THE FUSEThe Fuse (Vol. 1): The Russia Shift by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

(No spoilers, but this review is also a Giveaway. I met Justin Greenwood, who draws The Fuse and got a signed copy of this collection, which one random commenter with a USA mailing address will get.)

The Fuse: The Russia Shift is Volume One in the collection of this comics science fiction police procedural series, set on a space station orbiting earth. The Russia Shift introduces us to our two cops; Ralph Dietrich, just arrived from Earth, and his more experienced partner Klem Ristovych. This book was released in 2014 by Image Comics.

The Fuse: The Russia Shift is written by Antony Johnston and drawn by Justin Greenwood, with color done by Shari Chankhamma and lettering by Ed Brisson. Word and image meld to create a believable city on a space-station, a city with a homeless population it doesn’t acknowledge, festering wounds from decades of racial tension that have been papered over rather than addressed, and an under-staffed police force.

Dietrich had been a cop in Germany who applied to work on the Fuse. As soon as he steps off the shuttle he stumbles over a murder victim. He manages, almost simultaneously, to insult his new partner before they’ve even met. Ristovych is close to retirement age and has been on the Fuse a long time. The detective’s weary face and wrinkled clothing pair with a sharp mind and a loyalty to the Fuse that is displayed later in the book.

Dietrich is brash. Having insulted Ristovych once, he does it again, moments later, when he says, “I assumed you would not be old enough to retire.” Ristovych fires back, “I assumed you’d be too old for high school.” Thus their relationship is established.

The story follows the murders of two “cablers,” homeless people who live in the inner walls of the station. Cablers beg for money and are shunned by the station’s more “respectable” residents, and in the walls, they constitute their own community. When the story moves back to the precinct as our main characters interact with the Medical examiner and forensics, grace notes like a running joke about egg rolls and Ristovych’s give-and-take with the forensics expert create authenticity that make Midway City, by extension, feel real. The story follows the tried-and-true procedural formula, with clues leading to more clues, and leads that don’t pan out. There is also a film-noir aspect; the hidden poverty, the race riots of ’97, which play a huge part in the story but whose origins are not explained in this book; the black mayor running a tight campaign for reelection in Midway City and an organized group of activists that function like a political party but may have committed acts of vandalism. Ristovych, as I expected, has a contact in City Hall; who it was surprised me.

I liked the artwork although I found some of the action sequences a little static. There is a nice touch with people’s shadows, used mostly in the scenes in City Hall offices (maybe it’s a political comment); the person speaking is in the foreground of course, and the shadow on the wall behind them looks combative or even menacing. It adds a layer to the story. The rhythm of the mystery is just about right, although the climactic scene goes on a bit too long with the murderer providing all the necessary exposition via monologue.

What works well here is the creation of a believable environment, although we will need more details as the story progresses, and the convincing odd-couple partnership. This story was mostly Ristovych’s, but there is a mystery wrapped around Dietrich, who was a successful detective in Munich. Ristovych can’t figure out why he would leave that behind to come to the Fuse, and in this book’s final pages we get some clues to an overarching storyline that involves the newbie Fuse cop.

There is visual homage to one inspiration for this book, Law and Order. Various locations are identified in white letters on a black background as Ristovych and Dietrich investigate, just as in the television show.

I met Justin Greenwood at a signing event at Brian’s Comics in Petaluma, CA. There was a long line so I didn’t get to talk to him too long, but we discussed colorist Shari Chankhamma’s palette, which combines bright pastels like turquoise, light teal and peach with dark browns, rusty reds, grays and blacks. This creates an industrial feel that contrasts with the artificially bright clean look for the “city” segments. Throughout the book we get snippets of black speckled with white; a reminder that we are in space.

Greenwood also talked about how he came to the concept of Dietrich, a black man who is German. He said the concept of the detectives as something other than “the usual two white cops” helped create Dietrich and also helped create his backstory.

One special treat is the subtitle of the book; The Russia Shift. When Dietrich is first introduced to his Lieutenant, Yuri Brachynov, he comments to Ristovych that now he understands why their shift is called “The Russia Shift.” It turns out that their ethnicity is not the reason, and the real reason is a surprise and a delight. Overall The Fuse: The Russia Shift was an enjoyable read and I will be looking for later collections: Gridlock (Vol. 2) was released in 2015 and Perihelion (Vol. 3) in 2016; Constant Orbital Revolutions was released in February, 2017.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.