In the latest issue of The Fuse, written by Antony Johnston with art by Justin Greenwood, colors by Shari Chankamma and letters by Ed Brisson, we jump right into the investigation of yet another murder as Klem (who has obviously seen Blade Runner) and Dietrich comb Birch's apartment for clues. While the evidence points to a clean and clear case of suicide, Klem isn't sold. She has Dietrich do some digging on the employees at the mayor's office, she meets up with Leo, the mayor's campaign manager and (surprise twist) her son. They hash out some family drama thinly veiled as work related conversation which ends with Leo declaring his allegiance to his career choice and the mayor, and Klem literally hanging her head in shame. Meanwhile, we learn a little bit more about the FLF, the history of the Fuse, and Dietrich's multi-tasking skills. Klem returns to the office, her intuition is proven correct and the killer is one step closer to being caught. But Dietrich makes the mistake of not listening to Klem's advice from the past few issues, and it could mean he's in for a very bad night.
The characterization in this issue has to be its highest point. Everybody has a history and motivations that make them feel like real breathing people. Johnston does a spectacular job of giving each of the characters individual voices that bounce off one another in organic and entertaining ways. The partnership of Dietrich and Klem probably best encapsulates this. Their relationship is nothing new. Klem is the hardened vet cop and Dietrich is the rookie who has to learn how “things are done differently here”. It's cliché, sure, but Johnston makes it enjoyable. Justin Greenwood is equally responsible with his excellent work on faces. Klem has the lines of someone who has seen some serious shit. She's also so stoic and scowly she almost comes across as uncaring. But Johnston proves that theory wrong with his dialogue. A great bit happens when she's having coffee with Leo in the park. He makes a remark about how his job is better than if he were selling drugs down by the grav tanks. They have a quick back and forth and then, still scowling, with a raised eyebrow, she asks how he knows where the drug dealers hang out. It's a great moment of her being both a mother and a detective that shows she isn't entirely made of one mindset (similar though they may be). Similarly, Dietrich is drawn with such a fresh face that practically shouts newbie cop. He doesn't have the same worry lines that Yuri, Rocky, and Jenn have. He's new and inexperienced. He also maintains a level of otherness with his repeated use of his native German. It's only the occasional word or two, but it effectively keeps him on the outskirts of both the characters and the city. He's not familiar with the way things work here, and, though he's trying his best to learn, he's also a bit defiant in his methods. This is what leads him down the ducts to the cablers and possibly to a world of hurt.
The world of Midway is just as vibrant as its inhabitants. Greenwood gives the background such an immense amount of detail while maintaining a simplicity that keeps the reader in the action. Things are both futuristic and relatable (At one point I'm pretty sure Dietrich is just using an iPad). The park scene is, again, a great example of this as well. The scene is of a mother and son getting coffee in the park. The bushes and trees and other people make the scene feel so real that it's easy to forget that it takes place on an orbiting space station. The ceiling of the park and the tube that runs through the panel reminds us of the setting but don't take away any of the verisimilitude. The simplicity of all of the offices that a good chunk of the story takes place in helps as well. The introduction of locations through subtitles is a nice touch for providing a sense of the familiar á la Law & Order. It also works to remind the reader of the hierarchy of the levels of Midway. Though we don't travel too far in this issue, it's interesting to note where certain things are located in relation to one another. Like how the Medical Examiner's office is located three levels away from the actual police precinct (as well as the park and the mayor's office). Chankamma's colors are another aspect that give the world a familiar and genuine feel. The way she uses shadows to give panels greater depth is amazing. Nothing feels flat, not even things in the far background. There's a great depth of field at play here that conflicts with just how confined everything really is. It once again makes it easy to forget that this all takes place on a space station. When Dietrich goes into the tunnels (and becomes even more confined), Chankamma's shadow work oozes with a sense of tension. But the panels are so beautiful it almost catches you off guard when the expected happens.
The police procedural is nothing new to the world of comics, but The Fuse definitely stakes its claim as one of the more interesting. Both the setting and the characterization provide a great ride down familiar territory that feels fresh and exciting. Klem and Dietrich are an Unlikely Partnership that I would love to see solve case after case after case. The rest of the supporting cast all stand their own ground as individuals that make up a lush backdrop for giving this science fiction world a dose of realism. The case doesn't seem any closer to being solved, but it also doesn't need to be. Not yet anyway. For now, the focus on the characters and the background of Midway are enough to keep the story going strong. Wherever the series is going, it's in the right direction and I can't wait for more.