Page 45 Review by Stephen
And, lo, you shall have answers.
They won't be the ones you're expecting.
There will be no spoilers here for even the first three books of THE FUSE, for I am determined you should all leap on board for this, comics' most compelling crime-precinct procedure, homicide division. The big difference is that this particular precinct lies within an underfunded, patched-up, makeshift steel city on an energy platform orbiting 22,000 miles above terra firma.
There are no aliens here, only human anarchists, separatists, the disillusioned, the disowned, the overworked, the mentally fragile and those desperately seeking answers. It's packed with political power players and family fall-outs and each episode to date has contained several self-contained crimes for Russian Captain Klem Ristovych and new partner Detective Ralph Dietrich to solve through behavioural observation, forensic detail, systematic deduction, and re-evaluation when conflicting evidence comes unexpectedly to light.
All the while, however, another conflict - a potential conflict of interests - has lurked in the side-lines for do you remember where we began in THE FUSE VOL 1?
"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 Detective Ralph Dietrich is fucked back on Earth?
On paper Klem's new partner was a catch. Aged 28 with a 75% case clearance rate over three years in Munich, Detective Ralph Dietrich would be shooting up the ranks back on Earth. So why was he the first cop ever to volunteer for this deeply undesirable gig?
Clue: he wasn't fucked back on Earth. But now he's probably fucked on The Fuse.
From the writer of THE COLDEST WINTER, WASTELAND and UMBRAL and the artist of Greg Rucka's STUMPTOWN, I guarantee you total immersion within a mere page or two in spite of its unusual location. As I've detailed in depth in all my reviews of THE FUSE, one of Johnston's great strengths here is a refusal to invent for its own sake. The neologisms are scant as are the technological upgrades wherever unnecessary. Why would the interior of an interplanetary passenger ship be significantly different to the current aisles of its aircraft equivalent when we've already mastered vacuum-sealed flight and a balance between comfort and space? Greenwood too keeps it familiar or - as the kids used to say - "real" for the shopping streets lined with pavement and the cafe-strewn, leafy parks which look like any other until you look up at the next deck above.
This leaves the writer, line artist and colour artist Shari Chankhamma (see CODENAME: BABOUSHKA) free to concentrate on where the real splashes should occur, like Level 44's Earthlight experience where citizens can float together in zero-gravity while lying back and bathing in the shared beauty that is planet Earth when seen from space.
Oh dear God, that celestial lighting! I don't know about you, but I would spend every waking, non-working moment there!
This is where Ralph finds Klem at the beginning of this book, contemplating her well earned retirement on Mars. It won't come without family complications, but it will finally relieve Klem of the day-in, day-out, non-stop pressures of policing a place which can be an all-too trapped-in tinderbox of exasperation, desperation and detonation. No wonder her hair has gone white.
Now, I promised you no spoilers, but I'm resolved all the same to highlight Johnston's forethought when it comes to this instalment's tensions. Because detonation is once more determined to be a real, present and urgent danger, but then it has been before when it turned out to be a hoax. Johnston set that up way back then in order to wrong-foot some of his protagonists now. Specifically - without naming names - individuals' reactions to prior crises might either inform their current actions or shine a culpable-looking light on their motivations, proclamations or practices.
There is so much more which I want to impress upon you (please see prior reviews), but I'm hoping you can infer from that paragraph alone that your creators have made this all far from obvious. It's so easy, isn't it, to make the newcomer Ralph fallible and so the butt of his more mature, resident, all-knowing, no-nonsense Captain? But what if she's made a mistake? If she read him wrong about being fucked back on Earth, then who knows what other presumptuous miscalculations she's made, both perilously closer to her familial home and abroad?
I'm afraid this isn't going to end well for anyone.