Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Only two kinds of police volunteer for The Fuse. Guys who are fucked back on Earth and guys who are fucked back on Earth!"
Do you think Dietrich is fucked back on Earth?
From the writer of WASTELAND, UMBRAL and THE COLDEST CITY!
On paper Klem's new partner in The Fuse's Homicide Department is a catch. Aged 28 with a 75% case clearance rate over three years in Munich, he would be shooting up the ranks back on Earth. So why has he volunteered for an understaffed police department in an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma? We don't know yet. We do that that making friends with veteran Klem will prove difficult.
"Short for "Klementina". You assumed I'd be a guy."
"I assumed you would not be old enough to retire."
"And I assumed you would be too old for High School."
For a German, Dietrich can sure hold his own in a sharp-tongued bout of American verbal sabres. Let's see how good he is at being thrown in at the deep end when a Cabler - one of The Fuse's reclusive homeless - staggers out of the darkness and falls dead in front of him. In her pocket are a phone card which Cablers don't use and an electronic card for a shuttleport locker which Cablers can't afford.
Almost immediately a second Cabler falls flat on his face with a similarly fatal wound right outside Midway City Hall, dropping a gun with two empty chambers. And that's an odd direction to head in. Inside Mayor Rocky Swanson is preparing for re-election by practising his speech craft:
"As you probably know, I lost my family in the riots of '97."
""Fires of '97". FLF will fall on any violent imagery. Add "like most of you". Inclusive, even nostalgic."
"When I needed help, Midway City took me in. Raised me, educated me, even sent me to college. This city became my family."
"More vulnerable. Build up to the defiance."
"Now, like any family
Sure we argue from time to time. We don't always agree on how to get things done."
""Argue around the dinner table". Like normal people."
Oh, there will be family arguments all right. Did I mention that the phone card was used to contact the City Hall twice? And the riots
? They were race riots. There's plenty of hard politics here along with a murder mystery which, in spite of hard-won leads, will confound Klem and Dietrich almost to the end.
Aside from the term "Cabler" which I promise you proves contextual, there's barely a piece of the neologistic slang which always make me wince. (I liked the "Fuck a spaceman!" swear of exasperation or surprise.) Nor is there much in the way of futuristic design for the sake of it. The space shuttle interior is identical to a regular passenger aircraft's. Why wouldn't it be? We've already spent decades perfecting its functionality and design. The only difference is in docking: passengers are advised to be awake when the airlock's thrown open or they're likely to throw up.
Similarly, unlike many a space station full of free-standing stalls, the shopping streets are precisely that: streets with window-fronted shops, raised pavements and everything. This is all so familiar, creating a contrast all the more striking when you peer out of the passenger window to gawp at the sheer majesty of the five-mile-wide energy platform, shining in the night lie a gigantic electrical fuse.
Justin Greenwood and colourist Shari Chankhamma make the most of that moment, just as Justin makes the most of the crowd scenes and different physicalities: handsome, sprightly, dark-skinned Dietrich partnered with silver-haired, duty-worn Klem who has evidently seen so little sunlight of late that she is virtually an albino. No one looks particularly healthy - they're all slightly wan - and you wait until you see where and how the Cablers live in their vertical shanty-town shafts of precarious metal ledges.
Let's not forget another of Johnston's passions: design. This is a classily designed comic whose cover doubles as a quick lesson in orbital physics, while subsequent chapter breaks are variations on that big, bold theme, all retaining its circular motif.
There were a couple of spreads I had to read twice, their top- tier panel layouts having failed to alert me that I needed to read right across the double page before dropping down (top tip: make sure the centre panel of that top tier is spread evenly over the crease, please) but that's the VAT-man in me determined in find at least one fault in what's otherwise perfection.
Antony proved himself a world-builder par excellence in UMBRAL without spewing it clumsily and messily at your feet all at once. Similarly here you're left to learn the history and politics (office and otherwise) gradually and in manageable bursts as newcomer Dietrich does. He's going to make mistakes. They all are.
Lieutenant Yuri Brachyinov:
"I hope we've all learned a valuable lesson today, or some other bullshit. Now get out there and solve these fucking murders."