3.17.2014

The Fuse #2 [Advance Review]

The Fuse #2 (Image): Do you guys remember in the Firefly and Serenity ‘verse, how part of Joss Whedon’s foundational world-build was to postulate that the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China eventually moved past some global conflict as long-standing opposed superpowers and formed a centralized government, an alliance which led to the fusion of American and Chinese cultures? It dramatically shaped the world and altered everything from architecture and signage, to clothing style, to the speech patterns, to the mixed-race composition of society, to the lingering grudges that existed in the universe. I’m wondering if writer Antony Johnston’s backstory world-build for The Fuse includes something similar. I find it interesting how there is subtle tension between Russia and Germany, most obviously represented in the two lead characters – less apparent by how certain cities are referred to, as if some alt future timeline spun out of WWII, or another future conflict that locked these two countries in contention as humans went to the orbital. That’s just me thinking out loud.

Johnston, artist Justin Greenwood, colorist Shari Chankhamma, and letterer Ed Brisson continue this “CSI: Galactica” genre blender of police procedural and old-school sci-fi, delivering firmly on the narrative promise that the first issue introduced. Ristovych and Dietrich investigate what looks like a series of connected homicides, one that leads them right to the steps of city hall, and they quickly get swept up into a larger world of politicized campaign mayhem as local elections appear to be looming. It’s a nice move that shows there’s a larger world humming along that extends beyond the immediate beat of our two cops. I’ve lauded Johnston in the past for not insulting reader’s intelligence and expositing information, but I’ll admit that the unexplained acronyms might get a touch thick at times, with your FGUs and your FLF and your MFC and all, but it’s almost like he’s doing it deliberately now, showing that you can avoid handing your audience EVERYTHING and they’ll still be able to follow along and discern meaning. I mean, FLF and MFC are surely opposed political bodies, so do we really need to parse the exact words the acronyms stand for? It’s an interesting writing dynamic to watch unfold. My mind is always drawn to the smallest detail, like the term “Saturday special” being used. Typically you’d see a cheap gun used in a crime referred to as a “Saturday night special” planet-side. Johnston is too skilled a writer to make a casual mistake, so I’m guessing it’s deliberate because there’s no “night” in space(?).

The police work is spot-on in this issue, essentially the two detectives spend the entire issue canvassing the station, doggedly working leads, some which run to dead ends, and some which pan out and blow up, all of which need to be followed as part of a thorough investigative process. Johnston is good at depicting cops who are essentially profiling victims and perps, trying to get into their mindset and figure out the sequence of things in order to explain their actions (because timeline leads to causality leads to motive leads to identity). I enjoy the subtle sci-fi clues, like the characters talking to their personal computers, ala ST:TNG, a kind of future setting shorthand. I also really dug the campaign manager giving crafty feedback to the video feed, it reminded me of those smart Aaron Sorkin scenes in The West Wing when Sam and Josh would be prepping Bartlett for a speech or a debate. Johnston is always good about weaving in social issues, whether it’s class distinctions with white collar politicians, blue collar cops, or no collar cablers, effort to show multiple ethnicities and locales during the course of the investigation, dropping references to the ’97 race riots, or weighing the pros and cons of the surveillance state, always done naturally via dialogue. It’s not just an empty crime caper, there’s a bounty of relevant ideas to chew on, which is fitting for a place that feels like a floating Manhattan.

Justin Greenwood’s artistic ability seems to get better and better with each successive project. He’s become an expert at visual storytelling and drawing the reader’s eye around the page in a lively way, in what could otherwise basically amount to a boring talking heads issue. There’s so much diversity in his shots, the high camera position in the ME’s office, low angle shots of mysterious conversations, hitting silent story beats for emphasis on a reaction, long zero point perspective shots, staging talking characters in the foreground and background so that there’s two layers of “action” occurring in panel, or setting up Chankhamma to deliver things like high contrast fluctuations between white spaces and crisp colors, or the way the shadows fall ominously in Yuri’s office, partially obscuring him (and what he’s saying) in darkness. The best example of this symphony is probably the beautiful point-counterpoint of inset panels as Ristovych and Dietrich deduce the mystery (and build rapport based on skill in the process). It’s a very well balanced page. The Fuse is an ideal stepping stone into Johnston’s larger body of work, come for the high concept hook, but stay for the quality of craft on display. Grade A.

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