Antony Johnston is no stranger to scifi worlds with his long-running post-apocalpytic series Wasteland at Oni. Now, the prolific creator is headed offworld with The Fuse, a new SF series from Image Comics, where he also recently launched the fantasy Umbral.
The Fuse, which launches this February, is a crime comic with a SF twist…specifically the setting, one that hasn’t really been depicted in comics before and allows for all manner of unique stories. We got the goods on The Fuse from Johnston, along with some preview art.
Newsarama: Antony, tell us about the premise of The Fuse.
Antony Johnston: Working homicide 22,000 miles up on an orbiting energy platform, in a five mile long jury-rigged steel city stuffed with a half million people, and no help from your so-called colleagues back on earth, is more than tough... it's murder!
The Fuse is a new ongoing, hard-bitten sci-fi crime series. The Fuse follows detectives Ristovych and Dietrich of the Midway City's Homicide division, whose jurisdiction is an orbiting power station 22,000 miles up! Permanently understaffed and overworked, being a murder police on board "The Fuse" means working a new frontier where the law struggles just to be heard, let alone obeyed.
22,000 miles up, there is no backup.
Nrama: Who are the main characters of the series?
Johnston: Our main character is KLEM RISTOVYCH, the most senior detective in the MCPD. Klem's a dinosaur, the oldest cop working the Fuse, and nobody can believe she hasn't retired yet. Hell, she can hardly believe it herself. But what else is she going to do? Sit at home and watch soap operas all day? She'd throw herself out of an airlock first.
And that's how Klem interacts with the rest of the MCPD. She's all about the work, the case, the job.
Luckily for her, Homicide is permanently understaffed and overworked, and even in space, people just keep on killing one another. Klem may be belligerent, cynical, frustrating, even kind of an asshole... but she's never bored.
Her new partner is RALPH DIETRICH, a wunderkind detective fresh off the shuttle from earth. Dietrich has an exemplary record back on earth, one of the youngest cops in Germany to make detective. His closure rate is the envy of murder police everywhere, and he's not even 30 years old.
But then Dietrich volunteered for transfer to the Fuse. Specifically, to MCPD Homicide.
Nrama: And tell us a bit about the setting.
Johnston: The Fuse is a solar energy station in orbit 22,000 miles above the earth. But it's more than just a big solar panel array. The Fuse is also home to Midway City, a technically illegal settlement that grew out of a bunch of engineers who decided they'd rather make a new life in space than return home to earth.
That was forty-two years ago. Since then Midway has grown, and grown, to become a full-on city. Half a million people now live there, crammed together in a giant floating tin can. Just about every Resident of the Fuse is an immigrant, hoping to build a new life.
Unfortunately, even in a place as amazing as the Fuse, people won't stop killing one another. And that's where the detectives of the MCPD Homicide division come in.
Nrama: What was the inspiration for this idea?
Johnston: The Fuse is what happens when you take a British kid raised on Judge Dredd and Sherlock Holmes, infuse him with Miami Vice as a teenager, throw in a dash of Alien and Star Wars, then sit him down in front of a TV and make him watch Homicide, Law & Order, The Killing, The Bridge, and god knows how many more shows beginning with a definite article…
It's a cop procedural, a sci-fi book, a detective story, a murder mystery... basically, it's a big mash-up of things I really like.
I'm a sucker for detective stories, down-at-heel cop shows, and the kind of "lived-in" sci-fi where everything feels like it might fall apart at any moment. Combine those with a frontier attitude, where a half million people all think they can get away with murder, and you've got The Fuse.
The great thing about cop stories is that you can do almost anything with them. Cops can go anywhere, question anyone, get involved at any level of society. So throughout The Fuse we'll be going from the very top to the very bottom, and everywhere in between.
The first story, "The Russia Shift", is very much in that vein. But we also want to introduce people to the weird, dangerous world of the Fuse as we go. So future cases will take us all over Midway City... and beyond.
Nrama: What does Justin bring to the series? You've worked together before, obviously, but I'm curious about how this is different and how your collaborative process works.
Johnston: Justin's amazing. He's got the triple-crown that's so rare in comic artists these days; he's a great storyteller, he's utterly unique, and he's 100% reliable.
