Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood's "The Fuse" #1 may not make my list of favorite #1 issues, but it does make my list of favorite starts to a series. (Is this a confusing designation? Yes, but bear with me. It's important.) "The Fuse" #1 isn't a wonderful self-contained story, it doesn't leave me begging for the next issue to come out, and it doesn't even make a real selling point for its premise. But it somehow gets every piece of the ongoing story started without rushing into or poorly executing any of them. I rarely come away from a #1 with such a clear idea of what I'll be getting month-to-month -- and so many reasons to look forward to it.
"The Fuse" is set up as a sci-fi procedural that follows new partners Dietrich and Klem through a satellite city orbiting 22,000 miles above the earth. With such an extraordinary premise, it's surprising that Johnston doesn't actually reveal much about what it's like to live on Midway City. Instead, he actually teases the audience's expectations for worldbuilding. When new arrival Dietrich asks what a "cabler" is, Klem begins to explain, "Same thing [as homeless], except…" but abruptly cuts off the info dump to get back to the case at hand.
The whole issue is designed this way, avoiding any explicit or extended descriptions. This is "lived-in" science fiction that develops itself slowly, through accumulation rather than explanation.
Greenwood builds the panels to accentuate this approach. He's always shifting viewpoints -- up from the ground, over characters' shoulders, beside a dying girl's boots -- so that the reader's eye has to focus on the details while the macro waves in and out. Characters vary in size, and faces change shape, but the small pieces remain clear. I may be getting too metaphorical here, but it's like the start of any investigation: the details are the only thing that's sure.
By far the highlight of the issue, though, is Klem's character design. With her pasty, dragging face and boxy, traditionally masculine body language, she eschews every sassy-lady-cop stereotype except for the foul language. Greenwood and Chankhamma draw her with the posture of a pallid schlub and the face of a half-dead general. Even when she leans against the wall with her arms crossed – a sassy-lady-cop pose if ever there was one – she just looks like a cryptkeeper who's had her tea spat in. It's wonderful.
Admittedly, when she's first introduced, her speech feels like contrivedly tough street talk. However, after she's said "bullshit" for about the 14th time, it begins to feel authentic. In real life, people who swear all the time aren't spicing their syntax with obscenity. They're limiting it. Klem's narrow vocabulary of surprise becomes kind of funny, and that finally makes it feel real.
Dietrich, on the other hand, remains a mystery. He can hold his own against Klem, and they're developing buddy-cop banter, but he's a pretty closed book for now. Still, it's clear from the visuals that this is going to be a series about partnerships. It was rare to see one of them speaking without the other's reaction clearly on view in the same panel.
I'm interested to see that partnership develop alongside the world it's in, and I'd bet that by Issue #5 "The Fuse" will be what everyone's talking about. Why not get a head start?