Today, Drew and Ryan D. are discussing The Fix 9, originally released May 10th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: In this age of heavily serialized television, the humble pre-cold-open-recap has become a matter of course. It can be darn useful for keeping threads straight, especially as they may feature elements introduced months or even years ago. Of course, that very feature — the inclusion of some long-forgotten detail — can often betray the events of the episode, broadcasting exactly what threads will be addressed. It’s a catch-22 that may be even more pronounced in comics, where a monthly release schedule can equate to more forgotten details between instalments, leading some series to offer virtually comprehensive recaps on their title pages. With The Fix, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber have developed an in-narrative recap style that manages to avoid the dangers of giving the game away by simply limiting it to the perspective of their characters.
It’s a technique that I might not even have noticed the brilliance of if this issue didn’t feature two recaps: one made consciously by Roy, and the other made by his subconscious. The former covers the territory we might expect of a recap, featuring all of the main plot points and characters of Roy’s story thus far. But the latter is packed full of elements we might otherwise assume Roy has completely forgotten about. Take, for example, the tragic figure of Pete “Saint Peter” Danielson:
Even without the biblical imagery, Pete’s appearance here is notable. He hasn’t been mentioned since issue 2, so we might reasonably have assumed that Roy hadn’t thought about him at all since framing him for murder. Roy has never so much as hinted at regretting his actions, so the fact that Pete is present in his subconscious at all is surprising. It’s a telling character moment for Roy that wouldn’t have worked if Pete had appeared in Roy’s conscious recap, and would have been totally spoiled if he had been included in some kind of extra-narrative recap page.
But it’s also kind of a deep cut for this series (or, as deep a cut as a ninth issue can have) — I knew I recognized Pete’s sweaty, sweaty face, but I had to flip back to remember his role Roy’s life. I needed similar memory jogs to recall the would-be bank robber Roy saw shot as a kid and the battle bots that got Roy and Mac into debt with Josh in the first place (both not featured since issue 1). That these appear in Roy’s dreams makes perfect sense — they’re significant images in his life — but they also work to keep those elements fresh in our minds without explicitly saying “you need to remember this because it’s going to come up later.” It’s a subtle way of keeping everything in play, even elements we haven’t seen in several issues.
Lest all of that recapping bog down the issue, Spencer and Lieber even it out by packing the rest of the issue with gags. I’m particularly enamored of the notion of “Horny Grandma” a gimmicky breakout character from a late ’80s/early ’90s sitcom who seems to work the same comedy niche as Betty White (only, you know, also a madam). But my favorite sequence has to be Roy’s rescue from being suffocated in Horny Grandma’s brothel (which actually comes after a life-flashing-before-his-eyes sequence that serves as a THIRD recap):
Lieber plays the gag off-screen, but the reveal that he’s been masturbating the whole time retroactively makes all of his sweaty, blushing faces — what we reasonably assumed were simply in response to being suffocated — absolutely hilarious. Doubling down on the “you didn’t know he was masturbating” gag for that last panel is a stroke (ugh) of genius, distilling the joke to its essence for one last little hurrah.
Of course, that Roy would see suffocating as an opportunity for self-gratification is kind of him in a nutshell. It’s a non-solution that focuses on his immediate wants at the expense of his long-term needs. It’s not just his response to this particular situation, but the explanation for how he got into it, on both the macro and micro scales. In hindsight, that might be the most glaring omission from his dream sequence — if a lack of willpower and planning is Roy’s biggest flaw, he sure as hell doesn’t seem aware of it.
Ryan, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this issue (and this series as a whole — I don’t think we’ve talked about it before). I’m continually impressed at the way Spencer and Lieber can turn these laugh-lines and exposition into meaningful character beats, but maybe that feels uneven to a newcomer. Is the balance here working for you?
