Crime is one of comics’ most storied genres, and in order to eke out a space to call their own any new books in this crowded field need to offer something not seen before, or provide readers with an experience that is compelling enough to override any familiarity. With The Fuse, writer Antony Johnson and artist Justin Greenwood and company have manage to hit both of these crucial marks, and emphatically so. Set on Midway City, a huge Earth-orbiting power generator, the story follows Detective Dietrich, transferred to the local police force and whose new job kicks in immediately he sets foot aboard, as does his initially awkward partnership with local veteran Ristovych. This first issue finds the two cops warily circling one another; the youngster keen but naïve, and the jaded old hand providing the insight into their strange world.
Though distinctive personalities, Dietrich and Ristovych, share a commitment to and focus on their work that would feel as fitting if they were sleuthing the streets in deerstalkers at the turn of the 20th century as it does in a future world such as this. The dynamic is a familiar one for a good reason, and in the exotic setting this touchstone helps the reader step wholeheartedly into the environment Johnson and Greenwood have conjured. The two detectives are the classical elements at the heart of a fresh idea and a true strength of the book.
Equally, the blend of science fiction and crime may not be wholly new, but what sets The Fuse apart from other titles is that alongside the pitch-perfect development of its central protagonists it displays a rarely seen subtleness in its world-building. Johnson is no stranger to constructing realms and filling them with detail; his long-running Wasteland saga and Umbral, his recent series via Image, both display this deft touch at creating rich sandboxes in which his characters’ adventures play out. Here, there is less revelling in the odd setting, and instead the mechanics of its social order and day-to-day are explored.
Alongside Greenwood and two of the talented team from the brilliant series Sheltered, colourist Shari Chankhamma and letterer Ed Brisson, Johnson makes Midway City feel like a tangible place, one that despite the fantastic concept is believable, yet promises (and, in some sense threatens) to be filled with dark secrets, which due to its unique nature, are wholly unpredictable.
Greenwood’s art is sharp and clear, recalling more his previous contribution to Action Lab’s Ghost Town series than his work on Wasteland, linking excellently with Chankhamma’s colouring, with the busy street scenes featuring unnatural looking ‘skies’ a highlight, heightening the odd appearance of this floating city-in-a-tube.
The introduction of the central mystery hints at very real issues present in society today, such as the view and treatment of those seen as ‘The Other,’ filtered through the prism of Midway City. Needless to say, murder is afoot, and with several quirks unique to the situation, how such deeds were carried out and will be now be dealt with is tied into the very fabric of this fascinating book.
The Fuse is an unusual, engaging and rewarding read, containing everything needed to get you hooked in a comic. A new idea hung skilfully on a classic set up, this book is another in an increasingly long line of first-rate monthly titles from Image, and is a stand-out even within such an illustrious stable.
The Fuse is released this Wednesday, 12th February