Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing The Fix 1, originally released April 5th, 2016.
Spencer: As someone who’s always flitted around the outskirts of his local punk community, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a great deal of trust for authority figures. Still, in the past few years I’ve seen what little faith I had whittled down to almost nothing. Between the constant pushing of discriminatory laws, the circus that is the current election cycle, and the repeated, horrific abuses of power when it comes to the police (especially in regards to racially motivated crimes), it seems clear that those in power are mainly concerned with nothing but their own well being. Steve Lieber and Nick Spencer’s new series, The Fix, taps into these very concerns by claiming that most efficient way to be a criminal is simply to become one of the supposed “good guys.”
What it all boils down to is power. Lieber and Spencer’s previous collaboration, the (excellent) Superior Foes of Spider-Man, detailed the difficulties of a life of petty crime, and The Fix opens on a similar note, showing how impossible it’s become to maintain that lifestyle in the digital age. That’s why our protagonists, Roy and Mac, became police officers instead.
Young Roy thinks he’s found a new idol in the robber holding his family up at the bank until this cop steps in and literally blows the robber away. This cop is just as immoral and idiotic as the robber, but he comes out on top because he’s in a position of authority — he doesn’t need to take crazy risks to gain money, fame, and influence, it’s just a perk of the job, and the cop takes full advantage of that.
That’s a lesson Roy carries into his adulthood, and his career as a cop as well. Roy lets the audience know early on in The Fix that he and Mac aren’t sympathetic heroes, or even nice guys — they act as petty thugs and rob a nursing homes, and use their influence as cops to cover up their crimes and the crimes of others. They’re not smart (it’s that, combined with their underdog status amongst other criminals and Spencer’s knack for natural, inventive dialogue, that makes Roy and Mac entertaining to read about even though they’re absolutely morally reprehensible), but being cops shields them from the consequences of their actions. Again, it’s just a perk of the job.
That’s exemplified pretty well by Lieutenant Sheryl Malone. She works for Internal Affairs, making it her job to bust crooked cops, and she’s easily able to see through Roy and Mac’s shenanigans, meaning she should be able to bring them in fairly easily. The problem? She’s a criminal too. Goons like Roy and Mac are enabled by corruption even higher up in the ranks; they answer to other criminals, not to the public or any kind of oversight. While the kind of crimes The Fix‘s protagonists deal with aren’t exactly ripped from the headlines, this is; when the police are expected to police themselves, justice is rarely served.
Of course, the character in The Fix with the most power is the man simply known as Josh. This is a bit ironic, as Josh is very much the picture of a modern-day hippie/hipster, a stay-at-home father fretting over gluten and organic food; he’s exactly the kind of wimp Ron Swanson would mock as a poor excuse for a man, yet he’s also a frightening crime-lord whose insatiable violent streak keeps the likes of Roy and Mac completely under his thumb.
While Lieber and Spencer detail some of Josh’s more horrific, sadistic tendencies for us, the moments where they best capture his madness are the ones where he shifts instantly between the mild-mannered father and the grim-faced crime-lord.
There’s no need for Lieber to use shadow or any exaggerated tricks in that final panel to make Josh intimidating; his silence alone does the trick. The Fix 1 is a dense issue, and Josh is one of its most talkative and cheerful characters; even when he’s discussing cutting Roy and Mac’s taints off, he never stops chatting and never drops his smile, and that makes the moments when he does all the more disconcerting.
(That said, Josh’s most morally bankrupt moment has nothing to do with his villainy:
Man, Josh is the worst.)
Anyway, I’m curious to see how Josh amassed so much power and influence. While Roy and Mac had to become cops to gain even a fraction of his influence, Josh commands them all from his home while holding his baby. I’m getting some serious Gus Fring vibes from Josh; I’m betting there’s a great story behind how he rose to this rank, and I’m eager to see if it ties into the same themes of abusing authority that apply to the rest of the cast.
Ultimately, The Fix has a rather cynical, but not at all inaccurate, view of authority, to the point where the issue paints every single authority figure as crooked and corrupt — even the nursing home attendants are implied to be negligent of their charges. In fact, the only character described as “incorruptible” is Pretzels, the drug-sniffing police dog. He’s a challenge even Josh can’t easily overcome, because he can’t be bought or reasoned with. It’s awfully damning that the only character with that kind of integrity isn’t even human, isn’t it?
Drew, what’s your take on this one? As bleak as I found its themes at times, I still had an absolute blast with this issue; Lieber and Spencer make fantastic partners, and fill this issue to the brim with the same kind of clever jokes, running gags, and expertly paced reveals that made me fall in love with their Superior Foes of Spider-Man way back when. Seriously, there’s a real poetry to this issue’s structure and the way it doles out of information, and the balance between absurd antics and political commentary really strikes a chord with me (and brings out the best in Spencer’s writing, to boot). I’m jazzed to have them working together again — how about you, Drew?
Drew: You know, I was sold on this series on the creative team alone, so I went in without having read the solicit or any previews. As I read through that opening heist, I was charmed by how much it felt like Superior Foes — I was quickly pigeonholing this as an outlet for stories Spencer never got to tell on that title. Which is to say, the reveal that these guys are cops worked like gangbusters for me.
This is a remarkable feat of pacing, so it’s difficult to summarize how it works, but I think the key to the success is that Spencer isn’t coy with details up until that moment. We get to know these guys long before we discover they’re cops — indeed, I can’t imagine it being paced any differently if there wasn’t this twist ending to the sequence. That is, it works without the twist, which is such a rarity, I forgot that twists could be this fun.
Obviously, part of the success of that pacing is the crackerjack comic timing. This is a creative team that understands all of the ways to set up a punchline in comics, and this issue features basically all of them. The signature format for this team has always been the incongruity between word and image — one is the setup while the other is the punchline — but that’s far from the only flavor this issue trades in. The final reveal of Pretzels, for example, uses both words and image to set up the expectation that the most feared and incorruptible cop is, you know, a human. The punchline only works because neither gave away the game first.
My humor-killing dissections of these jokes aside, the point is that Spencer and Lieber are having a lot of fun varying their setups. I’m happy to see the success of the humor here as the result of this collaboration, but it’s hard not to want to single out Lieber’s direction as really selling it. Spencer highlighted that silent panel of Josh as extra foreboding, but Lieber is just as skilled at using his eye for gesture and expression for physical comedy.
Take for example, this two-panel sequence from that opening heist:
Don’t worry, I won’t suck all of the humor out of this one because I have no idea why it works so well. Is it Roy’s exaggerated lips in that first panel? Is it that Lieber doesn’t move the camera between these two, emphasizing the movements of the characters? It’s probably all of these things and more (I love that poorly-framed family photo behind them), but it reveals just how much humor Lieber can squeeze out of even the most boilerplate two-shots. Heck, maybe shots like this strengthen the parallels between these two talkative knuckleheads and Pulp Fiction‘s Jules and Vincent — obviously, the twist puts a wrinkle in that comparison, but that might just be why the twist was so effective.
Facing down a drug-sniffing dog at LAX is sure to evoke Reservoir Dogs over Pulp Fiction, but that’s a trade I’m happy to make. Heck, there are virtually no movies I wouldn‘t happily watch this creative team riff on — it’s hard to imagine something they couldn’t do. Bring on the next issue!
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