Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s “The Fuse” really gets moving in its third issue. Johnston makes it clear that he isn’t building a slow-burning procedural here, as Klem and Dietrich are hit with a new lead, twist or reveal on almost every page. Their fast-paced investigation is filled with the requisite soap-opera drama and tight pacing, so the procedural element of “The Fuse” feels much more prevalent than the science fiction element. Overall, it gives the story greater urgency, but a bit less uniqueness.
Klem and Dietrich are still excellent anchors for the series. They’re stable and likeable, and it takes both Johnston and Greenwood to make that happen. Admittedly, Klem puts more of her personality on show. She makes more of the wisecracks and sidebar comments, which thankfully don’t feel stale or stereotypical because Greenwood gives her such a self-aware, self-satisfied smirk whenever she’s doing so. (I can easily forgive a tired genre convention if the character looks like she’s in on it.) Greenwood also gives a spark to Dietrich’s straight-man routine, drawing him with a wonderful I-suppose-I’ll-indulge-you face. Their personalities add to the story without distracting from the investigation, and that’s a tough balance to pull off.
Greenwood’s character faces still change shape sometimes, though. For now, it isn’t posing any story problems, but it could be an issue if there are ever too many characters of the same race, hairstyle and gender in the same room. Luckily, that doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon, as “The Fuse” happily takes place in a future where every character isn’t white and male.
That said, the “future” element doesn’t play very prominently in this issue. Johnston rarely info dumps when world-building, so I’m not surprised he doesn’t do so here, but at this point the setting feels underused. Now, I’m not advocating full-blown space opera; the future of “The Fuse” feels very much like the present, and that’s a well-tested, effective approach to science fiction. However, I would like to see a sense of place better integrated into the story. One doesn’t need laser guns and aliens to establish a sense of place, and right now “The Fuse” feels as if it could be taking place anywhere.
In the absence of an anchoring location, though, Klem and Dietrich’s investigation is certainly on solid ground. Johnston makes it feel as if these two are racing against the clock, and even though much of the information is delivered via conversation, shifting perspectives from Greenwood and sharp choices by Brisson inject these scenes with a sense of forward motion.
Of course, a lot of these reveals are rather dramatic — someone is cheating, someone has a secret sibling, etc. — and so they seem like obvious red herrings. With less skillful executions, these over-the-top plot points might be too absurd, but the reveals are couched in realistic dialogue and subdued reactions, so they work.
In sum, “The Fuse” is crackling right along, but it hasn’t quite sparked. Still, it’s building so smartly and steadily that I definitely want to be around when it does.