Radical Publishing recently won Diamond Comics Distribution’s 2008 gem award for “New Comics Publisher of the Year,” a fact I mention here not to congratulate them (but hey, congratulations Radical!), but to point out they haven’t been around very long at all.
I’ve read at least one issue of every series they’ve put out so far—they have a very strong public relations strategy—and have been impressed with their aggressive, confident growth and the extremely high production values of each and every one of those books.
What I haven’t been quite so impressed with was many of the books themselves, which have tended to fall into the emerging category of movie pitches packaged as comics. That probably makes pretty good business sense in today’s media environment, but it also makes for less than ideal comics. If comics are created with the idea that the medium itself is merely a proving ground for another medium, they’re somewhat creatively hobbled right out the gate. (Which isn’t to say the whole line is lousy or anything; I have liked an issue here or there).
Hotwire: Requiem For The Dead #1 may also fall into this same category. It certainly has a pitch-ready premise, the opportunity for some neat special effects and I didn’t have to squint too hard to see Christina Ricci as the petite, small-faced heroine with the round forehead.
But where it differs from other recent Radical books is that it also works quite well as a comic book.
That it does probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are two names on the cover, both of which have some pretty impressive comics-making resumes. Second-billing goes to Warren Ellis, who gets credits as a creator and for the story the book’s based on, and top-billing goes to Steve Pugh, who writes, illustrates and even letters the issue.
Our protagonist is one Alice Hotwire, who looks a bit like a white-haired, pasty-skinned, pale-eyed Christina Ricci in a pretty cool outfit and with some high-tech gadgetry. She is an exorcist detective working for the police department in a futuristic London, far enough ahead in the future that the police have hovering spaceship-looking things instead of helicopters. And far enough ahead that the world has changed enough to need exorcist detectives.
For some reason, the dead seemed to have stopped going where they used to go, and now roam around the city, feeding off of electromagnetism. They usually take the form of fog or blue light, and tend not to do too much harm, but when powerful ones do cause problems, Alice is called in to take care of them, as in the opening scene of this first issue.
It’s a compelling enough premise, and the story is basically a police procedural that overlaps with a supernatural story, and it includes a lot of the sort of speculative modern science-plus stuff that will be familiar to Ellis fans, executed just as well here as it is elsewhere.
What most impressed me was Pugh’s art, which here more closely resembles the more heavily photorealistic, painterly approach of his Shark-Man than his Vertigo body of work or DCU and Marvel comics. I’m not usually a fan of this particular aesthetic, preferring comics art that looks like it was drawn, but Pugh’s is lighter, brighter and easier to read than many of those who practice a similar style, and Pugh’s personality is still visible within the character designs.
And those designs are pretty exciting. I mentioned the street clothes he gives Alice; he also designs some neat vehicles and near future technology, a super-cool motorcycle helmet for Alice and he just generally builds a world that’s clearly based on ours, but looks sharper, newer and more exciting.
If you’re expecting more than a very well executed genre piece, or extremely well put together artwork, you’re likely going to be disappointed. But for what it is, Hotwire is certainly a pretty great version of it.
My only complaint? That title. “Requiem” is such a serious, self-important sounding word that gets over-used in geek pop culture, and it’s always for the dead. That’s what the word means.