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A review a day: Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead

Steve Pugh goes nutty. What’s not to love?

So much bad-assery!

In case you’re new to the blog, I’ll get you up to speed on Steve Pugh. A few years ago he did a little book called Shark-Man, which began with a tiny little publisher in conjunction with Image but didn’t sell a lick. Shark-Man, if you can’t tell from the title, is quite possibly the greatest comic book ever conceived by sentient beings, and I like to think it was just too awesome to survive. (If you’re at all interested, I “reviewed” all three issues: #1, #2, and #3, although only the first one is a proper review. The last two are paeans to the awesomeness of Shark-Man. You’ll note it took two years for three issues to come out. That might have had something to do with its demise.) After the death of Shark-Man, Pugh moved on Hotwire, a comic based on a script that a certain Warren Ellis wrote 20 years ago. Pugh explains in the introduction that he kept tweaking it after its original publisher fell apart, and then Radical Comics decided the time had come for the world to know Alice Hotwire! And lo, a four-issue mini-series was released, followed by this trade (which costs $14.95, a good value considering there are a lot of extras). As I wrote when I reviewed the first three issues, if Shark-Man had to die, at least Pugh can work on a story about a detective exorcist. She’s a detective exorcist, people!!!!!!!

The concept of Hotwire is a great hook. In the near future, the dead don’t go very far after they die. They hang around, attracted by all the electronic devices humanity is addicted to, and become “blue-lights” – forms of electro-magnetic energy. Alice Hotwire is the police exorcist tasked with cleaning them up. London (where the story is set) has suppressor towers which keep them away from the swankier neighborhoods, and they can’t break out of ceramic tombs, but they still float around the crappier neighborhoods, occasionally causing trouble. That’s when Alice comes in. It’s a nice, simple concept that has the potential for dozens of stories. Pugh is already working on a sequel to this story, after all!

The story is a straight-forward police procedural, as Alice investigates an unusual blue-light incident which seems isolated but really isn’t. As she explains, many things about the incident are “impossible,” which only makes her grumpy, because Alice lives her life by the rules of science, and anything that goes against those rules vex her. Meanwhile, someone leaked a video of two cops beating up some immigrant kids and the city is a powder keg. Throughout the book, the protesters slowly turn into rioters and move more and more to the forefront. We know that, as this is a fictional tale, everything is connected, but Pugh does a nice job with revealing the machinations of the plot slowly. Alice and her reluctant partner, Mobey, follow each lead to the next and learn a bit more as they go along. The cool thing about the book is that Pugh doesn’t do many info-dumps – at every turn, Alice finds something that challenges her idea of the status quo, so we get to learn about the blue-lights and how to deal with them because Alice can’t do that in this case. She has to improvise, which she doesn’t like. Along the way, we learn a little bit about her family and how she became such a hard-ass. The only really creepy part of the book (the most “ghost-story”) is when her dead mother keeps calling her cell phone and leaving messages. This also is a plot point that helps set up the sequel.

While the story is interesting, Pugh also does a fine job with the characters. Alice is a neat invention, in that we think she’s going to be a female version of the archetypal Warren Ellis character, but Pugh goes a bit further away from this, which is nice. She’s a bad-ass, of course, and she loves her science, but Pugh does a good job giving her a compelling and tragic backstory, from her odd upbringing in a scientists’ enclave to the way her mother died and the aftermath. She’s more interesting than many of the Ellisian male characters because Pugh allows her to get flustered and try to work things out using her brain instead of bad-assing her way through things. It’s a nice mix of the Ellis archetype and the more humanizing hand of Pugh. The partner he gives Alice, Mobey, is a good cop but definitely isn’t pure – he’s on a pseudo-suspension because he punched out on of the protesters on camera. Mobey is a salt-of-the-earth cop who Alice recruits as her muscle, and the two of them build a nice relationship throughout the series, with Mobey’s superstitions about ghosts playing well off Alice’s insistence on dealing with blue-lights as scientifically as possible. Pugh also brings in a Darrow, the new city commander, who has been thrown into a dire situation (what with the rioters and the crazy blue-lights running around) but does the best she can. Darrow could have been a stereotypical corrupt cop (her predecessor appears to fit this mold, but he’s not a major character) or someone who is totally sympathetic to Alice, but she’s neither. She’s someone doing the job however she can, and while she hates the two cops who beat the immigrant family and sparked the protests, she’s also damned if she’s going to let them get killed by the mob. As with the other main characters (including some of the ghosts), Pugh does a nice job presenting them as real people and not just plot devices.

Pugh’s art is, of course, phenomenal. He’s always been a good artist, but recently, as he explains in an interview in the back of the book, he’s been painting a lot more, and the effect is fantastic. We some of his older pencil work on Alice, and while it’s perfectly fine, it’s nothing like what we see in this book. Whereas some painted comic art looks stiff and posed, Pugh does a wonderful job making this book fluid. Everything seems fully integrated into the landscape, and the facial expressions, which are often tough to pull off in painted work, look great. Pugh’s work with the blue-lights is tremendous, as well. We get very creepy apparitions, from the girl who possesses the man in the book’s opening sequence to the skeleton underneath the cemetery where the worst criminals are interred. There’s a dragon ghost that is wonderfully brought to life, and the final sequence is a magnificent work of explosive action and tense violence. Pugh’s wacky imagination coupled with his mastery of his tools make this a fantastic book to look at. It’s a very cool achievement.

