Those who know me (and anyone who reads these articles) knows that I have a deep abiding love of Ed Brubaker’s writing. In large part, this is because Brubaker takes a genre which I tend to have relatively little interest in (crime/noir) and brings such depth and intensity to it that I fall in love despite myself. The style of The Fuse, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Justin Greenwood is similar in its draw. If you pitched me the idea of a police procedural taking place in a space station 22,000 miles above the Earth, I’d be curious but skeptical. Police procedurals aren’t exactly a rare breed even in the graphic novel world and it’s been done incredibly well by some very talented creators (Gotham Central immediately comes to mind) The Fuse takes the standard elements of a police procedural and rather than re-inventing, breathes new, intriguing life into them. This ongoing series is published by Image (seriously, they have all the most brilliant non-superhero comics) and is currently at 22 issues (3 collected volumes). If you like science fiction and a little detective work, I’ve got a recommendation for you.
The Fuse is the story of two police detectives, Ralph Dietrich, and Klem Ristovych who are responsible for ensuring law and order on The Fuse, an orbiting energy platform that has been jury rigged together into what’s known as Midway City. Ralph Dietrich is the newbie on the block, a hotshot German cop whose record has been spotless and who clearly has some secret in his past driving him to travel up into space to the unknown elements of the Fuse. When he’s paired with veteran Fuse cop Klem Ristovych, nothing goes exactly as planned. From the first moment that the two meet, it’s pretty clear they don’t see eye to eye. Dietrich even manages to insult Klem before even catching her name. This rookie/veteran set-up seems trite and like every other buddy cop thing you’ve ever seen or read, but somehow Johnston and Greenwood pull it off perfectly. As Dietrich and Klem get pulled into a rather sticky situation involving the sudden deaths of some “cablers” (the Fuse’s version of homeless people), things go from bad to worse and the detectives’ own connections draw them deeper and deeper into the mess. Klem and Dietrich have to figure out who they can trust in a city full of vagabonds, never an easy task. And that’s just in volume one! The following volumes have the detectives dealing with underground racing syndicates, terrorism and the advent of Perihelion, the day that the Fuse station is closest to the Sun and one in which the Fuse goes a little mad.
As I mentioned previously, it’s really the characterization and intensity of the Fuse that make it such a brilliant story. While space cops investigating murders and underground racing rings does sound interesting, I don’t think the plotlines in the series are particularly ground breaking. What makes the story so good is that Klem and Dietrich aren’t just cardboard cutouts of their particular roles. Sure, Klem is gruff and takes no shit from anybody, especially not her newbie partner, but she’s more than that. She’s a mother whose son is entangled in things she doesn’t approve of, a woman whose stubbornness and temper lead her into all kinds of trouble, and a cop so old that everyone jokes about death being her retirement. She’s fascinatingly faceted and Dietrich has his own dark secrets. The combination of the two makes for some compelling interactions that bring new life to a relatively tired genre. And the characterization isn’t just limited to the main characters. There’s depth to the side characters and those weaving in and out of the crimes that I honestly am not used to seeing outside of a Brubaker story. The artwork is also brilliant. It relies on an impressionistic style that is stays largely with a neutral palette which allows the depth of the characters to really come through and for the violence to seem like an aberration rather than just a gory mess. The combination of the two creators is one that should not be missed. Also, the humor is pretty damn spot on and exactly as grim as you’d expect.
If you enjoy science fiction at all, I can’t help but want to shove The Fuse in your face. It’s a brilliantly written and brilliantly illustrated story which takes familiar elements and makes them fascinating. It’s full of fun, dark little secrets and all the corruption and crime you could want out of a space procedural. Image Comics has made a reputation of having series which take some risks and push boundaries and I am very pleased to say that The Fuse, while not ground breaking, is one of the better crime stories that I’ve read in a long time. Go check it out!