I got this weird call from a guy asking me to review a comic…
Hotline Miami made a big impression with its pounding synthwave soundtrack; a trippy, psychedelic neon-drenched eighties setting; and its ultraviolent gameplay. The story – concerning a man receiving mysterious phone calls telling him to go on killing sprees – was punishingly confusing, bizarre and depressing. While it may have worked just fine as a game, I wasn’t sure how well the Hotline Miami universe would translate into a comic. Hotline Miami: Wildlife is just as colorful and violent as its originator, but it’s a few notches less oppressive.
Everything starts off in a fashion that’s immediately familiar to fans of Hotline Miami. A white-leisure-suited henchman is running away in terror from a masked killer. He turns around to check his surroundings, only for his face to get perforated by an oncoming bullet. The rabbit man does some typical end-of-level basking in the violent afterglow of his recent mass murder, in a house riddled with bloodied corpses, only to find a gun put to his head – except the one holding it is a small boy with tears in his eyes.
This was a pretty interesting twist, I found, and puts a bit of a new spin on the Hotline Miami formula, because the children of the various victims don’t usually get discussed. It immediately set me off wondering how this kid fits into the grander scope of the internecine gang warfare our protagonist is an unwitting pawn in.
We then rewind back to origin story behind our man in the rabbit mask – a man named Chris, who’s your typical eighties dude: spending his time playing air hockey, renting videos and snorting coke! He starts receiving some weird phonecalls which beckon him to do his part to stop an upcoming Russian invasion. Things really get screwy when he receives a mysterious package containing a rabbit mask, an uzi and a pistol (I suppose this was the eighties’ version of Loot Crate). As he receives more phonecalls; he becomes depressed, withdrawn and estranged from his girlfriend. His deteriorating life gets worse when he recieves on final call demanding him to do a fateful job.
It’s during this part of the comic, everything slows down a bit. We meet a few of Chris’ nameless friends who he eats pizza and watches movies with, but they’re all generic dudes with no real inner lives of their own – much like Chris’ nameless girlfriend who seems to only be there to show her bare bottom a few times and break up with him (though at least it’s a lovely bottom).
Though we see a nice illustration of Chris’ life circling the drain, we don’t have much stock in it, because we really have no idea who Chris actually is. We don’t even find out his job. Where does he get all his coke money from? Do they just give it out for free in the Hotline-Miamiverse? There are whole pages devoted to Chris looking gaunt and leaning over a bar counter with a growing number of empty whiskey glasses on top of it, but not a single panel that actually endears us to him. Chris’ anonymous girlfriend might be right – maybe he is just an asshole who happens to have good coke.
The artwork of illustrator Alberto Massagia does not disappoint, with diverse, brightly coloured backgrounds and well-detailed character designs. I couldn’t help but feel the art style was just a touch too neat and conventional for the subject matter however. Perhaps a few warped filters or lens flares might’ve immersed us a bit more into Hotline Miami’s unnerving world – and do the work that the original game’s aggressive soundtrack did so well. Armchair artistry aside though – the sense of time and place is conveyed well with intricate drawings of period set pieces like digital watches, sports jackets and flickering analogue TV screens.
Overall, Hotline Miami: Wildlife is a somewhat predictable and unambitious start: trapped between emulating the basic plot we’d expect from this particular licensed property, and creating an original world all of its own. It goes through the basic motions of setting up our mentally manipulated, masked protagonist, but doesn’t really distinguish itself in the process. It hints at the deep pool of nihilistic bleakness that is Hotline Miami, but only dips a toe in – rather than jumping in with both feet. No characters really stand out, grab you by the scruff of the neck, and make you empathize with and care about them. Having said that, between the vibrant artwork and the well-crafted flash-forward hook at the start of the story – Hotline Miami: Wildlife is compelling enough to make me want to put on a rabbit mask, grab an uzi and wade into the next issue.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Publisher: Dayjob Studio; Written By: Federico Chamello, Maurizino Faurini; Art By: Alberto Massagia