Pullbox Reviews: Hard Wyred – Fast paced Cyberpunk, without all the angst…

What is Hard Wyred?

Hard Wyred is a new cyber punk comic series developed by Ottawa, Canada creative crew Erik Bitmanis (writer) and Ross Zucco (artist).

A simple, adrenaline fueled action comedy in a high tech, complex world. What you would get if Die Hard’s John McClane was uploaded to the Matrix instead of Neo.

While many cyberpunk stories are happy to hold a mirror up to humanity and reflect upon society as a whole, Hard Wyred is happy to take that mirror and bash it over the face of an oncoming virus monster! Hey, it was us or them. Gladly using the dystopian future setting that cyberpunk made famous, Hard Wyred does away with the navel gazing and instead infuses the genre with a jolt of fast quipping dialogue, seducing artificial intelligence, over-the-top action, and a stylish use of trench coats (okay, maybe the Matrix did the last one).  Guiding the way is our loveable, shoot first ask questions later anti-hero. He’s abrasive, stand offish, rude, ungrateful… you get the point. Yet, as hard as his exterior might be, it is slowly peeled away one piece at a time revealing a man who’s longing for the return of the love of his life, but it just doesn’t seem to be in the stars.

Cyber-attacks are par for the course on the online world known as “the Net”, but when one of those attacks is focused on a top secret research facility, people get worried. A down on his luck Sweeper named Sam Wyerznowski is brought in to remedy the problem, but what he finds will look to rip apart the past he so desperately clings to.

Everything’s connected.

Paul_thePullbox- Like kids let loose in a candy store of their own creation, Sam and Allen were riding high in their fully immersive online environment. The only flaw in their new world was to be found in an uncoded area, something that they hadn’t planned on and were unable to explain or control. What Sam and Allen did know was that this area of their online playground was dangerous, and they took precautions to ensure that it was kept far away from the bulk of their work.

By bringing Katie into the virtual world, Sam thought it would be just the thing to impress her, maybe even convince her that he was worth a date. Less experienced and knowledgeable about the digital frontier, Katie got caught up by the mysterious hazard and became trapped online while her body remained comatose in the real world. This left Sam riddled with guilt over his apparent negligence in bringing Katie online in the first place, and it left Alan agreeing with Sam over his foolhardy role in the tragedy. Over the next fifteen years, the two former friends went their separate ways, each with his own priorities and goals in building on and exploring their new digital world.

Hard Wyred is a fast-paced cyberpunk story that splits its time between two timelines. The main story takes place in the present where Sam works as a “Sweeper”- one who forgoes the safeties and buffers provided by simply plugging in, instead fully immersing his consciousness into the elaborate online reality. This gives him more control (think some of the dream sequences from the movie Inception) than the average person using a simpler- and safer- profile, but leaves him much more vulnerable to online dangers. If a Sweeper’s mind is killed in the virtual world, the body can’t survive in the real one. The second timeline is a series of flashbacks that fill readers in on some of the backstory as Sam and Allen build their virtual playground, and provide some foreshadowing and context for the principal plotline.

As a writer, Erik Bitmanis has done a pretty good job of providing the framework for his shared creation. The plot moves along at a pretty fair clip, with only the occasional whiplash inducing narrative jump. The dialogue is kept light, full of quips and banter as the characters sort out their individual arcs. Sam is cast in the role of the reluctant and wisecracking hero, potentially hiding behind his indifference to cover his guilt over being unable to find and rescue Katie. The most confusing hitch I found in the way the story was presented was in the arrangement of the dialogue balloons… it took a minute to catch on that “left to right” wasn’t held to be as essential as “top to bottom”. Once I got that figured out, I was off and running.

No, really… Hard Wyre’s first four issues take off at a sprint and only slow down slightly in the flashback scenes.

For his part in bringing this shared creation to life, Ross Zucco shows some pretty impressive artistic chops. He pays a lot of attention to detail in designing his characters and creating their environments. Much like characters Sam and Allen, the creation occasionally gets a little out of control as some of the character detail gets lost in the densely packed backgrounds. If Hard Wyred had been done in full color, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all (a theory that I stand by after taking another look at how great Zucco’s full color covers look…), however with the black and white format it might have been easier to follow if the detail had been throttled back a bit. Overall, Zucco has drawn the action to keep pace with the story, and as a result there isn’t a boring panel to be found across the four issues I’ve seen.

On the whole, Hard Wyred doesn’t fall victim to some of the problems often found in self-published works from first-time creators. In general, the most common issue I find with new writers is in the dialogue being stiff and overly formal. Bitmanis seems to have gone to great pains to give his characters more natural speech patterns, using contractions and slang more freely than some new writers. Likewise, Zucco has put some work into his craft, and his characters reap the rewards. Instead of stiff, unnatural looking poses or postures, there’s a little more attention paid to body mechanics in Zucco’s figures. If anything could be pointed to as a potential improvement- for both partie- down the road, it would be maybe in streamlining the work a bit… dial things down a smidge and be mindful of the adage “less is more”.

As an indie comic, Hard Wyred does a good job presenting some pretty intense world building on the parts of Bitmanis and Zucco. It’s a fast moving action title that keeps its sights set on established cyberpunk trademarks, while working to inject the personality of its creators so that the story doesn’t come across as totally familiar. It’d be great to see this one pick up some steam, give Bitmanis and Zucco a little room to grow and see where things end up.

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