Published Jan 01, 2006Steve Gerber is familiar with being unpopular. Throughout his high school years, he was one of the outcasts picked on by the popular jocks. When his comic career began in 1972 with an issue of Incredible Hulk, he thought he had left high school behind. But the Columbine tragedy forced those issues back into his life.
Best known for his series Howard the Duck, Gerber is no stranger to dealing with controversial issues, none more so than his newest book. Hard Times centres on Ethan, a 15-year-old high school student whose involvement in a school prank ends the life of his best friend. Charged for the murder as an adult, Ethan is sentenced to 50 years in a maximum-security facility. Ethan's life in prison alone, which is where the real story begins.
As one of the kids who was routinely picked on during school hours, Gerber has first hand knowledge of how damaging being bullied can be. He understood, through his own experiences, why a kid would snap after being beaten up and made fun of every day.
Until now, "there wasn't really much of a market for stories that didn't contain spandex," Gerber says. A meeting with a top DC editor at the 2002 San Diego comic convention changed all that. "They wanted to have a line of comics that showed real people with real superpowers who didn't want to join up with the Justice League of America. He wanted to show what normal people would do, which isn't running out to buy a cape."
Gerber sees that some people might find it hard to read. "This is definitely a disturbing topic, kids getting guns and shooting their high school tormentors. Through this book, I want to show those who might not have been bullied what it's like going through every day wondering who's going to beat you up, or if you'll make it through gym class with your pants on. The thing to remember about high school is that it's an occupation of sorts. People who are good at it tend to be terrible at life in general."
Though disturbing, the book is very much a slice of life. Kids do commit serious crimes, but Gerber thinks that slapping them in jail won't solve the problem it'll just make it worse. "I can't understand how a judge and jury could listen to the testimony of these kids and think that they are beyond rehabilitation. Most of these kids are victims, and by sending them to adult prison they're just going to commit more crimes when they're released. If ever.
"Hard Time is also a cautionary tale, how one stupid mistake can ruin your life. Basically, I'm asking a question: Can human beings adapt to living in hell when hell has gone from mere high school to life in prison? That's what we're going to be exploring, is how this young boy is going to grow up in prison. Because that's what he's doing. He is virtually alone, with no one to protect him and no one to guide him through the hells of where he's at."
Gerber wants his book to be an ongoing series, but realises that sales have to be there before DC will agree. "DC has given me the go ahead for 12 issues, and I've already written seven. I hope I get to tell the whole story because I would hate to have to shorten it or wrap up in three issues. There's so much to tell, and I don't want to short-change Ethan or his story."
DC Focus Marks Giant's First Spinoff
In a time when characters are being reused to the point of exhaustion, DC has launched a new imprint based on ordinary people an alterative to Superman and Batman. Along with Hard Time, three additional titles are being launched, each with dramatically different main characters.
Kinetic, written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by Warren Fleece, deals with Tom, a high school senior and diabetic who needs insulin shots to keep him alive. His constant turmoil includes the regular pressures of high school and an overprotective mother. Armed with a wrist alarm to tell him when to meet his mother for his next insulin shot, the only thing on Tom's mind is how to get through the day without drawing attention to himself. Which is hard when you can't use your right arm for the Pledge of Allegiance and have to explain yourself to the new teacher.
In Touch, by John Francis Moore and Wesley Craig, the main character has super strength and sells his abilities for a profit, minus his agent's percentage, of course. Think super hero for hire. Pulling people out of a collapsed building is child's play for Rory Goodman, but when the question comes up as to why his wife died when he could have saved her, a darker side to the golden man is revealed.
David Tischman and Timothy Green II's idea behind Fraction is pretty simple: four young men get together for a high school reunion and decide to commit petty theft one last time. They break into a storage unit and find a suit of body armour. When they take it apart to try and figure out what it does, one of them has the bright idea of trying part of it on.
These titles are so vastly different from anything DC has done in a long time and it's a welcome change. Focusing on characters rather than universes, the new imprint is a welcome change from superheroes saving the world. By giving a small group of people carte blanche on a new imprint, DC is taking a bit of a risk, which might be just what they needed.