Curtis "Curt" Metcalf is a genius inventor who, in his Hardware identity, uses a variety of high-tech gadgets to fight organized crime. A central irony of the series (of which Metcalf is fully aware) is that Metcalf's employer, respected businessman Edwin Alva — who provides the resources Metcalf uses to create Hardware's hardware — is also secretly the crime boss who Hardware is trying to bring down.
Created by Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan. Hardware was the first comic printed by Milestone Media and was one of it's flagship titles. While some critics dismissed Hardware as “an angry black man lashing out at the corporate world,” Curtis Metcalf and Hardware was much more complex that that. The series, according to the creator and primary writer of Hardware, Dwayne McDuffie, “is about fathers and sons,” and revolved primarily around Curtis’ relationship with Edwin Alva.
Originally, Hardware and the entire Milestone line of comics took place in the Dakotaverse which was a separate continuity and universe from DC Comics; which printed the Milestone titles but did not retain any editorial or legal rights to the characters themselves. After Milestone Media stopped producing their comic titles, Hardware entered a "comic limbo" for several years. Recently, Hardware and the Milestone characters have undergone a revival and have been merged into the DC Comics universe.
Curtis Metcalf was born in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dakota. His father was a cop, poor but proud that he protected and served the public. Curtis perplexed his parents growing up. His father tried to interest him in sports and athletics, but instead his son was more interested in taking apart a baseball and examining how it was constructed and what sort of materials it was made of, rather than hitting it with a bat.
At the age of 12, his innate brilliance and intellect caught the attention of Edwin Alva, head of Alva Technologies and considered one of the most brilliant inventors of the age.
Alva sponsored Curtis into one of the country’s most elite private schools. He graduated high school at 14 and earned his first college degree at 15. Curtis came to idolize and admire Alva who became more like a real father to Curtis than his own. Alva paid for Curtis’ next six degrees, in return all he asked was that Curtis come to work for him afterward.
Curtis was given his own lab, his own private staff, a practically unlimited budget, and a mandate to indulge whatever struck his fancy. In truth whatever Alva spent was a bargain; Curtis’ inventions would earn him billions in return.
After several years as one of Alva's most valued employees, Curtis approached Alva; believing that he should get a share of the profits from his inventions. To his dismay, Alva brutally corrected Curtis’ misconceptions that he in any way deserved anything. He wasn’t family. He was an employee. He wasn’t respected. He was useful. He was a cog in the machine. A machine that belonged to Alva. And that was all. Alva cruelly concluded with, “This was an interesting experience. Rather like having one’s dog suddenly announce he’s displeased with his living arrangements.”
Curtis was enraged and humiliated. He thought about quitting his job but found that his contract specifically forbade him from ever working for any rival or any other company other than Alva’s. Alva owned all of his inventions, even his future ones.
Curtis dug into Alva’s personal records, hoping to find something he could leverage against him. He soon discovered that his esteemed mentor, philanthropist, industrial giant, and pillar of the community was a crook. One of the biggest ones there was. He laundered drug money, he had connections to organized crime, he secretly manufactured illegal weapons and sold them to foreign governments. Most of the local politicians were bought and paid for.
Curtis secretly mailed his discoveries to various law enforcement agencies and even a few news media outlets. And sat back and waited for the shocking story to be revealed, the scandalous revelations, and the arrest warrants to be handed down. He waited a long time. And it never came.
Curtis realized that Alva was so powerful that he was beyond the law. But not Curtis’ reach. Cobbling together an impressive array of ordnance and a protective metal armored shell, Curtis fashioned himself as a mysterious and unstoppable high-tech armored warrior known as Hardware. He quickly became Alva’s number one nemesis; destroying his illegal facilities and demolishing his warehouses filled with illegal goods and drugs and weapons, mercilessly slaughtering Alva’s goons and security thugs by the dozens.
Ironically, Hardware’s remarkable suit of armor and weaponry was facilitated by Alva’s own resources which Curtis secretly appropriated. Curtis was also approached by Augustus Freeman IV which was merely the alias utilized by an alien who had been stranded on the planet Earth since the 1800’s and would ultimately assume the identity of Icon in the 1990's. Freeman believed that Earth’s technology had finally caught up enough to attempt to fix his lifepod with it’s interstellar communicator.
Although Curtis was unable to repair the lifepod, he was able to recreate and repair several pieces of technology from the pod including the inertial winder (a high-tech airbag) that would become the belt buckle later used by Raquel Ervin a.k.a Rocket (Icon’s partner/sidekick) and appropriated several of the designs he gleaned from the inner workings of the lifepod for his personal use as Hardware.
Curtis’ double life as Hardware was eventually discovered by Barraki Young; his friend and sometime lover. She was dismayed by his actions and castigated his ruthless campaign against Alva as shameful and selfish. Curtis slowly came to realize that his actions, although he perceived them as justified, was far from noble. He was in his own words, “throwing a temper tantrum”. His level of violence greatly diminished and he began focusing on using his technologies productively instead for destroying and killing.
Although he continued to fight Alva on various fronts by battling the hitman Reprise and the SYSTEM, a shadowy and secretive criminal cabal that Alva was a member of; he also began working on helping and protecting Dakota and its citizens by fighting against such opponents like Deathwish and even allied with such notable heroes as Icon, Static, and the Shadow Cabinet in the Shadow War.
