Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, February 27, 2009
      ( 2/27/2009 09:29:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"THAT'S SCIENCE, OBSERVABLE, REPRODUCIBLE." Alice Hotwire, the title lead of Radical Comics' four-ish mini-series, Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead, is a Detective Exorcist, working in a future city besieged by ghosts. As imagined by British comics A-Lister Warren Ellis (story) and Steve Pugh (script/art), she's a less jokey version of Judge Anderson, the shapely "psi-cop" from the Judge Dredd series. But where Anderson memorably flaunted regs in the rules-cuffed Dredd World, Hotwire is beholden to 'em. In a city where the supernatural regularly impinges on the mundane, she clings to the idea that "Everything real follows rules."

Alice's respect for the rules doesn't endear her to the rest of her peers (who see her as "elitist and difficult"). In ish #1, Metro City is in the midst of a riot that the other cops blame on her, holding her responsible for circulated inflammatory footage of two cops beating on a pair of immigrant kids. Her more-than-reluctant back-up Detective Peter Mobey definitely thinks she's the whistle-blower -- "This is all your bloody fault, your stupid bitch!" he bellows at her early in the story -- but he goes along with her anyway, into the depths of the city's haunted ghetto, Old Town East.

The city's ghosts -- called "blue lights" in an attempt to make them seem less ominous -- possess their victims and the victims' families. When the mini-series opens, we see Alice attempting to exorcize a father taken over by a ghost who claims to be his little dead daughter, though the family denies any such child ever existed. Blue lights supposedly can be dispersed when hit with enough amperage, but this 'un proves too stubborn for that. And though suppressor towers are placed throughout the city to keep out blue lights, ghostly possessions are escalating. Someone's messing around with these supernatural entities, though we haven't got a clue as to who this might be by the end of the first issue.

As scripted by writer/artist Pugh, the urban world that Alice inhabits is smokily dystopic: in one panel, we're shown Detective Mobey's daughter watching a cartoon on television, and the bright blue sky on-screen provides a stark contrast to the gray miasmic city outside. Though Metro City's locale isn't disclosed in the opener, several British-isms creep into the dialog. ("It's either a top laugh, or you'll end up sobbing like a baby," Alice notes, describing the possessions that are a regular event in Old Town East.) Judge Anderson would recognize the place, as would her sometime partner Dredd.

Pugh's possession sequences are both atmospheric and action-packed: all crackling green light (long a dramatic convention for depicting ghosts) and mist. If the artist may overdo the pouty-lipped overbite look on his heroine, as scripted, she proves an agreeable hard-ass. "'Most folk' are more likely to read their horoscope than to look both ways when crossing a busy street," this difficult elitist declares near the end of the first ish, and that line alone was enough to make me want to follow her through the rest of this diverting sci-fi horror mini-series.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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