I’ve liked some Radical books and not some others. This is, so far, the absolute best book they’ve published. It’s a wild ride, full of cool ideas and beautiful art. It’s very neat to see such an insane comic that also works as a good story. I’m keen to see what else Pugh has up his sleeve in the sequel.

Tomorrow: Damned Nazis! Always doing evil things!

18 Comments

This was a great comic. I’m sure the sequel will be just as good.

Shark-Man was definitely a book that put a smile in my face. It was interesting and different but those three issues weren’t enough for me to make up my mind about it. Of course, if you call it “the greatest comic book ever conceived by sentient beings” I can only defer to your judgment :-)

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm

And what, I might ask, and what does Ellis do in this book? ;-)

I’m most familiar with Steve Pugh’s art over the years, but this, I have got to say, this is very radical of Pugh.

Maybe I’ll check the tpb out, just for the art. ;-)

Wow, what the hell is this comic? It looks crazy!

I loved this comic and was lucky enough to get the original issues. I have the TPB on order at my LCS. Of all Radical’s comics, I think this is the only one I’d actually pay money to see a movie version of.

I usually hate painted work in comics. Like you said it’s usually stiff. When panels are viewed independently it looks good enough, but as a whole it lacks any sort of energy.
So seeing this really takes me by surprise. A painted work that not only isn’t terrible, but painted work that I actually like.

I agree with Joe H.

This is now on my wish list.

Tom: Ellis doesn’t do anything. He came up with the character in the early 1990s, and he and Pugh were going to do it together. But he was going to work on for Tundra (I think; maybe it was Caliber?) and when the publisher fell apart, so did the project. Pugh simply took the character and ran with it. So Ellis gets the credit for the idea, but he didn’t actually do anything on this book.

I didn’t know the sequel was official. That’s fantastic news.

Requiem for the Dead is phenomenal, start to finish. Pugh has a remarkably deft hand with characterization, managing to keep characters grounded and believable in such surreal and supernatural circumstances. Plus, his art is staggeringly good. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever he has planned for the follow-up.

I lost track of Pugh’s work between Generation X (another quasi-Ellis project) and Hotwire, and I’m sorry I missed Shark-Man in particular. Hopefully, I’ll be able to track those issues down at some point.

Agreed. This really is an great series, and definitely Radical’s best so far. The sequel is called Deep Cut. It’s a 3 ish mini and comes out in July. More awesomeness on the way!

Travis Pelkie

June 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Shark-Man also appeared, I think before the Image #1, in a book called A-1 (#0, maybe?). That book is awesome, because it also includes a chapter of Alan Moore’s BoJeffries Saga, the Flaming Carrot story that was in AV in 3D (in 2-D, this time), a short by Steve Dillon, a “Superman” story (in quotes, because it’s obviously supposed to BE Supes, but for TM/Copyright obviously isn’t) drawn by Ted McKeever, and I think written by Dave Gibbons. I have 2 copies of it (2 different covers) and have to look at it again. I think I have Shark-Man 1, and I believe the story there is a expanded and revised version of the story in A-1.

So in other words, I need to check out Hotwire.

Really enjoyed this in singles, and cool to see Greg giving it some exposure. Simple sci-fi/horror premise, likeable protagonists, great art and a lot of creative energy. What are the extras in the collection?

Great news that there will be a sequel, and even better news that it’s already solicited! (The three issues in two years/kept tweaking Hot Wire had me nervous) Is Shark-Man collected?

Great comic, buy the trade!
Shark-Man is terrific as well.
Steve Pugh is awesome!!!.

All these comments about Ellis not really doing anything make the cover incredibly amusing, with its declaration that Steve Pugh > Warren Ellis.

I don’t think Shark-Man is collected. Frankly, I’d be stunned if it was.

The extras in the collection include a long interview with Pugh about the character and how it evolved, and lots of old art showing Alice’s evolution. It’s pretty cool seeing the old pencils and how she turned from a redhead to a platinum blonde. There’s also a black-and-white story about Alice from 2006 that Pugh colored for the collection.

Damn, I thought Dieter’s comment was a haiku, but he’s one syllable off.

Anyway, Burgas, you’ve sold me. I must have this comic.

Shark-Man didn’t do much for me, but this one I loved.

Steve Pugh is awesome. The sequel, Hotwire: Deep Cut, is a 3-issue, bi-monthly miniseries that starts in July. Definitely bug your retailers since the first miniseries didn’t catch on until the comics were in shelves, leaving many people high and dry.

Some nice extras at the end of the trade. This book served as my introduction to Radical comics and it was awesome. Very glad to here there is a sequel in the works!

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