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Comic Book / Hardware (1993)
aka: Hardware

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All that hardware and it still can't play Crysis.

When I was a kid, I used to have this parakeet. And sometimes, when I'd open up his cage to clean it... he'd escape. The little bird would see the backyard and make his move. Invariably, he'd head straight for the window, fast as he could. And inevitably, crack his head on the windowpane... a barrier of glass, unseen and incomprehensible to him. So he'd try again, over and over... until, spent and defeated, he couldn't try any longer. My bird made a common error. He mistook being out of his cage... for being free. The parakeet died a long time ago, without ever enjoying the freedom of the yard. The boy grew into a man, who spent many years bumping his head against a similar barrier: a ceiling of glass, unseen and incomprehensible to him. The lesson is clear: escape is impossible until one perceives all of the barriers. My name is Curtis Metcalf. But you can call me Hardware.
Curtis Metcalf

Hardware is a Milestone Comics character who debuted in 1993 as one of their flagship heroes, and the first comic ever released by the company. He first appeared in "Hardware" #1 (April, 1993), created by Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan. The character is in Powered Armor, also a Gadgeteer Genius. Curtis Metcalf, an inner-city Child Prodigy, is discovered by famous inventor Edwin Alva who sees potential in him and pays his way through the top schools in the country, on condition that he works for him when his education is completed. His creations make millions of dollars for the company, leading him to ask his boss for a simple raise. After many years of viewing his mentor as a surrogate father, he is shocked to find that Alva has absolutely no respect for him, and views their relationship as little more than master and dog.

In an attempt to blackmail his boss to get out of the lifetime contract, Curtis digs up some dirt on Alva and discovers he is actually a criminal mastermind at the center of a vast evil organization, with illegal operations spanning across the country. Realizing the man he's been working for is evil and that he must be stopped, Curtis gathers enough evidence to put him away for multiple lifetimes and sends them to every possible authority. To no avail. Edwin Alva is too big, his levels of corruption and influence make him completely above the law. But not necessarily out of reach. Taking advantage of the vast resources completely at his disposal, Curtis designs an advanced powered suit and develops the identity of Hardware, launching a one-man vendetta against his former mentor.

His original series lasted for 50 issues, from April, 1993 to April, 1997. The series was cancelled when Milestone shut down its comic book division. In 2008, the character was brought into the DC Universe after the events of Final Crisis. After guest-starring in a storyline in Justice League and an issue of The Brave and the Bold (where he teamed up with Blue Beetle), Hardware was made into a supporting character in the 2011 Static Shock comic book series, where he acted as a mentor to the title character.

