“Hard Time” by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes was a short lived DC series first published under their DC Focus imprint. The goal of the Focus imprint was to feature stories involving superpowers, but not the traditional superhero tale. Published from April 2004 to June 2006 in two volumes with a combined 19 issues, “Hard Time” was the longest running title of DC Focus.
“Hard Time” follows Ethan Harrow, a 15 year old student who took part in a school shooting prank gone wrong. Ethan and his best friend Brandon had planned to scare their classmates by faking a school shooting, but during the prank, Brandon reveals that the guns he had told Ethan were fake were actually real and begins killing students. Attempting to stop Brandon, Ethan kills him with some form of energy projection that everyone assumes was a weapon in Ethan’s possession. Without anyone to corroborate his claims of ignorance about Brandon’s plan, Ethan is tried as an adult and receives a sentence of 50 years to be carried out in a maximum security prison.
As the story progresses, Ethan meets a colorful cast of characters who will help him survive and learn “prison economics,” help him explore his strange new powers that he is desperately trying to keep secret, or threaten his life
“Hard time’s” strong point was the amazing contrast between the real and the fantastic, either of which were strong enough to carry the story on their own. We have the story of a 15 your old kid serving time in a maximum security prison, learning how to survive amongst hardened killers with very little hope that he’ll see outside world. And we also have the story of a young man testing fantastic new powers and desperately trying to keep anyone around him from learning of them.
“Hard Time” was a spectacular series from DC that never truly got the love it deserved and seems ripe with ideas that would make for a compelling TV adaption. Think of it as “OZ” meets “Powers.”