Review by Abigail Chandler
Radical’s Hotwire series was dreamt up by the fevered brains of Warren Ellis and Steve Pugh, and it shows. It’s exactly what you would expect would happen if two socio-politically-minded British creators who have both worked on Hellblazer sat down to write a mini-series about a punky exorcist working for the police in a futuristic, technology-dependent unnamed British city.
The series, written and drawn by Pugh, centres on Alice Hotwire, a genius detective exorcist responsible for policing the ghostly ‘blue-lights’ that have started walking the earth. Raised by scientists and refusing to give in to sentimentality, Alice constantly rubs up against the conventional thinking of ‘most folk’, refusing to trust the artificial intelligence that controls most of the city and not even admitting that these blue-lights are anything so fanciful as ghosts. She’s a stubborn, unpopular presence in a police force that finds her job creepy at best, but she finds an unlikely ally when she’s teamed up with homicide detective Mobey in the mini-series Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead.
Ellis and Pugh have dreamt up a completely believable future England, a world of data clouds where cars can’t crash, machines fix themselves and the human race is even less handy than we are now. It’s a world where American slang sits alongside British insults and the same petty interdepartmental politics that hamper the police force today are still bugging them decades on. The blue-lights add a fantastical element to the story, but everything else is alarmingly possible. In Requiem for the Dead, the police force are even dealing with a massive riot caused by a case of reported police brutality, drawing unsettling parallels to the recent London riots, even though this series was written two years before those took place. It gives the book a level of relevance and social commentary that perhaps may have been missing if you read the book a year ago.
This strange world is rooted by a surprisingly simple central concept: it’s a buddy detective comic. The young, stubborn, damaged exorcist and her older, grumbling partner, growing into a protective father-figure of sorts as the series goes on. Alice and Mobey are great characters, easing you into this strange world and giving you a spiky, argumentative central relationship to root for and enjoy. There is nothing particularly unexpected or new about their relationship, except perhaps for Mobey’s happily-married status thankfully removing any element of will-they-won’t-they, but it is very well-executed. In fact, all the incidental characters in this series are fleshed out and interesting, particularly Darrow, the police commander who starts her new job on the worst possible day.
Despite all this, the first thing readers will find themselves saying about the book is how damn gorgeous it looks. Pugh is a great artist, creating a dark world of cyberpunk neons peopled with realistic, expressive faces and inventively weird-looking monsters. He handles the action (and there’s a lot of it) excellently, with a real sense of pace and thrill, but makes the low-key scenes just as entertaining. I enjoyed his giant blue-light monsters just as much as the little moments of doubt he etches on the face of the swaggering Alice.
In this series Pugh has not only made Britain look exciting, he’s also co-created a very cool action heroine in the difficult, screwed-up Alice, who deserves to be at the centre of many stories yet. It’s a fun book with a lot to say about the world we live in and a skilled knack at balancing the paranormal/scientific action with the political dilemmas and power-plays of the police HQ. Definitely a trade worth picking up for anyone who wants a break from superhero action.
Click here to go to this review at Bad Haven or click the cover image to learn more about Hotwire.