THE STORY: "Hard Time" by Steve Gerber (W) & Brian Hurtt (A)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: No one was supposed to get hurt when Ethan Harrow and his friend Brandon held their local high school hostage with masks on and guns at the ready—they just wanted to teach the school bullies a lesson. But Brandon's quick trigger finger prompts an otherworldly response from Ethan, killing the former and leaving the latter as the only blameworthy culprit left alive.
Ethan is subsequently tried as an adult and handed a prison sentence of 50 years to life. The outside world moves on as Ethan's mother and his lawyer continue to fight for the troubled boy's freedom, but inside the prison walls—indeed, deep within Ethan himself—lurks a super-powered creature that could give Ethan another shot at life.
WHY IT WORKS: Written and created by the late, great Steve Gerber, "Hard Time" is a tale that's not particularly easy to stomach given the book's inciting incident of a school shooting. Despite the tough subject matter, Gerber expertly writes a sympathetic lead in Ethan Harrow, a young boy who never meant for anything to go wrong.
"Hard Time" has rightfully been compared to HBO's "Oz" in the past, but the supernatural element—Ethan can project an astral version of himself that flees the prison and also seeks vengeance on particularly vicious inmates—adds an interesting visual and mythological component to the series that "Oz" couldn't fully achieve due to its (mostly) realistic nature.
WHY IT DOESN'T: Can the mainstream masses get behind the story of a boy who unwittingly aided in the shooting of his classmates? It's an understandably tough dilemma for audiences, who might have difficulty getting over the subject matter. Additionally, Gerber's tragic death removes the book's author from the creative process of a "Hard Time" adaptation.
While several successful comic book films have been made without the direct involvement of the title's creators, Gerber's voice and plotting was an essential ingredient towards making "Hard Time" such a powerful story—without that voice, I wonder how true to the spirit of the book an adaptation would be.
WHAT TO DO: I'm typically of the mind that television is a better medium for live-action comic book adaptations than film, and "Hard Time" is no exception. There's a colorful cast of characters within the confines of this comic that could yield any number of powerful episodes.
On top of that, the very nature of Ethan's power was never fully explained in the undeservedly short "Hard Time" run, so trying to squeeze that story into a two-hour film seems almost inconceivable. If provided with an indefinite episodic story, however, Ethan's unique story would truly flourish.
LAST WORD: "Hard Time" was a fantastic but short-lived comic book series that deserves another chance at life. As Mr. Gerber is no longer with us, it's impossible to imagine returning to the series in new, printed installments—but a live-action "Hard Time" adaptation could provide a strong narrative for a wide-scale audience willing to give young Ethan Harrow a shot.
Would you like to see "Hard Time" adapted? Let us know your thoughts on how to do it in the comments section or on Twitter!