Early on in “The Fix” #1, Nick Spencer introduces a pair of crooks who have surprising day jobs; however, he captivates readers even before that with his pacing and characterization. Spencer and artist Steve Lieber introduce the characters of their story on the fly, with a punchy narrative overlaying a series of loosely connected panels that clearly establish the pair’s mindset and motives, even as the apparent crime-does-not-pay message they establish cleverly switches over to something more like some-crime-does-not-pay. The narration sets the dark but comical tone of the issue, establishing Spencer’s protagonists as bad guys, but ones whose charm and vulnerabilities make them likeable — or at least likeable enough to carry the issue without resorting to any kind of sappy or sentimental tricks.
Spencer skillfully walks a fine chalk-line between glorifying the bad guys and characterizing them. When the action switches to the present, where his protagonists are in the middle of robbing a senior citizen complex at gunpoint, it doesn’t come across as mean-spirited as much as tense. Guns are waved around, sure, but no one puts the barrel of a pistol to an octogenarian’s temple; instead, Spencer’s duo seems more inclined to help their so-called victims win at bingo, and they even demonstrate some concern over their welfare. These guys clearly aren’t stone-cold killers, though killers they may be, even if their crimes in this issue are far less egregious.
There’s violence aplenty in the ensuing pages, but no one’s grandparents were harmed during the making of this comic. The action compliments the sharp, bitey dialogue and banter between the two partners, and Lieber further supplements this with comical and at times surreal touches. Nevertheless, the characters look like a couple of normal guys, not a pair of criminals; the dichotomy between the pair’s actions and their appearance plays into the comical nature of Spencer’s story. The seedier members of the supporting cast also appear quiet and unassuming, but Lieber plays up the contrast between their looks and actions as well, establishing some strange and downright deranged personalities in the process.
The overall clean look Lieber gives the book belies the definitively dirty and sometimes disturbing atmosphere of Spencer’s story, which also keeps the comic engaging. Colorist Ryan Hill adds subdued colors to the pleasing look of the protagonists’ world, while Spencer’s narration for one of his two leads makes a compelling argument against making an honest living. The lead characters willfully embrace a life of crime, yet readers still pull for them, because the other criminals they encounter are far worse.
Spencer and Lieber push “The Fix” #1 into a unique space, stuffing the comic full of well-characterized crooks and creating a pair of likeable leads who stay just one step ahead of getting what’s coming to them. The success of the book lies in making readers hope that the hammer doesn’t come down on them too hard.