EXCLUSIVE: Johnston Takes "The Fuse" Into "Gridlock"

Fresh off the political intrigue of The Russia Shift, Midway City detectives Klem Ristovych and Ralph Dietrich waste no time before tackling another case in Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood's "The Fuse" -- the murder of a prominent illegal racing star, who also happens to be part of polite society. Well, as polite as things ever get aboard The Fuse, that is. The power station orbiting Earth from 22,000 miles is a treacherous place, and no one knows that better than MCPD's understaffed, overworked homicide division. Will Klem and Ralph be able to infiltrate the dangerous world of Gridlocking and catch their killer? Find out as "The Fuse" accelerates into its second arc.

With "The Fuse" #7 landing earlier this month, series writer Antony Johnston shared secrets about his wonderfully salty leading lady, the mysterious past of her partner and the connection he and artist Justin Greenwood have to street racing.

CBR News: Antony, you guys are picking The Fuse back up with "Gridlock" and it starts with a side of Midway City we haven't seen before -- an illegal sport, sharing its name with the new arc. What got you interested in exploring racing as part of this story?

Antony Johnston: Well, for one thing street style racing just appeals to me, both in real life and fiction. Few people are as excited as me for next year's "Furious 7," believe me!

I was thinking about pastimes on the Fuse, and what people might do for sport. Zero-g basketball could be fun, for example, and there's probably a baseball team. But the space to build arenas and tracks, for larger sports like racing, just isn't there.

Except on those mile-wide solar dishes. Flat and huge. Made of glass and steel. And we already established that all the vehicles on-station are maglev.

So as I thought about it, it seemed increasingly inevitable that thrillseekers would find some kind of use for them. So why not racing magnetic bikes?

What I didn't know at the time -- didn't find out until he began sketching designs, in fact -- is that Justin was immersed in the Bay Area street-racing scene himself when he was younger! That was an amazing coincidence, and I think it really helped with the design and feel of this story arc.

The aesthetics of Gridlocking -- from the suit to the vehicles -- is super cool. What was the design process with Justin like on that?

I gave Justin an outline of the story, so he had some context, and then encouraged him to make the whole racing scene reminiscent of street racing, with sleek suits, tricked-out bikes, and so on. I also sent some reference of easy rider-style biking, as I wanted the bikes to have that chopper feel to them -- because aerodynamics mean nothing in a vacuum.

Justin came back with almost perfect designs right from the start, very close to what you see in the final issue. It was actually one of the simplest design processes we've done for "The Fuse." Justin also added the "particle exhaust streams" to the bikes, which give the races a real kinetic feel.

The illegal aspect of it being tolerated, even by Klem, is interesting--how much of what goes on in Midway City is actually against the law but ignored? What are the other police units actually spending their time on? And are there any hard limits for what will/won't be tolerated?

We also see Lt Brachyinov basically let a suspect walk on a charge of pot possession in the same issue, which gives you some idea. There's a common-sense aspect to the MCPD, because they're so underfunded and undermanned, and some of that inevitably filters through into Fuse society.

The other divisions are what you'd expect in a PD -- narcotics, vice, gangs and organized crime, and so on. Normal beat patrol is the largest department, simply because opportunistic street crime is the most common kind on the Fuse. Oh, but there's no traffic division. Not enough civilian vehicles to warrant it.

Thinking about the procedural aspects of "The Fuse" -- the opening of issue #7, but also present in the previous arc, was pretty solid detective work and analysis. How deep do you get when you're planning this dialogue (I'm guessing this is a loaded question) and do you keep any kind of case files for upcoming story lines?

I get pretty deep into it. The nitty-gritty "detective work dialogue" is always the most heavily re-drafted. That dialogue has to explain the clue; put it in context of why it's important; outline whatever hypothesis or conclusion the detective can extrapolate from it; but not make things too obvious or give too much away to the reader.

Oh, and it has to do all that while sounding natural to the character, and being entertaining to read. So, you know. No pressure.

As for future cases, they're always in the back of my mind. I constantly make notes as ideas come to me.

The victim in this arc is an affluent young woman, and, like the previous arc I'm wondering how much social class plays into Gridlock. And where do Ralph and Klem fit into the class structure?

Social stratification doesn't play quite as much of a role in Gridlock as it did in The Russia Shift, but it's definitely a factor as the case begins to open up.

As for Klem and Ralph -- they're cops, so at the bottom of the social heap. *Everyone* looks down on cops. That's why Klem doesn't like to play her FGU card too much -- she knows it will probably get her respect, but it's an egotistical move. Not something she likes to rely on.

Speaking of two of Midway City's finest, they seem much friendlier with one another straight away. How are things between them going?

They've been together a few weeks now, and are still sizing one another up, but there's a mutual appreciation for each other's professionalism.

The cablers case brought them together; the first case always makes or breaks a relationship like this, and Ralph's actions at the climax of The Russia Shift earned him a certain amount of respect from Klem. She knows he did all the right things, even if he wasn't directly inside the house.

Of course, that may all change when she finds out he's using a weird alias to fund a separatist group. But of course, that's still to come...

There are some new characters being introduced in this arc that you've given us some great designs for -- can you tell me who is entering the mix?

The main people I can tell you about are the first two Vice cops to appear in "The Fuse"; Sgt. Bertrand and Det. Mishra. Klem and Ralph will need to call on their help as the case unfolds, but it's by no means an easy relationship. Inter-departmental turf wars are still a thing.

There are also a bunch of new suspect characters, of course, and then a few surprise personalities that I don't want to give away. Suffice to say, as promised, our view of "The Fuse" will continue to expand.

In addition to new faces, you'd mention that this arc has more sci-fi elements, and it's clear from issue #7 that we're seeing more about the physics and dangers in their atmosphere. What else can readers anticipate seeing? And with this new focus, does this mean that we're still on the hook waiting to find out more about the mysterious past of Ralph?

We're going over "the wall", which separates Midway City from the solar energy processing sections at either end of the Fuse, where the International Solar Energy Council still holds sway -- and everyone resents Midway City just for existing.

We're also going to go down to "Smacktown" on Level 44, a shanty town among the enormous gravity generators that keep everyone's feet on the ground on-station. And we have a few more tricks up our sleeves, too. Stick around.

Ralph's story will unfold over time. We certainly haven't forgotten about it, and eagle-eyed readers should keep an eye out. Anyone familiar with my work knows I tend to play a long game, and what may seem an innocuous aside now could turn out to be vitally important later on.

Since it sounds like Ralph may still be an unknown for a while, can you tell us something about Klem that no one else knows?

After her divorce, Klem's son Leonid kept his father's surname. Why? Because he was entering politics, and didn't want everyone to immediately link him to Ristovych, the famously acid-tongued cop.

Klem's never told him how much that decision hurt her -- and she never will, because knowing it would hurt him. Even a cranky old Russian space cop sometimes has a soft side.

"The Fuse" #8 races into stores December 10.

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