All of the factors are in place for The Fuse to be a top-notch comic book. Image comics has been on a successful run of releases since early last year. The writer has a previous credit with the like of Alan Moore (Fashion Beast); the writer and artist have worked with each other before on a long-running book (Wasteland); the colorist, Ed Brisson, is a writer on his own book for Image (Sheltered). Even with all of these credits, I can not help but wonder: what happened to make “The Fuse #1” such a lackluster book?
From the notes in the back of the first issue, Antony Johnston tells us that his main inspiration for the book is the police procedural that we have come to know. Your Law and Order spin-offs of various kinds, your CSI: (insert increasingly obscure city). So, if this is the case, there are going to be heavy genre tropes we should come to expect. But the twist here is that this version of that show takes place on a space station filled to the brim with people who either “messed up on earth or messed up on earth.” It is at this point that I must confess that I absolutely love a good cop show. True Detective is my favorite show on TV right now. Even in my worst moments, a good Criminal Minds isn’t above my taste. Being completely frank about the situation, Law and Order: SVU is a human version of catnip for me. But, here, this book fails to hook me based on any of what I’ve come to know and love about a good cop story. It is all too clunky, too fast, and too convenient from moment to moment.
Right from the start, we are introduced to the new detective assigned to The Fuse via a quaint back-and-forth on a transport vehicle. A device used since the likes of Kojak this is the moment we as the reader should begin to understand who this person is. Well, he is a German man named Dietrich, he is in his late twenties, and he has never been to Space before. Given that revelation, one would expect the reveal of the The Fuse to feel somewhat grandiose. Instead, it feels a lot like landing at the airport with a hint of German thrown in for good measure. We are not told what The Fuse is, why it was built, who runs this massive facility, or why we should care that it exists at all. All we know, up to this point, is that someone killed a homeless man, a German person is now on board, and he has volunteered to work as a homicide detective. While Dietrich is still at the main entrance of the space station, a bloody “cabler” (what I assume is slang on The Fuse for a homeless person) falls down, dead from an apparent stab wound. Let me be clear: the main character hasn’t even gotten off of the phone with his new boss before there is a death. This is also a device very common to the weekly murder mystery show. You think you’re seeing one thing (Dietrich) but, instead, you’re now focused on another (the dead body).
When Dietrich meets his new parter, Kel, things are, at the very best, convenient in both the timing and set-up. The clumsy Age vs. Ambition / Eager New Blood vs. the Hard-Boiled Vet dynamic is executed in a way that is so telegraphed it might as well have ended each sentence with “stop” instead of a period. Klem, Dietrich’s new partner, was there to retrieve the rookie Detective, but they both ended up working their first case together. Right there in the terminal. Terminal. Get it? How comical.
In reality, the entire sequence—from Dietrich getting off of his space plane to the pair of sleuths finally arriving at the Police Station—felt like low-level TV. I must reiterate that this is what the writer wants. But as a watcher of these programs, I also know that there is a drop-off in quality from show to show. Sometimes that drop-off is severe. Since this is a first issue, it really isn’t quite clear yet where this comic book places itself within that ladder.
Now, for some more familiar crime show stuff. There’s even an uncooperative witness behind a plate glass service window who won’t help unless threatened, a red-herring clue that lasts all but a few panels, and an ever-so convenient trail of blood that leads them right to a sweet spot for the case. All without a single obstacle and plenty of dry wit: not in a Benson and Stabler kind of way, but more of a Munch and Fin kind of way. On a bad day. A “one take and we’re on to the next scene” kind of day.
Dietrich asks of the Captain why there aren’t any other detectives at the precinct to help with the cabler murders. This, of course, is met with thunderous laughter from both the Captain and Klem. Other detectives? Why, it is just you and your partner. Didn’t you see that coming from the very beginning? Yes, Dietrich and Klem are part of what’s known as “The Russia Shift.” If you are anything like myself, you might be wondering why The Russia Shift is called The Russia Shift. But you would be a fool to wonder that because an explanation does not come. Anyway, on to the next thing.
From this point on, we are hit with a lot of clichéd dialogue between partners about why Dietrich volunteered to be on The Fuse. Naturally, anyone who is on The Fuse is there because they are running away from something on Earth. Nothing else. The cliff-hanger we are left with is the body of yet another murdered cabler. It seems like there is a serial killer on the loose in a pressurized facility orbiting the Earth. Here’s to hoping things get more interesting.
I am not one to give negative reviews, nor do I take my reviews lightly. I was excited to see how a crime procedural gelled with science fiction and so far what I have seen does not hit any of the right notes. The art is good, but it did not stand out. The writing is average. The setting itself is totally wasted and barely even touched on. To me, the biggest point is missed altogether: THERE IS A SERIAL KILLER ON A PRESSURIZED SPACECRAFT! Has this ever happened before? Why is no one mentioning that very, very important piece of information? Is The Fuse the kind of place where one should expect the homeless to be murdered in the street? Why are people cracking jokes? Who are these people? I must say it pains me to do this, but I must be honest about how this book made me feel. A first issue should hook someone in. This feels like business as usual in a business that isn’t doing so great.
This is a 4.5/10
Mike Sains is a Staff Writer at Capeless Crusader. When he isn’t writing, he’s podcasting at various places online. When he isn’t podcasting, he’s collecting comic books, FunkoPop! figures, and vinyl records. You can hear him on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys, The Tower of Sour, and The Inverse Delirium, all available on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @MikeSains.