Alva was far from finished with Hardware and even forcibly recruited Curtis to help build a counter to Hardware by building Tiffany Evans' armored Technique suit. Despite his best attempts to sabotage the project, Curtis' efforts proved fruitless and Curtis was barely able to fight to a draw against Technique.
Alva then surprised Curtis by deducing his secret identity and confronted him in his own secret lab and admitted that he had seriously underestimated Curtis and his potential. But as Hardware, Curtis exceeded them by showing impressive tactical abilities, a ruthlessness to win, and personal courage. Alva proposed that he give everything that Curtis wanted: money, power, respect, even a new position as Vice President of Alva Technologies and his Heir Apparent. He even admitted that he would be willing to shut down his illegal enterprises and operations ... providing that Hardware serve to protect Alva's interests.
It was too good to be true. Curtis was sure that it was all just a con and was deeply afraid that he would once more become Alva's creature. Only this time, he would be a willing one. But it was a risk he felt he had to take and accepted Alva's offer.
With Alva's full backing, Curtis would redesign his armor — his first version was effectively cobbled together in secret, using bits and pieces scrounged from various projects and crude compared to his refined version which he completed just in time to fight against the interdimensional menace known as Rift.
During the Worlds Collide event; Hardware found himself allied with Superman, Steel, and Superboy (whom were literally comic book characters in Hardware's world) to defuse the crisis and prevent an interdimensional collapse and defeat Rift.
He continued to operate as Hardware for several years until the events of Final Crisis, where the Dakotaverse and DC Universe merged together due to the efforts of Dharma.
This has effectively rewritten their history to reflect their new merged universe. It remains to be seen just what sort of retroactive effect this has had on Hardware and his past but Hardware was seen as an active member of the Shadow Cabinet and helping assist the Justice League of America against the threat of Starbreaker and Shadow Thief. He also built a special suit that restored the de-powered Kimiyo Hoshi as Dr. Light and later allied with Jaime Reyes ( Blue Beetle) against the SYSTEM.
Powers & Abilities
One of the most brilliant intellects in the world, Curtis Metcalf is considered a scientific prodigy and inventive genius. He is responsible for breakthroughs in a wide number of fields from metallurgy, computer science, and nanotechnology.
Curtis is also trained in gymnastics and martial arts. He is a skilled hand to hand combatant.
Weapons and Paraphernalia
As Hardware, he wears a hi-tech armored suit that greatly increases his strength and durability; his armor was bulletproof to small arms caliber fire. His later armor models included an inertia winder based on Rocket's belt buckle. This model however served to fantastically reduce the armor's bulky weight load, enabling Hardware to not only move surprisingly quickly. Another improvement was that the "muscle" polymer fibers of the armor could be programmed to "remember" movement patterns such as martial arts katas that he could trigger in hand to hand combat.
Typically, every armor model however had a basic platform of high-tech devices and gadgets incorporated into it, such as:
- DOBIE (Digital On-Board Integrated Electronics) – Hardware’s On-Board Computer.
- Voice Synthesizer – Used by Curt Metcalf alter his voice to intimidate his opponents and disguise Curtis' identity. Can also be used to project other voices and translate Hardware's voice into other languages.
- Omni-Cannon – A forearm mounted cannon with a rotating drum barrel that enables him to select and discharge a variety of special weapon shells including: High Explosive, Armor Piercing, Stun (concussion explosion accompanied by blinding flash), Knock-Out Gas, Bolo, and Neural Net (a cohesive electrical field that painfully shocks opponents by disrupting their nervous system). Hardware could pick and chose which particular shell that he might need in a given situation.
- Plasma Whip – Telescoping metal whip that Curtis could turn magnetically turn rigid. He could use it as a grappling rope or an extendible grabbing tool. On command, he could also charge the coils of the whip with high-energy plasma. He could use the tip of the whip to deliver a pinpoint burst of searing plasma energy.
- Retractable Sword – A retractable super sharp blade mounted on his wrist which could cut through most substances. Hardware could adjust its length anywhere between 18 to 30 inches.
- Jet-Pack – Twin back-pack mounted turbine engines that enable him to fly. Early versions only contained sufficient fuel to fly for short distances but later models appeared to have almost unlimited range.
Hardware also utilized a one-man aerial vehicle known as the Skylark in his early days when his jet pack rig was still range limited. Designed for long distance travel, the Skylark was a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft and could attain air speeds of over 400 miles per hour and was also invisible to radar and had noise dampening gear allowing the craft to be almost silent. Following the development of his improved jetpack rig, the Skylark appears to have fallen into disuse.
Hardware was well known for adding specialized weapons and equipment on missions when he believed that they would be useful. For example; when on a mission where there was the possibility that he would be facing Superman; he had a built-in energy beam projector in his gauntlet that discharged red solar energy that he believed would be capable of cutting through Superman's skin.
Even in his civilian identity of Curtis Metcalf, Hardware was usually armed with an assortment of personal weaponry of his own design. His wristwatch was a last ditch weapon that contained a one-shot, mini-explosive shell (similar to his Omni-Cannon) capable of blowing apart an entire car.
In Other Media
The 2000-2004 animated series, "Static Shock" was heavily based on Milestone's the Dakotaverse, although it focused primarily on Static; Edwin Alva did appear as a recurring nemesis to the electrically powered teen.
After Richard Foley, an Original Character for the animated series developed a metahuman talent for inventing machinery; he considered taking the name of Hardware as his alias. Although Foley ultimately took the namesake of Gear and became a full fledged crime fighter in his own right; many believe that he was intended to be a deliberate homage to Hardware himself.