“I’m not going to lie to you, being a criminal these days? It’s shit.”
So opens Image comics new crime book, "The Fix" from writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber. Spencer and Lieber were the creative team behind Marvel’s "The Superior Foes of Spider-Man" a book I’ve been talking up on the podcast pretty much since we started doing it. A new book from these guys was exactly what was I waiting for and oh boy, do they deliver.
If you read "Superior Foes" then you know their work definitely leans left of center in the best possible way. "The Fix" is a perfect blend of crime and comedy, it focuses on a pair of corrupt Los Angeles police officers who work for an absurdly pleasant crime boss. I love crime stories with an offbeat sense of humor, "The Fix" very much reminded me of the works of Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers.
Our main character is Roy whose narration guides us through the insane and pitch-black proceedings of the story. Roy is a full-on sociopath and seems to be quite proud of it. He’s looking out for number one and will do just about anything to avoid falling into the con job of normal life. He feels he deserves to be important and knows there’s no honest path there for him. He becomes a cop because he saw one shoot a criminal in the head in front of him when he was a boy. This cop subsequently fell into a short-term relationship with Roy’s mother and became an absolutely horrendous role model of amoral behavior. I love that in a world of cops and robbers Roy says, “hey, why not be both.”
One of my favorite things about "The Fix" is that it builds a world where everyone is corrupt. Roy says early in the first issue that he and his partner are not nice guys or sympathetic protagonists. This is very true, but at the same time no one else is particularly nice or sympathetic. Roy’s partner, Mac is just as greedy and game for criminal activity as Roy is. At one point you meet Lieutenant Malone, an internal affairs cop and you think, “okay, here’s the moral center of the book.” Only to discover that she too is in the pocket of the same crime boss our leads are.
Let’s talk about that crime boss, Spencer and Lieber have crafted one of my favorite villains of the last several years. First off, he is a feared gangster named Josh and he appears just as pleasant as he sounds. A total hipster dude obsessed with all natural products and making his own kombucha which he loves to offer up to his guests along with some homemade kale chips. He has a baby in a carrier when we first meet him and then he turns around threatens to carve our character’s taints out. Which on the list of violent threats has got to be the most creative and disturbing. Like many of the characters in the book he works because of his contradictory dichotomy.
So, obviously this is a dark and terrible world filled with violent criminals and lowlife cops trying to make an easy buck. You made find yourself asking: is there any hope? Is there a hero who can save us from these awful people? The answer is yes and that hero’s name is Pretzels, Pretzels The Dog. The hero of the book is a beagle, but not just any beagle. He is the most feared officer in the LAPD, an unstoppable, incorruptible force of justice who is also just flat out adorable.
This is a book dense with fun characters that really fill out the nasty little crime world it exists. I applaud Spencer’s ability to keep the book breezy and hilarious while murder and mayhem abound. The running narration helps put a sarcastically absurdist filter on the events. Having totally unethical protagonists allows the reader to turn off their own morality and just enjoy the insanity and humor of the book in spite of the violence.
Spencer’s writing is perfectly matched by Lieber’s art, I cannot say enough wonderful things about Steve Lieber. He is without a doubt one of the finest artists working in comics today. His passion for this story is clear in every panel of this thing. The comedy is not just present in the fantastic dialogue and narration but the character work of the art. Every character is fully realized in their look and expressions. I can feel the smarmy and snarky presence of Roy, the pleasant smiling face of Josh that covers the burning violence beneath him. Also if you’re a fan of "Superior Foes" then you are familiar with Lieber’s hilarious easter eggs that add to the extreme rereadabilty of this comic.
If it’s not obvious, I’m just in love with this book. Dark comedy is something I’d like to see more of in comics. Most crime comics you read tend to be very dark and dour (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but when something like this comes along it’s a bright burst of creative energy and I look forward to seeing where it goes. The first four issues have been collected into a trade paperback that you can find at your local comic shop right now, it’s also continuing to come out monthly from Image, so put it on your pull list, it is a truly great time.
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