don't hesitate to point it out. It's true, I haven't done a column on a Archaia book yet, but that's due more to timing than anything else. I try to stay on top of what's going on in the comic world, but also try to keep it interesting without succumbing to everything Marvel and DC does. Hence Saga, Supurbia, Dancer etc. I think Archaia is a fantastic publisher, and there will definitely be a spotlight on one of their books in the future. I did throw some love their way- the Mouse Guard hardcover was my top Free Comic Book Day pick.

In terms of the new release list- I just take the lists from Diamond. It's possible Archaia doesn't have a new release this week, or it was an oversight. It's most definitely not on purpose.

shac2846 5/23/2012 9:04:47 AM

 That's what I was thinking Archaia may simply not have anything this wednesday. They do mostly graphic novels now so it's not out of the realm of possibility. If you write an article wait until the next mouse guard hits shelves it has already been an epic wait and it might hook some new readers. Although archaia's jim henson stuff is also incredible, maybe an article on that to appease the masses. 

At first I was going to give Kirkman the benefit of the doubt, I think he's earned it. But Dancer does sound better. I'll get the first issue of both and see what's up. I've had to limit myself to mostly trades but I broke down and after 3 issues finally added SAGA to my pull list last week. 

jedibanner 5/23/2012 11:19:16 AM

Joel....RADICAL....awsome books, great format, superb publisher, magnificiant art.

The only issue: Their books are far and between. 2010 and 2011 was their year and this year, not much out from them but they are great stories and worth the mention.

At cons, all their books are usuall hard to find since they are so rare but when you can find one (or paperbacks), I guaranty you will enjoy them.

As for the suggestion, I passed on Dancer and now I regret it. Will try to find some back issues once I hit the largest Con in Canada this August, hopefully they won't be too pricey.

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