Review by C.J. Bunce
From a new comics imprint of Abrams ComicArts comes Hardears, an alternate fantasy world inspired by the Caribbean cultures of Barbados. Barbados writer Nigel Lynch joins Barbados artist Matthew Clarke in the next alternate world. It is too lazy to refer to Hardears as another take on the Wakanda of Black Panther (it’s actually more like Alan Moore’s Watchmen). Hardears is worthy of a deeper analysis.
Taking place in an alternate version of Barbados called Hardears (which seems to mean a particularly bad future ahead), this graphic novel is as unique as Frank Miller’s look at ancient Sparta in 300. The artwork of this fantasy society has the flowy aura of P. Craig Russell’s interpretation of Wagner’s The Ring, and the mythology will spark curiosity like we saw in Paul Guinan’s Aztec Empire.
Whatever culture the individual readers bring to Hardears will inform individual interpretations. These creators from Barbados infuse ideas from their own histories, while reminding readers what we have in common. The flying buses may remind some of the fantastic voyages of Japanese legend Hayao Miyazaki, and the goofy Duppy–the cartoony incarnation of the last Barbados raccoon–jumps off the page like a Pokémon character. The more surreal vistas may call out Alex Nino’s Philippines-inspired imagination.
The new fantasy elements of this Caribbean Afrofuture Utopia provide a new framework for old ideas, too. I never bought the idea of a flying supercarrier in the “real world” Earth Marvel Comics, but in this alternate realm a fleet of flying destroyers works just fine. A hurricane, the long time torment of Barbados, makes a believable fantasy world villain, especially anthropomorphized as a Kraken-esque water god. Plus… drum-powered cannons and landsharks?
Characters possess varying degrees of Vibes, a life force that reflects their personal power, skill, energy, and passion, weaving its way through the story. The writing is also witty–characters feel real and full of funny dialogue. Underneath the action is a slowly building mystery of people missing all over the island. Where did they go?
Based on a seemingly hopeless economy, the people turn to overly rely on technology. The result is a world like Logan’s Run and its Carousel. Mr. Harding is a uniquely scary villain. This is smart, satiric humor, with the same tenor of supernatural fun as the Portuguese Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy.
Literature scholar Cathy Thomas provides context for this story in an afterword. The story includes introductory terms and maps to prepare readers for this new world.
Hardears is one of the first books out of the new Megascope imprint, Abrams ComicArts’ gateway to new worlds via creators of color.