Ever wondered what would happen if Blade Runner went on a drug-fueled nightmare rampage? Look no further than Frank Miller’s miniseries Hard Boiled, an early 90’s twist on Philip K. Dick’s classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep. If there’s one term I wouldn’t associate with 90’s comics, its subtlety. For the most part, everything was big, in your face, and edgy; Hard Boiled is certainly no exception. That being said, HB is clever with its edginess. If anything, it reads like a satire of violence and sexual imagery in modern pop-culture. Either that, or Frank Miller just really gets off on good old ultraviolence. Complimenting Frank Miller’s writing is the amazing artwork of Geof Darrow. Darrow’s artwork is easily some of the most detailed line-work I’ve ever seen; it’s pretty incredible. Combined with colorist Claude Legerist, the art looks like a fusion of Moebius, with the most detailed manga technology concepts you’ve ever seen (think Battle Angel Alita).
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Geof Darrow
Colorist: Claude Legris
Letterer: John Workman
Editor: Randy Stradley
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Featured Edition: Dark Horse TPB 1993
Original Release Dates: September 1990 – March 1992 (3 issues)
Set in a near-future, albeit clearly dystopic, Los Angeles, Hard Boiled tells the story of an “insurance investigator” called Carl Seltz who seeks out various target individuals. Within the first few pages of the comic, we realize that Carl Seltz must be a cyborg, or perhaps an android, and that he actually works for a major corporation. Carl Seltz lives in an ideal suburban home with a wife, two kids, and a dog. To add to the general vibe that there’s something “off” about Seltz, we see him sleeping with his wife while his kids stand nearby, and then the kids proceed to dope him with some random narcotics… Typical suburban stuff, right?
As I mentioned in the intro, HB makes no pretenses at subtlety. The future vision of Los Angeles is clearly cyberpunk-inspired, and therefore rampant commercialism and evil corporations ooze out of every frame. Every panel is literally packed to the brim with variations of real-world products and brands, albeit with a satirical twist. For example, in one scene, a medical apparatus appears to be powered by baby fetus’, M&Ms, Snickers, and Baby Ruths. Perhaps I’ve been jaded by the dozens of cyberpunk movies, books, comics, and games that have been released since 1990, but the overabundance of brand parodies in Hard Boiled was almost too gratuitous for my tastes. We get it, the future will be overwrought with rampant, hopeless advertising and disposable pop culture, but do you really need to include a Coca-Cola can in every second panel? Then again, Hard Boiled seems to intentionally revel in exaggeration and tackiness.
Carl Seltz/Nixon might not be a superhero, but he sure takes a beating like one! Hard Boiled is about 10% dialogue, and 90% action. Of the action scenes, nearly all of them feature Nixon either being thrown through a building, bus, or subway, or throwing another character through one of the aforementioned inanimate objects. I thoroughly enjoyed the action in HB, but we warned, it’s pretty damn violent. I’m fairly desensitized to fictional violence (but not to real-world violence, those are two very different things), and even I found the comic hard to stomach at times. Hard Boiled manages to fit more dismemberment and gore into its panels than almost any other comic. Frank Miller and Geof Darrow clearly set out to raise the bar for comic violence as high as they possibly could.
As if the violence wasn’t enough, nearly every second panel is chalk full of random sex and nudity. Within the first few pages, Nixon is smashed through a building in the “Pleasure Sector” of town. Nearby is a cage full of debauchery; as spectators watch, couples have sex, all while dominatrix-like women walk around with chainsaws and dismember the couples. What I love about HB is that every splash page is so full of detail that numerous stories are implied through events in the background of each scene. I’ve seen Geof Darrow’s artwork aptly described as being like a Where’s Waldo book; the only difference is that most of HB’s denizens are either naked or taking drugs. Although Hard Boiled is short, you can easily spend ten minutes per page absorbed in details.
My favorite comics are able to tell a story visually without having to rely heavily on monologues or dialogue. Hard Boiled does an excellent job in this regard. There’s actually very little text, but the narrative is able to flow nicely thanks to clever angles and visual cues. Frank Miller is an excellent visual storyteller, and he only includes as much text as is absolutely needed. This was nice and refreshing, especially after the last comic I read, which felt the need to explain every little detail.
Overall, I would highly recommend Hard Boiled to anyone who’s interested in cyberpunk (duh), or anyone who appreciates experimental storytelling in comics.The average sci-fi fan will definitely appreciate the artwork, but the extremely graphic content might turn-off even fairly hardcore genre fans. HB is unforgiving with its gratuitous display of sex, drugs, and violence, but these acts are never glamorized. Instead, the story serves almost as a cautionary tale against overindulgence in these vices. There’s nothing particularly sexy about an enormously fat man being massaged by naked android mermaids (yes, that actually happens). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Hard Boiled’s political message is especially clever; every cyberpunk tale cautions against the overabundance of various vices. Also, it could be argued that Hard Boiled revels a little too deeply in the content that it parodies. Regardless, the readers of this blog can probably handle HB’s hardcore content, so I recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already.
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Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of images from Hard Boiled