Ryan D: Drew, I think you used the perfect word when describing what this title does so well: balance. The Fix had fallen off of my pull list despite how much I enjoyed the first four issues, and I found it a real treat to catch up to read this one. In the tradition of a classic show like Arrested Development, I love when a series allows characters to be as loathsome as Roy and Mac, but still charming enough to warrant me rooting for them and invested in what happens to them. That’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but it’s the selling point of the writing of The Fix. Even the art walks a very fine line very beautifully. Leiber’s style works so well for this title in very simple ways:
This page, for example, shows how the characters and the locale can be drawn with a very functional, “realistic” style — by that I mean not too caricatured — in a way which is evocative of the “real” LA in which this comic takes place. But when Leiber adds in a few signature things like the music floating in the background or the onomatopoeia of the “tap tap” or the cartoony stars flying away from the punch Roy receives to the face, there is a wonderful heightened quality introduced which lets the audience know that this isn’t your traditional gumshoe story. The former invites us into the world, and the latter lets us know that it’s safe to laugh when the hijinks get deplorable. If the writing or the art leaned a little too far one way or the other, I might hate The Fix, but it doesn’t, so I certainly don’t.
Issue nine features plenty of moments which keep me very happy with the series. I loved the bait and switch with the aforementioned Horny Grandma, by the way. After her introduction as big bad madame of this brothel with her sitting on her kingpin’s chair, draped in shadow, flanked by goons, the expectation is that her relationship with Roy would be inherently confrontational. But then this happens:
Roy’s sincere flattery of the former TV icon and her immediate shift of tact to friendliness underscores the kind of LA in this title. Seemingly everyone can be won over and swayed with a bit of recognition or promise of celebrity. In this ego-driven and mutually-masturbatory world, Roy’s flaws come across as a product of his environment and make him much easier to forgive when almost everyone seen is an asshole to some degree. I also loved the little dig thrown in which hits at the television replacing traditional parenting and/or the American public high schools’ Sex Ed programs, because apparently watching a schlocky sitcom is the best place to learn cunnilingus. Sigh.
The idea of celebrity has been a primary motivator throughout the series, but the boutique brothel in this issue takes the notion even further: with the rise of free porn and accessibility of sex workers from the internet, this once-proud industry now must offer something especially novel to keep clientele — the opportunity to have sex with someone’s favorite celebrity (or celebrity look-alike). While this idea works very well to further the plot and also offer some really nice background sight-gags, it also set up the interesting beat about the Hollywood gender pay gap:
While the verbiage used in this bit might be a bit sent-up for character reasons, the core idea is spot-on. I can’t tell you how much money I save in London being a male actor and not a female actor. While that might be a touch anecdotal, there’s a great study to corroborate the message of the infographic. And I think the infographic (can I call it that?) is done really well! The art style reminds me of a silly low-fi internet video (I’m thinking Teen Girl Squad) while the content is serious, again showcasing this creative team’s flair for balancing humor and character and even content. A point of curiosity for me is that the wage gap appears in this title along with the likes of Glitterbomb, and I think it’s mighty interesting that this discussion is being held in comics — a completely different medium and industry.
The Fix continues to be an incredibly fun ride, and I have to admit: for all of Roy’s faults, he’s absolutely correct to say at the end of the issue that would make a great movie. It’s making for a great comic, sophomoric and joyful, and I’m keen to see the balancing act continue.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
I stopped reading The Fix after about two or three issues. I will say this: Steve Lieber has been great to meet at conventions, and he was incredibly gracious and encouraging to one of my students on free comic book day.
He’s a cool dude.
Ryan, you were rooting for the Bluthes in Arrested Development? To me, what kept me invested was seeing how everything was building up for them to get the justice they deserved at the end of the episode. It was seeing them get punished each and every time, in hilarious ways (the mole… the mole…). The charm of the actors is important, but not because it makes us root for them. But because it makes them people we want to watch even in the moments where the hammer of justice isn’t falling down on them.
Also, is comic’s discussions about the actress paygap in Holywood a way for comics to critique themselves? It is a completely different medium and industry, but the dynamic is the same. The only differences are that it takes place in glamorous Hollywood instead of people’s apartments, and that the average reader understands the shorthand of Hollywood production better than the production of comics.