Although Warren Ellis doesn’t have much to do with this comic beyond co-creating the lead character and coming up with the story idea ten or so years ago, it reads like an Ellis-penned comic from the mid- to late-’90s. It’s a bit of high concept work about a future society where the spirits of the dead have stopped moving onto wherever it is that dead spirits go and have, instead, taken to haunting.
Instead of pushing this in a horror direction, Ellis and Steve Pugh go sci-fi by having the spirits called Blue-Lights, treated as electromagnetic fields, and handled through scientific means like disruptor fields and special ceramic containers that hold them. The problem has been solved, for the most part, with burials now in ceramic caskets and richer areas having disruptor towers to keep the Blue-Lights away.
The series follows Alice Hotwire, a police officer who specializes in dealing with Blue-Lights that muster up enough energy to cause trouble for the living. The issue opens mid-exorcism as the spirit of a dead child tries to kill its still-living family in order to reunite them all. While it seems routine enough, normal procedures don’t solve the problem and, later, Hotwire learns that the building, although in a poor area, is within the boundaries of a disruptor tower. Something it making Blue-Lights turn up where they shouldn’t and she’s determined to solve the mystery.
Steve Pugh is a one-man band here and does some really good work. The coloring he uses is a cross between computer-generated coloring seen in video games and painting. The end result is the realistic feel of painted art, but with that futuristic-not-quite-right feel of CGI. It doesn’t always work and sometimes looks very dated, but, in some panels, is very effective and stunning.
The real problem with the coloring is that it overshadows the actual drawings most of the time. Pugh has a really nice style, here more realistic and far less cartoony than work I’ve seen of his in the past, but it’s hard to tell under the strong coloring. I kind of wish that since this book looks so unique that they’d included a process page or two in the back of the issue so we could at least get a look at Pugh’s uncolored art. Maybe for the trade.
Pugh’s writing here is also good, obviously very influenced by Ellis, but only rarely feels like a bad imitation. The plot evolves slowly but strongly, very well paced and delivers information effectively. The dialogue is probably the weakest part as that’s where Pugh is most likely to fall into the trap of trying too hard to write like Ellis.
Some scenes are wonderfully funny like a cop who punched a 15-year-old protester in a pig costume in the face on camera after the protester keyed his car. Or, the same cop, at home, unofficially suspended for the incident and annoying his small daughter by critiquing the cartoon she’s watching. It’s hard to tell how much is Ellis and how much is Pugh — which is very much a compliment of Pugh’s abilities.
“Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead” #1 is a very engaging read with a lot of wit and action. Steve Pugh builds on Warren Ellis’s concepts in the best way and illustrates them in a striking and energetic style with unique coloring. Definitely worth checking out.