This Black Friday, I found myself in an Albany comic shop called Earthworld. There was plenty to look at and lots of deals, but this one book caught my attention. Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead was put out by Radical Books in 2010. As I wasn’t much of a reader until a year later, I can’t tell you if this book had any significant hype. What I can say is that I’m glad I decided to wager five bucks on a bargain-bin comic that featured one hell of a cover and contained a story I’d come to fall in love with.
There’s an introduction by Steve Pugh, who wrote and illustrated Hotwire himself. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that while a story had been created by Warren Ellis years before, Pugh would find himself in the fortunate position of getting complete control over creator-owned material. Using this occasion to resurrect his collaboration with Ellis, Pugh began working on what I’d grossly understate as a passion project.
The cover is beautiful, from the awesome colors to the choice of font. Opening up the book, it’s astonishing that nearly every panel could exist on its own as a cover. Readers who enjoy a good water-color aesthetic will need to hold their jaws. The selective attention to detail and the splashes of vibrant color over an otherwise dreary noir bring this book to life. The world of Hotwire is urban and not-too-distant futuristic. Our focus is on a police force that is fighting to keep the peace after a scandal that some of their own appear to have started. Oh, and did I mention that there are ghosts?
The phenomenal sci-fi element in Hotwire comes from the concept that the dead (referred to as Blue Lights) are somehow manifesting their consciousness into an electromagnetic haze that permeates the city’s streets. Not only does this allow for some spiritual questioning, it also puts society in a vulnerable state that they must figure out how to deal with. Enter Alice Hotwire, Detective Exorcist.
Our protagonist is equal parts John Constantine and Tank Girl. Alice is a cheeky, stylish badass who is always right, even if she can be a bit of a mess in her personal life. She is devoted to rules; not only in the sense of order and justice as a police worker, but also in the sense of a deep love of scientific understanding. This balance of character traits makes her explosive, fun and worthwhile for readers. The Blue Lights, while generally obeying the laws of electromagnetism, are a problem for her in that she has to witness something she refuses to believe in. Not only that, but she makes it her business to keep them out of the affairs of the living.
This gets nasty when they stop obeying the rules further by becoming weaponized. If the phrase “Ghost Bomb” doesn’t intrigue you…well, we can’t be friends. For sci-fi fans, the concepts alone will win you over. For fans of procedural policing mixed with anti-hero antics, this story is for you. For fans of gritty yet beautiful dystopias, welcome home.
Upon learning that this was Pugh’s first time writing one of his own projects, I’ll admit I had doubts. After reading, I’d say Pugh has raised the bar quite significantly for first-timers. Sure, there is a small handful of clunky dialogue or exposition that could have been better presented in an internal monologue, but these don’t detract from enjoying the book at all. The pacing is wonderful, the characters are lovable and who really cares if the protagonist decided on making a speech while in the midst of large-scale danger? If anything, it only adds to her assured charm and unprecedented capability.
One noteworthy appraisal of the writing is the approach taken with police relations with the community, internal conflicts and issues with federal security. This isn’t your standard “cops are good” or “cops are bad” story. There’s a certain appreciation for the fact that every population has its troublemakers and Alice is out to make trouble for those troublemakers (be they fellow officers, civilians, etc.). This comic remains very topical; perhaps more so than when it was released.
Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead may be the best five bucks I’ve ever spent. If you’re looking for a good read with fantastic artwork that has a creator’s full passion behind it, give this a chance.
Steve Pugh’s experienced water-coloring
Great characters (especially Alice)
Nuanced approach to police drama
The Blue Lights as a concept
The heavy tone and setting
One or two writing hiccups