Hardware provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: At the start, Curtis wants to stop Alva's evil influence on his life and the world at large, but he has no care for how much collateral damage he causes or lives he takes in the process and even outright states he's no hero, just out for revenge. He becomes a more Pragmatic Hero later with influence from his moral teammates. His whole character was mockingly summed up by a friend out of disgust.
    Barraki: Let me see if I got this right. You built a secret underground lab and outfitted yourself for a high-tech war. You've destroyed millions of dollars in property. You've killed people. Ended their lives without any visible remorse. And you did all this because your boss wouldn't give you a raise? How many people's lives are you willing to destroy for this? What's it worth, you arrogant, selfish, bastard?
  • Anti-Villain: Alva genuinely believes the world would be better off with him in control and contributes to a wide variety of philanthropic ventures, but is essentially crooked to the core, responsible for all types of illegal activity such as political corruption, drug money, and weapons dealing and essentially created Hardware by taking a young Child Prodigy and turning him into his own personal lapdog with a no-leaving contract. After spending dozens of issues ruthlessly pursuing our hero, he dies saving the lives of hundreds of people.
  • Arch-Enemy: Edwin Alva.
  • Badass Normal: Deathwish. He has no superpowers or fancy gadgets, but beat up Hardware pretty badly in their first fight with nothing but his hands and feet despite ultimately being defeated.
  • Better the Devil You Know: Alva is definitely evil, but he's probably less evil than the people who might take his place if he were killed. His son, Alva Jr., becomes part of Hardware's Scoobies.
  • Big Bad: Edwin Alva, Hardware's surrogate father, arch-enemy, and a corrupt, powerful CEO who heads Alva Industries. Interestingly enough, Hardware eventually stopped fighting with him and eventually took him back on his offer to become his heir — and Alva closed off his arc by sacrificing his life to save countless innocent lives.
  • Black and Nerdy: Deacon "Phreaky Deak" Stuart is black and a chubby computer geek.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: The Milestone comics typically censored the strongest profanity by having it appear as scribbles in the speech balloons, but issue 3 of the Deathwish spinoff miniseries ends with Marisa Rahm saying "fuck" uncensored.
  • The Burlesque of Venus: The Deathwish spinoff miniseries has the villain Boots creating "art" by murdering transgender prostitutes and exotic dancers. One crime scene shows that he's arranged his victims to look like The Birth of Venus.
  • The Blacksmith: Curtis Metcalf of course.
  • Can't Stop The Signal: A subversion. This is the first thing the protagonist tries, anonymously sending the media all the evidence he's gathered on Alva's wrongdoing. And the media pointedly ignores it.
  • Child Prodigy: Curtis got his first degree at age 15, then went on to get six more.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Alva to a T.
  • Death by Origin Story: Deathwish's origin involves his wife and son being raped and killed in front of him before their rapist proceeded to violate him as well and leave him to die.
  • Distaff Counterpart: When Alva starts pursuing Hardware more actively, he uses his company's resources to build a suit that can take on Hardware. The head of the project, Tiffany Evans, decides to pilot it herself, so she can capitalize on her smaller frame and greater speed compared to Hardware's bulk. She dubs herself Technique. Because Curtis was also part of the team that built the suit (despite his best attempts to subtly sabotage it), this also counts as a partial Create Your Own Villain.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: A running theme of the series was that Hardware's mentor/boss/enemy (it was complicated) kept his hand in organized crime because without his influence, anarchy would be loosed amongst the criminal element of the city. Later, he died trying to save people, and it turned out he was right.
  • Expy: An admitted one of Steel. The Worlds Collide (1994) event plays with it as the two interact and show their different world views (most notably, whether or not they should kill the villain of the crossover, Rift).
  • Forced to Watch: Deathwish's origin involves being forced to watch as a man raped and killed his wife and son, the rapist and murderer then violating him and leaving him to die.
  • Fully Absorbed Finale: Over 15 years after the original Hardware series was cancelled, the story was finished in Milestone Forever.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Curtis is a highly skilled inventor.
  • Good is Not Nice: Curtis has a chip on his shoulder and he knows it. Pretty much everyone else knows it, too.
  • Grand Finale: Hardware's story was eventually finished in Milestone Forever, where Curtis passed on the Hardware Identity to his protoge, Tiffany, and finally got married.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Issue 31 ends with Edwin Alva giving his life to save a bunch of people from being crushed to death.
  • Insufferable Genius: Curtis definitely fits the bill: he's almost always the smartest person in the room, and he knows it, but he's also been taken advantage of his whole life and is finally fighting back.
  • It's Personal: Hardware's vendetta against Edwin Alva. Getting over it, and the repercussions of doing so, is a key part of his character development.
  • I Work Alone: Blue Beetle practically has to beg him for a team-up.
  • Jerkass: Hardware is quite aware that he is one.
    • In Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool, he actually commends Static for being a natural asshole after coldly brushing off Blitzen when she begged for his help. In fairness to Static, he was in a bad headspace at the time, and didn't mean to be so rude to her.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Blue Beetle acknowledges that while Curtis is an asshole, he still fights for a noble cause and wants to do the right thing.
