Back in 1993, Milestone Comics jumped onto the scene and gave us several great characters in the first wave of their titles. One of those was Hardware. While the comparisons to Iron Man are obvious, and, credit where it’s due, I believe Marvel invented the “hero in powered armor” superhero trope, there are significant differences. Tony Stark and Curtis Metcalf are both geniuses who create powered armor. Tony comes from wealth and privilege. Curtis was taken from the poor inner city, brought into a special program for gifted children, and then ruthlessly taken advantage of until he finally figured out what was going on. Stark made Iron Man initially to save his own life, and then became a crusading hero. Hardware was created to run a guerilla campaign against Edwin Alva, Curtis’ evil and untrustworthy boss. Eventually, he too became a hero, but it took some time, and their different experiences and lives gave the characters very different outlooks. Now, Hardware is back and has been updated and modernized.
The story starts off with our hero under attack, framed for assorted atrocities by Alva, including the Big Bang, which created so many new supers including Static and many of the Blood Syndicate (they’re coming later). While there’s a lot of talk about Stark’s ego, Hardware would never have come to be without Alva’s out-of-control greed and the need to be boss of, and take credit for, everything. Some of the character is loosely based on Thomas Alva Edison, whose workshop supposedly similarly appropriated ideas from employees. In addition to the Big Bang tie-in, Hardware in this version of the Dakota-verse is closely tied to Static’s origin in other ways. One thing I particularly liked: while both characters’ revised origins are closely woven together, they never actually manage to even talk to each other in their initial new series.
Hardware travels the world, gathering allies and evidence, taking the fight to Alva on many fronts. He meets some successes, some betrayals, and a lot of surprises. What comes up over and over again is that Curtis is not just a brilliant inventor, he’s a very smart man, with a great cunning to go with the technical genius. I certainly wouldn’t want him gunning for me. Eventually, to no surprise, he emerges triumphant, although with a lot more to learn about the new world he finds himself in. There will be more adventures to come for Curtis Metcalf and his armored alter ego.
What I Liked: A lot of this felt very believable to me. A genius setting up a program to exploit gifted children? I’d believe that, especially in today’s world. The Hardware armor isn’t gleaming perfection, it’s very much a work in progress that shows it was put together in secret with stolen parts. Curtis is just plain smart on every level, and he’s a very dangerous man if you manage to anger him.
What I Didn’t: Really, not much. I’d have liked to see more of the high-tech parts of the Dakota-verse, but I can’t really complain about some good character development. There’s a lot of work to do on the armor, but he’s just starting out. I’ll admit, this series didn’t quite hit the same notes for me that Static or Icon and Rocket did, but I enjoyed it.
I’ll give this a high 3.5 out of 5. I’m hoping the Milestone Universe continues, and Hardware along with it.