April 4, 2016

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The Fix #1 [Advance Review]


The Fix #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Illustrated by Steve Lieber
Colors by Ryan Hill
Letters by Nic J Shaw
Published by Image Comics

If Nick Spencer or Steve Lieber ever present you with a business opportunity like one related to a deposed Nigerian prince or any other surefire way to make money, don't trust them. They're clearly criminals. They'll likely take you for all you have and leave you for dead. I began to suspect this after reading the much-loved Superior Foes of Spider-Man. But after reading the hilarious, gorgeously illustrated first issue of The Fix (which at $3.99 for almost 40 pages of story, gives you your money's worth), it's clear to me that they have suspiciously good insight into the minds of criminals. 

I don't want to spoil anything about the story of The Fix, it's worth discovering it for yourself. I will give you one spoiler: I loved this comic. If you like the world of Superior Foes of Spider-Man and stories by Elmore Leonard about the world of low-rent crooks and two-bit scams, you will absolutely enjoy this comic. It's like an R-rated Superior Foes but without the superpowers and tights; just lovably bad people behaving very badly. The Fix is set in a sleazy, cynical world of dishonest cops, armed robbers, drug-addicted movie producers, and uniquely crazy mob bosses. This is a world that, while absurd, feels lived in and fully realized by the creative team. As effectively as any other first issue I've read in a long time, the first issue of The Fix clearly establishes the world the main characters live in and the stakes for them (which, trust me, are high).  

Spencer is one of the funniest comic book writers out there. He's clearly got a good ear both for dialogue and humorous narration. He's at his best when he's writing funny, topical, relationship based humor, and he does a lot of that here (he also does that, in a very different context, in the current Captain America series).  The jokes come pretty fast and furious, ranging from raunchy sex, overprotective hipster parents, and wannabe Hollywood types. Spencer also paints a very clear understanding of the upbringing and the motivation of at least one of the main characters. It's entirely cynical, but also quite sweet in its own way. That's a feeling you get in this book - warm-hearted cynicism.

Steve Lieber is a talented visual storyteller (he pulls off some ridiculous visual gags in Superior Foes, which I recommend you go read right now), and does some of the best work I've seen from him in this issue. What makes Lieber, and talented colorist Ryan Hill and letterer/designer Nic Shaw's work so successful is the amount of detail for moments both big and small.  This feels like a fully realized world. It's not necessarily completely realistic, it's sort of an exaggeration of reality, but it's a thoughtful, detailed, convincing exaggeration.  Hill's colors contribute to this, as he has a relatively muted, realistic style that wouldn't be out of place in a much gritter, hard-boiled crime story. Lieber has a linework style that is fairly realistic and suits the crime genre, something like Gabriel Hardman, Paul Azaceta, Sean Phillips or David Aja (though everybody here owes a debt to Dave Mazzuchelli). What's interesting here is that while the subject matter is one that in other hands could be treated quite seriously, here is treated with bucketloads of irreverence, cynicism and humor. However, the art style and great lettering/design elements are just as effective at conveying realism, and so the net effect of this is to take the characters in the world seriously, even when the story veers into the absurd. 

The art in The Fix is a study in contrasts and small moments. The character whose facial expressions are normally happy and upbeat, all he has to do in one moment is give a serious facial expression in the implication is pretty chilling. There's so much skillful work on various characters' body language and facial expression; given the number of jokes per page it's easy to lose track of these subtle touches, but they're there, and they ground the storytelling. Lieber is also a master of panel construction. There's a scene where the character are mid-robbery and they're being chased, and the panels flow in such a way that it's almost like a diagram; but this isn't some sort of cold, clinical chart; you see the chase brings the characters in a circle back to the person who's chasing them, and the panel flow and timing of it works so well that you can practically hear "Yakety Sax" (i.e., the old "Benny Hill" music) playing in the background. 

What makes this comic work so well is the union of words and art that one can sense from the best comic teams. Like Samnee and Waid on Daredevil, or Rucka and Lark on Lazarus, or Morrison and Quitely on, well, pretty much anything they do. Where it feels like the whole creative team is speaking with one voice. The combination of witty, thoughtfully self-reflective characters (even as they tell you they're not sympathetic protagonists, you clearly feel for them) brought to life by detailed art depicting a sleazy, low-rent world where every panel is worth reviewing to make sure you don't miss a joke or a subtle glance - that combination makes for a fantastic comic worth reading and rereading. 

Regardless of whether you read Superior Foes, if you're looking for a hilariously vulgar, cynically upbeat crime story, do yourself a favor and pick up The Fix.  But seriously, Spencer and Lieber will rob you blind.

[The Fix #1 is available this Wednesday, April 6th]