Die Hard: Year One #1-4 Written by Howard Chaykin Art by Stephen Thompson Colors by Matthew Wilson Published by BOOM! Studios Die Hard: Year One is an eight issue miniseries published by BOOM! Studios in 2009-2010. Made up of two volumes of four issues each, the series begins with John McClane as a rookie beat cop learning the ropes and following orders from his superiors. Volume 1 finds McClane working the beat during the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 New York. Partnered with a complaining, lacklustre overweight superior, McClane comes up against a plot involving a boat hijacking, a small group of terrorists, and corrupt cops. By story’s end, John has earned his badge, his reputation of being in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’, and been promoted to Detective leading into volume 2 and eventually the movie continuity. The idea of prequels is nothing new and have been a continued source of storytelling potential across a variety of media from film to comic books. McClane as a character is, in theory, a wonderful source for a prequel storyline. His established characteristics in the movies, include his stubborn nature, unrelenting attitude, lack of respect for those not willing to go the extra mile (often his superiors), and a sarcastic, quippy attitude. His backstory also includes the fact that he was in Vietnam before becoming a police officer. There is so much potential to this screen legend which, in this volume at least, is wasted.
Writer Howard Chaykin provides an average tale for a screen icon, which seems to miss the point of a prequel. Certainly, Volume 2 may have expanded on exploring how John became the character portrayed on screen by Bruce Willis. However, Die Hard Year One Volume 1 fails to create an established link in personality or character traits with the odd exception. McClane’s attitude to his partner, an underlying contempt for the way he acts as a police officer, certainly acts as a basis for what appears on screen, but so much could have been added. In fact, it’s hard to remember that the character in the comic books becomes the screen icon, so much so that if the title and the name McClane were substituted you would just have an ably written police story with nothing connecting these four issues to the big screen originals. The other chief concern is the amount of characters within the four issues which is far too many for a mini-series. This greatly affects the quality of the main villain, who simply doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Hans Gruber or even Simon, with limited time to develop the role into the typically solid Die Hard antagonists (of the earlier films at least). Although the juxtaposition of the dirty seasoned cops to McClane’s rookie worldview is well handled, the story fails to ignite and feels like a missed opportunity to lay some real groundwork in the protagonist becoming the beloved everyman hero we know and love. The art, provided by Stephen Thompson, consists of strong pencils and clear images that lack any dynamic impact, almost as if the artist was playing it safe rather than trying anything too extreme in terms of visual style. This means the action is easy to follow, and characters are easily identifiable. However, it’s all forgotten once the final page is over as no lasting impact is made. Unfortunately, this volume is hard to recommend, except for those hardcore Die Hard fans, who may be disappointed with what’s on offer and will constantly be thinking of what could have been. The four issues collected here are less ‘Yippee Ki Yay’ and more ‘Meh, that happened’, leaving a potential goldmine of opportunity buried in a disappointing story that is easily forgotten. File as ignore, next to A Good Day to Die Hard.