He did two major arcs of Wasteland, because we worked together so well, and our relationship has now developed into something close to what I have with Chris Mitten. There are some collaborators with whom you know that whatever you give them, it'll come back even better than you imagined. Justin is one of them.
That makes our process hard to describe, because it's quite traditional — I write, Justin draws — but it's based on the fact that we both have a pretty good idea of what the other is expecting, and the hours we've already spent on design and world-building together. We spent an hour or so just going back and forth designing the cop badges, for example.
Nrama: What draws you to futurist scenarios like this?
Johnston: I've always loved "lived-in" sci-fi. We take it for granted now, but it was a revelation in the late '70s-80s, when movies like Alien, Escape From New York, and even Star Wars introduced us to the idea that the future could, in fact, look old.
I like SF environments that seem used, and lived in, every day; not just rolled off a props truck. Look around you! Everything is scuffed, scratched, dinged, faded, even rusty. Why wouldn't that still be the case in the future? Especially in a place like Midway City, a pressure cooker where everything is one bad day away from falling to pieces, and murder seems like a viable option.
It's essentially '70s Manhattan in space, right? And that means grime.
Nrama: Image has really had a boom of series the past few years -- what made you want to work with them, and what's the process been like so far?
Johnston: Like with Umbral (which was pitched to Image around the same time as The Fuse), I simply wanted to do something different. Publishing through Image is so unlike working with any other publisher, and I felt I was starting to fall into a rut. Which I hate.
But also, Image's audience seems more receptive to crime and mystery books than many other publishers. And let's face it, The Fuse is an unusual book. It's not going to appeal to everyone. So I wanted to give it every possible chance to succeed, and part of that is appealing to an audience that understands and is sympathetic to the stories we're telling.
The process so far has been great, but I have an advantage over some creators because I spent a decade working as a professional graphic designer before becoming a full-time writer. So for both Umbral and The Fuse, I'm also effectively the editor and art director.
Nrama: How long do you see this series running -- do you have a long-term plan for it?
Johnston: It's an ongoing, and we do indeed have a long-term plan. We'll essentially keep going for as long as we can. With a series like this, the possibilities are endless.
Nrama: If you could go into space, what would you do?
Johnston: If you'd asked me that last year, I'd have said “Sing ‘Space Oddity’ to everyone back on Earth,” but I got beaten to the punch on that by Chris Hadfield. Bah.
Honestly, I'd probably just spend the entire time staring down at earth and weeping that humans are such horrible, parochial creatures. I'd be a terrible astronaut.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite current comics/creators?
Johnston: I think we're in a talent peak right now, probably the strongest we've seen in 20 years. Greg Rucka, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jon Hickman, Ed Brubaker, Nick Spencer, Brian K Vaughan, Charles Soule... and then you have veterans like Ellis, Ennis, and Waid still turning out some of their best work.
Then on the art side, we have amazing talents like Emma Rios, Jamie McKelvie, Declan Shalvey, Becky Cloonan, Riley Rossmo, Jordie Bellaire, David Aja, Michael Lark, Matt Wilson, Jock, Jacen Burrows, and again veterans like the Dobsons, Adam Hughes, and Howard Chaykin still producing amazing work.
Even our lettering standards have shot up. It used to be that top-flight letterers were kind of rare. Now you have amazing young guys like Clayton Cowles, Rus Wooton, Fonografiks, Chris Crank...
Hell, I could list all of my collaborators too, but then people would just say I'm biased. Well, duh. I wouldn't work with them if I didn't think they were amazing.
Basically, it's an incredible time to be a comics fan. And it won't surprise you to learn that most of my pull list these days is Image and Oni...!
Nrama: What all do you have coming up?
Johnston: Besides The Fuse, there's also more Umbral from Image; Wasteland is approaching its end, with Chris Mitten back to draw the final story arc; The Deadliest Winter, the second book in the Coldest City series, is entering production; I just finished working on Shadow of Mordor, the new LotR game; there are several other games I'm going to be working on this year; and there's a webcomic I've been planning for ages, that I'm really hoping to launch soon.
Take a rocket to The Fuse from Image Comics this February.