by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight
Drew: If that quote doesn’t feel like it fits this issue, it’s because it doesn’t. Where The Dark Knight explores the ideas of good, evil, and the moral relativism that exists in between, The Fix is gleefully amoral, concerned less with good and bad as it is with whatever its protagonists can get away with. Which is to say, a quote about heroes and villains doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the world of The Fix. But I wonder if we strip away the morality from that quote, if we might get something a bit more universal (if still deeply pessimistic): you either die happy, or you live long enough to see yourself become miserable. The ordering of those outcomes betrays a cynical worldview that The Dark Knight (or at least Harvey Dent) shares with The Fix, one that presumes things are inclined to get worse. Of course, while The Dark Knight spun that cynicism into tragedy, The Fix funnels it into dark humor, making any successes Roy or Mac may enjoy are but haughty spirits before the inevitable fall.
Indeed, we can kind of frame Roy and Mac’s current situations as opposite ends of that happy/miserable scale. While Roy is salivating at a movie deal, making bank off of purloined evidence, and dining out at Spago, Mac is fighting tooth and nail to stay alive. Er, technically, he frames it as “payback” for Pretzels, but like, these people are trying to kill him, right?
At least, that’s Mac’s working theory. I love the way artist Steve Lieber drops the background out at that moment, as Mac accuses Deal, leaving us in this negative space of ambiguity. Lieber’s basically forcing us to fill in the world around them, projecting our own answer to the question of whether Deal had anything to do with the attack on Mac and Pretzels. On the one hand, it’s easy to see how Josh and Deal might rather dispose of Mac than deal with his shit — they’re both ruthless and professional, so Mac is mostly an irritant they’d be happy to get rid of — but on the other hand, we never saw Deal order the hit, and it’s not hard to imagine that Mac (or even Pretzels) would have many enemies.
Whatever we decide (and whatever the truth turns out to be), Mac definitely thinks Deal is trying to kill him, which makes his emphasis on retribution for Pretzels all the more endearing. Not only is he taking a huge risk in going on the offensive, he’s not even doing it to protect himself; he just wants someone to pay for hurting his dog. It’s sweet but profoundly stupid (and possibly based on bad assumptions, anyway) — it’s Mac in a nutshell.
And things do get pretty bad for him here. He’s quickly under fire and on the run, but that only drives him to double down on his resolve, planting him squarely in Deal’s crosshairs. With no Pretzels to leap in to take the bullet this time, it’s not clear what will happen to him. Death seems unlikely (Mac does feature prominently on next month’s issue, at the very least), but things could definitely continue to get worse for Mac from here. Capture by the sadistic pair of Deal and Josh definitely doesn’t sound appealing.
But if Mac is headed further into misery, Roy seems to only be getting further from it. Or closer, if we think nothing gold can stay. Point is, he seems to be on the other side of the coin from Mac, though this issue does take some time to highlight what might bring him down: the investigation into Elaina’s death.
Roy is aware that his bosses are under increasing pressure to find Elaina’s killer, but he doesn’t seem daunted by the fact that he is the one responsible for actually solving the murder. He’s living large by ignoring the big problem that actually stands between him and success, and I’m not sure he really has the foresight to address it. Indeed, selling evidence from the crime scene might be particularly reckless if anyone else is ever assigned to the case. Roy might be more poised for the fall than he realizes.
Patrick, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this issue. There’s a ton of fun to be had (any comic drawn by Lieber is always going to have plenty of interesting things to discuss), but this issue also feels particularly unresolved — we don’t know where Roy is headed, or where that final gunshot lands. Did you find this issue satisfying enough on its own, or do you find yourself looking ahead to next month for peace of mind?
Patrick: Good point, Drew. This issue does feel less like a self-contained piece, satisfying on its own merits, and more of a continuation of a steady drip of cynicism. I started to feel that drag during Roy’s meeting with the coked-up producer. The Fix has always been smart and sharp in its treatment of the predatory male gaze, speaking so bluntly as to initially appear like exaggeration. Elaina’s whole life was grotesque, but not because any of the events strained verisimilitude. Spencer and Lieber illuminated the ugliness of Elaina’s life by simultaneously presenting it intimately and callously. We see everything, but are asked to feel nothing.
And now we’re even stripping away that intimacy. The producer gets the gory details in a police report, and mistakes it for a treatment. Then he starts asking about how he can fuck the subject, and no amount of “she’s dead” or “they cremated her body” can get him to let off on that line of questioning. Is he kidding? Or expressing some kind of unquenchable lust for the dead starlet? Lieber is so good at drawing this character, with his cool Hollywood facade cracking over a manic cocaine energy.
The acting on this guy is just incredible. Can you feel the strain of the muscles in his three fingers in that last panel? How about the urgency of the outstretched arm in panel two? Or the not-quite-raised eyebrow in the third panel? Just as Drew pointed out later in the issue, we’re left with no background, but instead of dropping it out for a single panel, Lieber presents the whole scene with no indication of location outside of a table and a drink in a coconut.
Which makes the whole issue an interesting mix of highly detailed and lacking in detail at the same time. For every note we have about the color of Elaina’s preferred sex toy, we’re lacking the contextual and emotional information. Spencer is almost certainly intentionally withholding this, first presenting the absurdity and asking us to care about it later. That’s how both The Fix and Super Foes of Spider-Man started, and I believe I struggled with those as well.
And that is why, I assume, Drew mostly wrote about Mac’s adventures. Mac has a lot more skin in the game, making him a much more vulnerable character. He is a weirdly good guy, right? I love this final chase sequence through the hotel, which finds Mac encountering regular-ass people as he evades gunfire. Mac mostly breezes past these people, or brushes them off with a dismissive hand gesture, but Lieber is careful to render them in finer detail than you might expect. Take this guy watching a movie and eating cupcakes in his room, for example.
Roy’s narration even points out that Mac could have taken advantage of this guy — hid out in the room, taken him hostage, implicated him in some way — but Mac peacefully moves on. I can’t place the movie he’s watching, but Lieber is offering details enough that it feels as though we interrupted a real moment in this guy’s life. The same is true of the woman Mac encounters in the hallway later — she’s wearing a LA Galaxy sweater, suggesting she’s an MLS fan. Sports fandom may not say a lot about someone, but it is necessarily more information than we could have gotten from a less specific article of clothing. These are non-essential details that insist on the variable humanity of these incidental characters.
That’s the contrast between Roy and Mac, right? Mac is seeing people, acknowledging their humanity, and allowing them to go along with their lives, uninterrupted by his nonsense. Roy is the opposite, seeing each person as a set of opportunities of which to take advantage. Does that make Mac a hero? Oof, there might not be room for heroes in this series.
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