Hacker Files #1 (August, 1992)
“Soft War, Chapter 1”
Writer/Creator – Lewis Shiner
Pencils – Tom Sutton
Inks – Mark Buckingham
Colors – Lovern Kindzierski
Editor – Robert Greenberger
Cover Price: $1.95
Here’s a strange one. The Hacker Files #1… a title I was introduced to via a DC Direct Currents giveaway. A title that made me feel, I dunno, sort of uneasy from the get go. It just looked weird. You see, my sense of fear is a bit… odd. I can watch or read anything that is intentionally scary or gory or disturbing and be pretty much unmoved. I’ve always been like that, even as a kid. The things that got under my skin were the offbeat. The odd things that are difficult to explain… The Hacker Files, by the cover alone kinda tickled that “fright nerve” pretty well… like, if I bought it… I wouldn’t wanna keep it with the rest of my comics. It just wouldn’t fit. Hell, I wouldn’t have wanted it in my bedroom.
Dirty, raw, and grainy… It felt like something I shouldn’t be reading, like what was inside would freak me out… would get deep under my skin and stay there. Looking back now (and especially after having read it), that is absolutely ridiculous… but, a kid’s mind fears what a kid’s mind fear, right?
We open at the Pentagon. A pair of security guards have noticed that they’d lost network communications to a site called “Cheyenne Mountain”. Their first call is to a man who goes by the name “Hacker”, although his real name is Marshall. He is advised that Washington needs his help, and provides him information on his travel arrangements. Within 90 minutes, Hacker arrives.
He is greeted by a man called Dawson, who will bring him to another fella who goes by the name of Steel. As Marshall is escorted to the Data Processing area we get to listen to his internal monologue. We come to find that he is not the biggest fan of the government, taxes, politics, or politicians… as if his anarchy t-shirt wasn’t clue enough.
Hacker is informed that the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) network is down. This is of the utmost importance is this network is also connected to the Securenet, the Milnet, NORAD, and something called the Internet… these books and their jargon, I tell ya. Our man informs Steel to shut the whole thing down so he can work on it. We are also informed that their equipment is digitronix brand, which will be important later. Oh, and Mr. Steel has a metal left hand.
An odd exchange occurs during this scene. Hacker alludes to Steel being “into” superheroes, to which Steel replies that this digital intrusion had nothing to do with “paranormals”. This makes me wonder if this maxi-series is set inside the DC Universe proper. Granted, this is the only issue of this series I’ve read… so, if this is made clear one way or another later on, I am clueless. The indicia at the start of this issue lists The Hacker Files as being copyright of Lewis Shiner and DC Comics… which makes things even less clear. Maybe there are superheroes… just not our superheroes?
All of the commotion in the main data center proves too disruptive for Hacker, and he is led to a more private office setting. He surprises Mr. Steel by cracking the password to the main computer inside. As he prepares to enter the system, we are witness to the manifestation of him actually entering the computer, using a less digitized version of the main cover image. He discovers that the Pentagon had picked up a virus… somewhere. He mentions that the Internet has 60,000 nodes it may have come from. I’m not sure how many nodes today… but, I’m guessing it might just be a bit more than back in 1992.
Marshall goes through all the ways in which he may fight off the virus, and mention is made of a group of younger hackers he deals with who he calls the “Speed Metal Kids”. As he readies himself to get down to work, he can’t help but notice that the digitronix support team are still inside the system. He refuses to proceed unless they remove themselves and he may move on unsupervised. It is revealed that Marshall was once affiliated with digi, and since their parting they had ruined his reputation in the tech community.
Steel and Hacker head down to pull the support team off the gig. As they approach, Marshall makes special note of a nearby Tempest File Server room. A server that is so top-secret, one must be locked inside a safe simply to have a look at it.
We meet the support team, including a man named Charlie and Marshall’s former good friend Yoshio. The team refuses, to which Marshall has himself a seat, and begins typing… locking them out himself. Infuriated, Charlie lunges at Hacker. Yoshio holds him back, and threatens that someone named Sutcliffe will deal with him. Upon returning to the office, Steel reinforces that Sutcliffe will likely be more than upset given the situation.
Marshall tells Steel to go home for the night. Steel pleads with him to stay within the office and not enter the hall as he leaves. He goes so far as to lock Marshall’s entry pass in a filing cabinet.
As soon as Steel is gone, Marshall gets to work… picking the lock on the filing cabinet. He picks the lock as he makes contact with the Speed Metal Kids, Phreddy, Dr. Zen, and Sue Denim (hey, I get at least one of those!).
Armed with his pass, Marshall heads straight toward the Tempest room. He lets himself in and comes to find a map of Europe and Western Asia with offensive options listed… such as launching missiles.
A security guard comes in behind him, and there is a short-lived struggle. The guard handily beats our boy, ultimately clocking him on the head with his baton.
When Hacker awakens, he finds himself in the presence of Sutcliffe… and we are [to be continued…]
The issue closes out with a two-page text piece by series creator/writer Lewis Shiner.
Now… I was really not expecting this. This was remarkably good. It feels like so often back in the 1990’s technology was used as something of a boogeyman or something that didn’t need to be explained so much… just a means to an end. In this story, however, the use of technology feels natural and organic. It is an accompaniment to the story, and not its crutch.
You can almost feel the passion Mr. Shiner has for this piece, and it is apparent that he threw himself into his research to make this story as legitimate and accurate as possible. During the text piece, he asks readers to let him know if they can spot any errors… that’s some commitment to quality. He even goes as far as to say he will be setting up online letters columns on Compuserve and GEnie. You may not know, but I currently write a column for DC in the 80’s that focuses on Usenet and BBS fandom of the early 1980’s… this is right up my alley! I’ve gotta keep an eye out and see if I can’t track down any of these archives!
The art is also surprisingly (if going by the cover alone) solid. I honestly cannot think of a single complaint in the art department.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. The only problem I have is that it is a rarity to find issues of this “in the wild”. Though, I will definitely be on the look-out from this point on. To my knowledge this has not been collected, and has not been made available digitally. If you’re a cheap-o (or regular) bin trawler, keep this one on your radar.
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