Re-reading my review of Action Comics #900 after it was recently posted, I found myself looking over at my spare little review pile and three Radical Comics mini-series. Not a one of these’ll ever come close to reaching that daunting number, I thought, which is as it’s meant to be. Where big comics companies look to promoting properties that they can publish in perpetuity, smaller lines generally look to time-limited titles with a beginning, middle and end.
Which doesn’t mean that the last element won’t contain room for a mini-series sequel or three, of course. All three of the Radical books on my pile — After Dark, Hot Wire and Ryder on the Storm — are sufficiently open-ended to support a follow-up. Warren Elis and Steve Pugh’s Hot Wire (subtitled: Deep Cut) is, in fact, the second mini- to feature its spunky lead, futuristic detective exorcist Alice Hotwire. A spiritedly arrogant loose cannon, Hotwire comes up against ambitious mercs and a resurrected dead soldier who is carrying a dead mother with a still living baby inside her, plus a tagalong host of “blue lights” that may or may not be spirits of the dead.
Though co-creator Ellis gets second billing on this outing, in actuality both the writing/art credits go to Steve Pugh, who has fun with both his prickly lead and the series’ parapsychological mumbo-jumbo. If, at times, all the blue light actions seems to be more smoke-and-mirrors than a clear-cut comics contretemps, well, you could probably say the same thing about such durable company comics paranormalists as DC’s Spectre or Marvel’s Doc Sttrange, couldn’t you? Me, I just like watching Alice get snippy with hes less intelligent co-workers.
The title hero of David Hine and Wayne Nichols’ Lovecraftian Ryder on the Storm is less punkishly flamboyant than Hotwire, more your broody late-nite detective type — who also happens to have some daemon blood in him. Our gumshoe’s latest case leads to a conspiracy to revive daemon control of the city through a monstrous motherly creature hidden in the sewers and her drone warrior offspring. While the opening volume in this three-parter focused on the sexually provocative dancer Katrina and a decadent sex club, the finale takes us into a dank city underbelly that H.R. Giger or the creators of Alien would recognize. This shift in focus from steampunky supernatural noir to action horror proves a bit of a letdown — horror fans have been down sewers like this before — though artist Nichols gets some good panels out of the monster mother. Love the image of her slurping down a daemon victim.
After Dark, “created by” Anton Fuqua and Wesley Snipes, though actually written and illustrated by Peter Milligan and Leonardo Manco, takes an even sharper storytelling swerve in its third issue. Having dispatched a ragtag crew to return a Madonna-like femme named Angel to Solar City to bring hope to its besieged populace, we swiftly learn that Angel is not the redeeming force as advertised. Our surviving crewmembers thus find that their return to city is even more perilous than their trek across the deadly wastelands. “I don’t think she’s good with pressure,” a mind-reading mutant infant understates as much of our remaining cast finds itself getting attacked one at a time by Angel’s minions. This shift in focus is a little bit disconcerting — it’s as if John Carpenter’s Escape from New York had changed settings in its final third from its desiccated Big Apple to a West Wing look at the rescued president’s White House — but it ultimately works.
As with the other two mini-series, Dark leaves plenty of room for a follow-up. But its basic theme — “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters,” to quote Mr. Zimmerman — holds it all up through its neatly ambivalent final panel. I’d be okay with the story as it is even if Snipes and Fuqua never scribbled down the notes for an After After Dark. Sometimes, short and punchy is the way to keep it.