When you’re trying to describe something that is a hybrid of a couple different influences and/or genres, there’s always the risk of coming off as too clever and disappearing up your ass in the process. After all, what the hell does “Louis C.K. meets Robert E. Howard in a David Fincher universe” even mean? On the other hand, we have this new series from writer Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood which can be succinctly described as a near-future police procedural on a space station. Even if this doesn’t sound interesting to you, I’d still recommend giving it a shot. That’s because the creators have managed to tell an engaging, if flawed, story with some memorable characters in a very interesting setting.
Ralph Dietrich was a police officer in Munich before he requested a transfer to a place that just about any cop would give their right arm to avoid: The Fuse. A geostationary power plant 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface, it’s home to 500,000 people and is decidedly not crime-free. Dietrich finds that out soon enough when he arrives and sees a woman run out and drop dead in the middle of the shuttleport. Also arriving on scene is his partner Klem Ristovych, the oldest homicide detective on the Fuse and one not likely to leave her position until her bones are blasted out an airlock. They get on each others nerves right from the start, while another dead body is found right outside City Hall. Now Dietrich and Ristovych get to bond while working on a double homicide during the Russia shift.
Johnston has experience with worldbuilding in comics through his previous series “Wasteland.” I’ve read several volumes of it, but it never quite caught on with me to the point where I’ve been several volumes behind in reading it for a few years now. “The Fuse” gets off to a quicker, more accessible start thanks to its genre mash-up and the writer keeps the plot moving at a steady clip throughout the volume. It’s not a straightforward story, though attentive readers may be able to spot some of the twists and turns before they hit. Johnston does make the Fuse feel like a real place with its own history, problems, and social groups. The two victims were “cablers,” homeless vagrants who live in the walls of the station, while their murder has ties to a series of race riots that broke out on the station over twenty years ago. Based on what we’re told here, the Fuse has a fairly colorful history and I was left wanting to know more about it.
The characters that inhabit it do possess a certain familiarity, but they all have a certain chemistry that makes them work in the context of the story. Dietrich and Ristovych in particular come off as a great “odd couple” pairing with the former being the young, by-the-book, highly capable newcomer, and the latter being the rough, cynical, knows-how-things-really-work veteran. They rub each other the wrong way at first, but they’re both very good at what they do. It’s a lot of fun seeing how their skills complement each other and the way that they’re both on the same page when it comes to solving this case. Best seen when they finish each other’s sentences to advance the plot at certain points. The two detectives have their own secrets as well, along with the rest of the cast. While some of them are ferreted out here, there appear to be plenty more waiting to be revealed as the series goes on.
There is room for improvement in the future of “The Fuse” as well. Though I enjoyed seeing Dietrich and Ristovych’s dete
ctive work as they unravel the plot, everything comes down to a big “talking killer” scene in the final issue. Up to this point, Johnston had done a great job with showing the results of the detectives’ investigation that it’s disappointing to see him fall back on this trope to tell us everything in the end. While the writer’s dialogue is generally pretty serviceable throughout the story, there are also several bits of clunky exposition or interaction -- usually between the mayor and his wife -- that take you out of the story. Also, Greenwood does a pretty good job capturing the run-down yet still futuristic look of the Fuse and his art conveys the story well save for a few double-page spreads where it’s not immediately obvious how to follow the progression of panels. Though his rough style makes an interesting contrast with how clean most sci-fi comics tend to look, it sometimes lets him down with characters that come off as awkwardly posed or with expressions that either don’t quite match the context of the scene or convey something other than what’s indicated by the dialogue.
These issues are ultimately minor in the scope of the story being told here as I was still able to enjoy it in spite of them. Johnston and Greenwood have created an interesting world and cast that I want to know more about after reading this volume. It’s clear that they have a lot more to say about the Fuse, and that’s encouraging to know as I await the next volume in this series.