by Antony Johnston, Justin Greenwood, and Shari Chankhamma
At one point in the first issue of The Fuse the perspective shifts and the audience sees Midway City for what it really is. The setting is a capsule city floating in space in the orbit of Earth. This creates a very interesting additional layer to the story at play in this new series. From Antony Johnston comes a police procedural with a lot of elements that play with what is expected for such stories. The beats are spot on, and the dynamic of the leads is exactly what is necessary to bring readers into the universe. With The Fuse #2, the world takes a little more shape and everything laid out in issue one only gets stronger.
Ralph Dietrich and Klem Ristovych are a great pair, which is not to say they are great partners or even good partners. Instead, Johnston has taken the approach of the old veteran and the new guy. Having the crass vet played by a woman is a great choice. Not only does it avoid feeling too derivative, but it’s also not a role often written for a woman, and for no real reason. The character of Ristovych feels organic. She is blunt, set in her ways, and completely unimpressed by her new, young partner. As for him, there is clearly something amiss. According to Ristovych, no one takes a gig out here. When a cop shows up for work there, it is typically as punishment or because they are escaping something.
Police procedurals are a hard sell for a couple reasons. Firstly, the audience is trained to be most focused on the case. While the detectives carry the story from scene to scene, the investigation trumps. But what Johnston has managed to do is make the story here as much about the characters as it is about the case. Readers are invested and interested in the leads of this story very quickly. By creating a connection to the people on the case, the stories those characters are involved in are not the primary draw. Johnston establishes several mysteries around the world of these detectives and these many questions are as engaging as the urge to solve the case.
The other major reason that a procedural is hard to make engaging and demanding of the audience’s attention is its knack for finding resolution too rapidly. Johnston, here, has created a slower burn. With The Fuse, there is no a rush to the finish. The world and the crimes are a much more deliberate and paced evolution. The slow build is incredibly well handled, and though the setting is one of science fiction, the design and elements of the case and story are rooted in recognizable territory. Johnston balances a fine line between new and familiar to satisfy and even challenge readers to find a solution without becoming either too simple or too complex.
Accompanied by Justin Greenwood and Shari Chankhamma on art duties, this is a great book. It looks gritty, almost muddied at times, but manages to keep the environment and its elements quite relatable. Crime drama is not often a genre tackled in comics. Johnston addresses this in the back of issue one, pointing out that it seems a strange thing to avoid. Whatever the reason might be, Johnston has given readers a reason to think again, and The Fuse is well worth a read.