2.10.2014

The Fuse #1 [Advance Review]

The Fuse #1 (Image Comics): For my money, The Fuse comes charging right out of the gate with a creative pedigree full of modern all-stars. We’ve got one of the best world-builders working in the industry today in writer Antony Johnston (Wasteland, Umbral). His art collaborator Justin Greenwood (Wasteland, Resurrection) is a modern craftsman with an aesthetic that captures a striking balance between realism and escapism. Like Clarence Worley and Lee Donowitz, we also “park our cars in the same garage” when it comes to our love of 90’s cinema, so there’s that. Shari Chankhamma is one of the New Wave Colorists (Dean White, Jordie Bellaire, Gabe Eltaeb, Owen Gieni, et al) whose striking palette I first saw in Sheltered, and continued to track in indie projects, like her great collaboration with my paisan Giulie Speziani (1 Night On Earth). Not many books come with a rock star letterer like Ed Brisson, who’s also a great writer in his own right. I highly recommend his Murder Book, which is like an even more low-fi dirty version of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, and if you’re not reading the aforementioned pre-apocalyptic yarn Sheltered, written by Brisson, with art by Johnnie Christmas, then you’re just making a huge mistake.

Before I even read Johnston’s rollicking explanation letter (nay, “Statement of Intent”) in the backmatter, I was picking up what he was laying down, citing some of the same influences, and writing the following couple of sentences in my notes. Straight Up. The Fuse is for an audience like me, people who were weaned on 1980’s sci-fi (Aliens, Blade Runner, BSG), and then raised on cop show procedurals in the 1990’s (X-Files, NYPD Blue, and hell, my dad didn’t let me watch Michael Mann Miami Vice, he made me watch it). You can feel these two genres being woven together in a great sequential art tapestry (I guess I’ll spare you the corny “CSI: Mos Eisley” sound byte I was crafting… oops…). All at once, it’s like a time capsule of nostalgia, yet it operates with modern sophistication. When you throw in its striking design features, The Fuse is basically built for tech immigrant Gen X’ers like me, but has enough forward motion that it won’t exclude tech native Gen Y’ers either. Demographics are important to consider for marketing purposes, I’ll admit, but I enjoy Johnston’s willingness to not overly concern himself with what he thinks the audience wants (a fool’s errand to be sure), and to just double down on what he loves.

On the first page, I smirked contentedly to myself because of Johnston’s ear for dialogue. I’ll be damned if “Boo ain’t gone tell nobody” isn’t exactly the kind of line Johnston excels at. The degenerative cadence, the lilted accent, the broke-down brogue, it just so sums up his love of language, like we see in the devolving goat-speak of Wasteland, or the worn out high-speech in Umbral. I love it. He continues this effort when introducing us to the world of The Fuse. For example, Dietrich speaks in a slightly formal, deliberately stilted way, sans contractions, that lets anyone paying attention know that English is probably a second language for him. We understand that these language flourishes aren’t just done so for high-calorie empty style points, but they serve a substantive purpose. When we meet the series protagonists, grizzled Klem Ristovych and her new overachieving partner Dietrich, their speech patterns let us know a lot about characterization. We learn about their differences in race, age, gender, and even country of origin (it seems clear that one is Russian and one is German). This pairing makes for instant sparks, embedding some tension right into the mix. Johnston’s introductions are organic, letting us know all of the basic information we need, about quirky cops and bustling spacedocks and a dead cabler’s body that needs investigating, in a way that never feels forced, never sounds staged or contrived, and is never overtly expositional.

Justin Greenwood and Shari Chankhamma illustrate “The Russia Shift” with so much precision. I’m so used to seeing Greenwood’s art in stark black and white, that it was a real treat to see Chankhamma’s colors on top of his lines. They work well together, achieving an effectiveness that is more than the sum of the parts. The piercing white eyes on the very first page evoke a sense of true terror, instantly pulling the audience into this strange new world. This ultimately gives way to a two-page spread that functions as a cinematic reveal to the orbital known at The Fuse. One thing you should notice about the art is that it feels claustrophobic at times. That’s on purpose. There are so many people and so much activity going on in the background that you get this paranoid sense that, at the very least, you’re missing some clues, or at the worst, the damn killer is probably right there looking out at you and taunting you. Johnston has never been the type of writer to spell things out (notice how he doesn’t have the characters talk at the audience and explain the pass that occurs in the CCTV footage), he laces the script with clues that get conveyed either textually or visually. He basically hints at this approach in the backmatter; it makes me think I should go back and really pore over the art to absorb the color choices, to memorize the faces in the crowd, etc.

Well, as Johnston explains in the in-your-face-let’s-defy-the-odds backmatter, here we have a bloody Brit writing an American comic book that should have widespread US and international appeal. It should have you instantly hooked, because of the way it can fuse (heh) two beloved genres and the best medium together to form a sci-fi cop comic, steeped lovingly in the pop culture parlance of those components. I’m thinking about all the books I currently read, and all the books I’m currently aware of, and I think I can honestly say without hyperbole that there’s nothing like The Fuse currently available. Image Comics has another hit on their hands. (This is sort of an off-topic premature aside, but I’ve been so excited since last week’s announcement that SyFy is developing a show based on Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli’s Vertigo series DMZ. You can palpably feel that potential here in The Fuse. Imagine that, DMZ on SyFy, Sunday nights at 8pm, followed by The Fuse at 9pm! It’d be some sort of closed room DS9 piece of entertainment, with Ristovych and Dietrich combing the back alleys of 1st Avenue for clues…) Grade A+.

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