Talk about going out on a high note. The penultimate issue of Hard Time answers some questions and raises even more, adding yet more new levels to this fascinating comic book.
Ethan Harrow, the teenage boy who is in state prison, finds freedom of an unexpected sort, through the bizarre abilities of a fellow prisoner called Fruitcake. Fruitcake somehow has the ability to traverse the multiverse, and he takes Ethan to a place called a metaphysical museum, where all the events in Ethan’s life and those Ethan knows and loves are shown as museum exhibits. Essentially, the events are played out in front of Ethan and Fruitcake in one of the most bizarre out-of-body experiences ever seen in comics. Ethan witnesses some scenes that are literally true (including, disturbingly, graphically seeing his mother’s affair with his lawyer) and others that are symbolic (displays that show “People who want to kill you,” “more people who want to kill you”, “people who don’t necessarily want to kill you” and “undecided”). Though the scene is very odd, Gerber and Skrenes give the sequence the humor and drama that keeps it moving along. We feel empathetic towards Ethan as he comes to terms with his life in its totality, as Ethan gains perspective from the experience.
By the end of the journey, Ethan has become to come to understand more about himself and his odd abilities. Ethan learns to control the khe-chara that lives within his body, which in turn gives him the confidence and knowledge necessary to better control his horrific experience in prison. When he returns from his metaphysical world, Ethan is better able to defeat the very nasty Cutter, and take better control of his life, such as it is.
I wish we could have seen where this all would have gone. Would all of this information have provided Ethan with personal growth that would have helped him to better handle the experience? Would he have been willing to trade his personal pride in order to be free from jail? The next issue promises to take the comic “49 years later,” cleverly, which is the amount of time Ethan has remaining in his prison sentence. It should be fun to see the effects of what happened, but it would have been even better if some of this story had played out in real time.
Brian Hurtt turns in his finest art job of the series. He does a wonderfully imaginative job of portraying the Museum of Preternatural History and all the odd characters around it. Hurtt also shows his imagination in the brief courthouse scene, where he effectively balances humor, shock and the bizarre.
It’s a touch of genius for Gerber and Skrenes to take this series in a completely unexpected direction. Just as readers were getting used to Hard Time being about Ethan’s life in prison, the writers take the book in a very different direction that hints at what might have been. No matter how well issue #7 wraps up this series, Hard Time still will be cut short just as the book was beginning to show its full potential.