The Fuse is basically Lethal Weapon in space, but it replaces Riggs and Murtagh with an aging, foulmouthed Russian woman and a young, laconic German man. Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood don’t re-invent the crime or science fiction genres, but they create a pair of interesting characters with different voices and give them an old fashioned serial killer mystery to solve. The Fuse #1 combines detective and science fiction tropes into a fun, tantalizing concoction. Greenwood creates a world that is The Wire inside Battlestar Galactica. He and colorist Shari Chankhamma make the action easy to follow and craft a diverse cast of characters with different skin tones and body shapes. They also sprinkle little clues in panels to move the mystery story along that will hopefully turn into something like Dave Gibbons’ visual foreshadowing Watchmen.
Even if the story could come from a very high concept episode of CSI, Johnston’s dialogue and characterization make up for a plot that occasionally veers into cliche procedural territory. However, Johnston subverts cliches in his pairing of the two protagonists: Dietrich and Klem. Klem is a hard-nosed veteran in the mold of Judge Dredd or Roger Murtaugh and spends a lot of her time verbally abusing Dietrich. She also flirts with him in a creepy manner. However, Dietrich is definitely not a rookie cop. He speaks little, but is a talented detective with homicide experience and immediately rushes to help a shooting victim when he arrives at the Fuse space station. Klem does get to push his buttons a lot, and Johnston excels at writing her snarky, almost to the point of annoying, dialogue. Greenwood and Chankhamma mute out the backgrounds to give Johnston room for his characters’ quick, witty dialogue. Even if the plot is slow to develop, Johnston and Greenwood have created a pair of compelling characters with a unique dynamic and conversation pattern. And Johnston is also careful to sprinkle some seeds of a mysterious past in both Dietrich and Klem’s speech.
Justin Greenwood is a masterful sequential storyteller. He plays with POVs and panel angles to focus the reader’s eyes on a particular object whether it’s Dietrich scowling at Klem or a developing blood trail. Greenwood eschews photorealism and gives his characters different feature and idiosyncrasies to make them stand out. For example, a fellow emigrant that Dietrich talks to on the shuttle to the Fuse has quite a prominent mole which complements her gross story about her first trip to the Fuse perfectly. Greenwood and colorist Chankhamma do a wonderful job mixing sci-fi and crime elements in their art without making things too awkward. The outside of the Fuse is sleek and futuristic, but the inside is gritty and urban. The lack of windows gives the story a cluttered, uneasy tone. Their visuals do most of the worldbuilding and quite a bit of the storytelling with most of the murder mystery clues being shown on panel and not talked about. Greenwood and Chankhamma’s ability to relate most of the plot allows Johnston to focus on things like characterization, instead of exposition. The Fuse #1 is a fairly straightforward crime story set in a populous and diverse space station with two entertaining leads and a great last page cliffhanger that hints at some horrifying things for Dietrich and Klem.