COMIC REVIEW: The Fuse

Some science fiction is about grand ideas or warnings about humanity’s current path. Some science fiction features other types of story simply set in the future (or alternative universe). Take The Fuse for example. Essentially, it’s a crime thriller – almost noir-ish – set on the titular space-station. But is it more than a cross-genre story? Certainly, the premise set up by writer Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood is one to pique the interest.

“THE RUSSIA SHIFT,” Part One Working homicide 22,000 miles up on an orbiting energy platform, in a five-mile-long jury-rigged steel city stuffed with a half million people, with no help from your so-called colleagues back on Earth, is more than tough…it’s murder! Cynical, foul-mouthed veteran ANTONY JOHNSTON (UMBRAL, Wasteland) gets partnered with fresh-faced idealist JUSTIN GREENWOOD (Wasteland, Resurrection) for a new crime series with attitude! Murder, mayhem, and mystery—22,000 miles straight up.

The future (as it tends to be in these things, or there’d be no story) is a bit grim. Dystopian even. Despite the obvious cultural and technological advances, social nightmares such as crime, poverty and homelessness still prevail. Hence the need for our police protagonists. Dietrich get’s himself transferred to Midway City within The Fuse, from Germany, which none of his new colleagues can quite believe. But before he can settle, a body turns up and he’s thrust into the mystery with a new partner; the aging but not old Klem RisF1tovych. She’s not like any female detective you’ve come across before, which probably hints at a world of closer gender equality. The Fuse is very good at hinting about the future it inhabits as opposed to putting panels of narrative exposition across the book. The worldbuilding takes place slowly, both as Dietrich learns more about life in the space-bound city and the detectives put together the pieces of the crime. Homeless are described as cablers early on, but it is quite a while before the reader finds out why. This is a standard crime technique – the reader finding out the plot alongside the detectives – but in the case of introducing a new universe, it adds a welcome dimension.

Politics hasn’t changed much however, and this is the key to the story. While it’s dressed up as a crime or noir thriller and looks like a bleak neo-noir futurescape, it is a human story about power and family. The mayor is a major character, somehow linked to the murder, and when the reveals come towards the end, even though the clues are laid out, it doesn’t seem overly obvious.

However, come the finale, I wasn’t quite sure I believed the motivations of the main characters. As mentioned clues are laid along the way, but not all lead to the unexpected ending. This means that the storytelling wasn’t clear enough, it doesn’t make the sense the author intended, or it just isn’t quite good enough. I can’t figure about which. I suspect that Antony Johnston’s script does indeed follow a coherent path, but I wasn’t gripped enough either by the stories or the characters to follow closely enough. Both lead detectives are fairly cliché free with interesting back-stories but the rest of the characters (murder victim 1 excepted) are unfortunately on the forgettable side. The narrative is Johnston’s skill, however. He manages to tell the story, with an interesting universe, without bundles of exposition or narration within the panels. The Fuse feels like a believable place to set the future in.

The art by Justin Greenwood (along with colourist Shari Chankhamma) is the book’s strength. The visual characterising is a refreshing departure from most science fiction (especially the always interesting looking Klem), and the city itself is proper grungy. As something that might be labelled as neo-noir, not seeing Bladerunner in every panel is excellent. The panels have a cinematic feel to them, as if created by a director as opposed to an artist. Maybe the feel of a neon-free future also comes from a combination of muted colours throughout and a propensity in background free panels (in other words, just the gradient). It feels dirty when it needs to and futuristic when it needs to.

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The creators worked together on the post-apocalyptic comic series Wasteland and they clearly have a strong vision of the future. This book collects six issues of The Fuse under the heading Vol.1: The Russia Shift. Throughout the book, this subtitles hovers around the back of your mind but you don’t really know why it has this name. All is, thankfully, revealed towards the end, before the final couple of pages set up the next collection. The Fuse isn’t just a buddy-cop noir that happens to be set in the future, but a decent stab at proper science fiction with ideas about politics and families in the future. If anything, it’s the procedural elements that let it down. Another very nice distraction from Image Comics, all the same.

The Fuse Volume 1: The Russia Shift will be in comic book stores on August 27 and in bookstores on September 9. It is available for pre-order now.

Title: The Fuse

Publisher: Image Comics

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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