    • When he met Steel, Hardware thought about how the latter's morality and ethos was in sharp contrast to his nature, but that at the same time he found it admirable that Steel was closer to being The Paragon. Not that he would ever admit it.
  • Kick the Dog: The Deathwish spinoff miniseries has the villain Boots at one point literally kick a dog while it was peeing on a fire hydrant.
  • Mad Artist: Boots, the villain of the Deathwish spinoff miniseries, creates "art" using the medium of transgender prostitutes he's murdered.
  • Meaningful Name: Edwin Alva is clearly an allusion to Thomas Alva Edison. Thomas Edison was seen as progressive in his time for hiring foreign-born and black engineers to work for him — and reviled today for ripping them off and taking all the profits for their ideas. Of course, Edison did that to everyone — just ask Auguste and Louis Lumière. (Nikola Tesla was The Rival.)
  • Mecha-Mooks: S.Y.S.T.E.M.'s "S.Y.S.T.E.M.atics".
  • Me's a Crowd: Reprise, an assassin that can make duplicates of himself.
  • Mini-Mecha: Hardware 3.0, a battle suit Alva reverse-engineered from a captured S.Y.S.T.E.M.atic.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Hardware's suit pretty much seems to run on phlebotinum.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Subverted as the book goes on. Initially, Hardware is absolutely willing to kill or maim anyone standing in the way of his pursuit of justice. However, after some harrowing experiences and a Dream Sequence where he's confronted by all the people he's killed, Curtis realizes that his single-minded pursuit of Alva isn't actually helping anyone or making the world a better place. Though he never goes completely non-lethal, he kills fewer of his enemies, and expands his targets beyond people connected to Alva. He sees himself as a pragmatist, as exemplified during one of the issues in the Worlds Collide (1994) crossover, when he and Steel are debating whether to kill the being responsible for their universes merging:
    Steel: I'm not a killer.
    Hardware: Don't sweat it. I am.
  • NOT!: Used in the Deathwish spinoff miniseries when Marisa tries on a dress.
    Slim: Definitely you...Not!
  • Powered Armor: Hardware's whole gimmick. The suit specifically has two layers: the undersuit is a "polarized shell alloy," which is a liquid that's poured over his whole body and hardened, then the actual gadgets and hard armor pieces are attached on top of that.
  • Rape as Backstory: Deathwish became the way he is because he was raped by a man after he tied him to a chair and made him watch him rape and murder his wife and son.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Played for laughs in an issue where an organization spying on Hardware is trying to see if he's a hero or a mere thug of Alva. Transit brings up Worlds Collide (1994), leaving the interviewer befuddled when she mentioned he saved the day with the help of Icon and Superman, who in the Dakotaverse is a fictional character. The interviewer's response suggests only disbelief.
  • Self-Duplication: Reprise can duplicate himself, as well as his weaponry.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Compared to Steel, he's a cynic. Started out as an idealist, but when Alva cheated him, he went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and slid all the way to the other side.
  • Spinoff: Deathwish got his own miniseries after being introduced as a character here, though he isn't the main focus and the protagonist is instead a transgender cop named Marisa Rahm.
  • Swiss-Army Weapon: The amount of gadgets in Hardware's arsenal practically make Batman look unprepared. His "Omnicannon" can fire many different kinds of shells, from non-lethal to overkill, and the "polarized shell alloy" that he wears as an undersuit can also be used for a variety of other purposes: picking locks, magnetizing a person's feet to the floor, etc.
  • The Syndicate: S.Y.S.T.E.M. which would probably even count as a Nebulous Evil Organisation.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Alva is a beloved public figure and his act fooled Curtis for years, before he revealed his true self. His publicity is so good that even when Hardware tried to leak all of Alva's wrongdoings to the press, it was simply ignored.
  • We Can Rule Together: Done twice By Alva. The first time, when Alva first meets Hardware in the flesh, he thinks Hardware is a government agent and offers to triple his pay if he'll work for Alva. The second time, the titular character's Bad Boss, Edwin Alva finally realised that his employee was really the superhero who was thwarting him at every turn, so he sweetened the deal. He would give Hardware's alter ego, Curtis Metcalf, a Vice-Presidency, and would try to curb his extra-legal activities. To do this, though, he would need Hardware's help, as most of the time he had only done illegal things out of (to his way of thinking) necessity. With a powerful superhero enforcer, he wouldn't need to rely on criminal operations to maintain his profit margin. Notably, this is one of the few times the hero actually accepts the offer, with Hardware not only getting the promotion but also an unlimited budget to improve his Hardware armour, which to that point had been constructed out of whatever he could steal from work.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Barraki Young pulls one on Curtis very early on, when discovering how many people Curtis has killed in the name of his vendetta. Surprisingly, it sticks, at least a little; as the series continues, Curtis goes for more non-lethal options.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Barraki Young references this trope by name when she appears in a dream sequence in the eighth issue and addresses herself as Curtis' "will they or won't they?" love interest.
  • Xanatos Gambit: S.Y.S.T.E.M. has sold some of its robotic exo-skeletons to Intergang, making Hardware fight against them. If he loses against them, they've defeated their greatest enemy, and if he wins, they've gained valuable intelligence on his equipment at no cost to their own forces, while eliminating some of their competition.

Alternative Title(s): Hardware