Review by Sarah Boslaugh
Abuse of power is the theme of the second (of three) issues of Hotwire: Deep Cut. The main story arc involves the logical consequences of the unfettered growth of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago (1961, to be precise). Issue #1 ended with a huge automobile pileup, the first in years and the result of incompetence on the part of a private contractor, Bear Claw Security, which has a multi-million dollar contract to control the Blue Lights (ghosts). The best part: if they screw it up, they still get paid. If this doesn’t remind you of any recent U.S. military contractors, you need to start following the news more closely.
A young woman Blue Light escapes from the scene of the crash and soon meets up with the Blue Light of a deceased soldier encased in a robotic body which makes him impervious to the suppressor fields that keep most of the Blue Lights under control. How did this security nightmare come about? He’s part of the “Home for Heroes” program, intended to reunite dead soldiers with their loved ones. Alice is less than impressed with the program, which she terms a “military-funded, weird science money pit” because it rests on the assumption that the Blue Lights are the literal souls of people who died and which, if provided with a body, could be returned to their families. Setting aside her skepticism, you can see the appeal of this plan to the military: eliminate casualties and you eliminate a major source of opposition to war and the good business which accompanies it because one Cindy Sheehan is worth a million logical arguments when it comes to public opinion. If the program doesn’t work quite as intended? Well, they can always hire some more contractors (many of them ex-military, no doubt) to clean up the mess.
That’s abuse of power on the political and economic level. On a personal level, midway through this issue Detective Exorcist Alice Hotwire gets an uninvited visit from a former boyfriend, now a Blue Light, who starts the discussion off by cracking her over the head with a bottle. Bad move when dealing with a kick-ass superhero who’s also a brainiac and well over the loser life she used to spend with this guy. As she puts it: “you want to keep me desperate, needy and wasted…All Alice has for you today is sober, surly and belligerent” as she reaches for a deadly weapon disguised as a common household fixture. OK, girls, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Alice is smarter than practically anyone else and she’s the best, bar none, at her job, yet she still has to deal with some loser who thinks his Y chromosomes entitle him to rule, if not the world, at least her.
And that’s why I love this series. The art is fantastic (even by Radical’s standards, Pugh’s work is a cut above, creating a world which is both fascinating and believable) but what really makes it work is the characters. Most superheroes have a flaw but few present the bundle of contradictions that Alice does and yet, as with Sherlock Holmes or Meg Murry (the heroine of A Wrinkle in Time, for those of you who aren’t up on your Madeleine L’Engle), her faults are also her strengths. Every top cop needs a buddy and Alice’s extreme personality is nicely balanced by her partner Mobey, who plays by the book and frets about her antisocial tendencies (sometimes he seems more like a Dad or high school principal than a cop) while also supporting her superior talents. Bertus Rantz and the boys of Bear Claw are mercenaries and act accordingly, while the subplot of the young woman and the soldier puts a human face on the Blue Lights (they were all people once, after all) and expresses the tragedy of unnecessary death.
It’s not easy to draw a comic with realistic characters (they often come off looking creepy in an uncanny valley kind of way) but Steve Pugh has it down, creating characters which are idealized in the movie sense of being more attractive than you would expect them to be in real life but otherwise pretty much like people you might already know. The physical world he places them in draws on a lot of different comics conventions—horror, sci-fi romance and military among them—but remains coherent while complementing the shifting tones of the story. The dominant color palette is blue-green with the exception of the soldier/young woman subplot where repeated shifts in and out of earth tones seem to signal shifts in consciousness. You can see a preview of Hotwire: Deep Cut #2 here: http://www.comicbookresources.com:8080/?page=preview&id=6791.
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