Review: The Fix #2

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A few years back, at I think the second-ever Image Expo, the main story afterwards was how Image had attracted so many of Marvel and DC’s top writers and artists, where they would be making new comics without mandates or restraint. Gillen, McKelvie and Wilson would take their pop-influenced contemporo-action into The Wicked and The Divine; Scott Snyder and Jock would indulge their passion for horror with Wytches, and so on and so on. We were seeing people do work that referenced their well-read and much-seen work at larger publishers, but on their own terms.

That’s what you can’t help but keep in mind throughout reading The Fix. From Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, this one draws an immediate parallel to The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, their series detailing the exploits and failed long-cons of some of Spidey’s D-List enemies. Here, again, we have people with no moral compass, who will betray everyone in order to get ahead – only this time at Image, rather than Marvel.

It’s another extension of an existing brand, but I found it to be a really different reading experience to some of the other franchise-to-Image transitions of the last couple of years. With the editor out the way and a group of new characters to play around with, the sense of danger immediately drops away from the comic – the formula which worked so well with a group of company-owned characters fizzles down when you take off the restraints. I enjoyed The Fix well enough, but it certainly feels like a weaker comic when you’d think it should be stronger.

It should probably be noted that, yeah, it’s not especially fair to draw comparisons between two different comics as the main note in a review – but that’s how the book’s been marketed, and it’s easily the most notable aspect of the series thus far. The two main characters in The Fix, whose names I don’t recall, are corrupt police officers who are looking to cover a debt they owe to an affable maniac who plays bluegrass covers of R. Kelly songs and then garottes people with his guitar strings. Their attempts to find a perfect score form the concept of the series, but the reality is a series of loosely connected vignettes building the characters and their reckless lack of morality.

But as it appears at the moment, there’s no fixed depth to that moral descent. Nobody follows a code, so there’s nobody pointing out that what the characters are doing is wrong. Everybody is implicit in the world of The Fix, which removes the feeling of danger from the comic. When reading, I found that a lot of the jokes were predictable because the structure of the comic only allows things to go in one direction. Each time the characters face a choice, I know they’ll pick the coward’s route. In this issue, for example, a long set-up is offered for one of their co-workers, who is the epitome of the hard-working hero.

He does charity work, is a devoted husband, brings doughnuts in for lunch. So the obvious route is for the protagonists to wreck his life and send him to jail. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is where they’re going, because there’s nothing to stop them doing so. But it’s also obvious that The Fix, with its highly cynical narration boxes, is also going to push further, and sure enough the character also proves ultimately to be hiding deeper secrets which make it fine for him to be arrested.

Everything turns for the worst, and it’s jarringly predictable. When combined with the fact that there are no characters who effectively act as condemnation for the actions of our leads? It makes for a surprisingly dull overall read. Likewise, the scene I mentioned above, with the man they owe a debt to? It almost reads as shorthand. He has already been characterised as somebody who is pleasant-acting and seems dull, almost, in his normalcy – but is actually a deranged murderer, and the second issue’s check-in only serves to re-tick the boxes we’re already seen.

He murders somebody for no real reason, he gets away with it, and it has no lasting effect. Compare that to the previous series, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. In that book you have a similar looming presence over the heads of the team, in the form of well-known Spider-Man villains like Tombstone and Chameleon. They perform a similar role to the mob boss of The Fix, but in their case the editorial handcuffs surrounding them actually offers benefit to the comic. They can kill, and we know they can – but Marvel’s editorial guides mean we know they can’t overstep particular limits.

There’s a structure in that, a sense of discipline. It’s also set in a superhero universe, so we already know there’s a core of “good vs evil” in the coding of the comic. The characters like Boomerang, Beetle, Shocker etc who we’re following are low-level villains like the leads of The Fix, but they can’t just do whatever they want. They have a place in an established pecking order within the comic – and outside the comic too. Their decades-long history plays into everything we see them do, as these background characters attempt to worm their way past known murderers and mob bosses in order to make a living robbing banks.

We also know that they have to survive – so the basis of their book became “how do they get out of this?”. In The Fix, the characters are fresh and have only had forty pages of history, total, so far. And in their forty pages they’ve so far gotten away with everything, so there’s no sense of danger for their current situation. They don’t have the forces of the universe conspiring against them like, say, Shocker does. Shocker’s never going to win. He’s Shocker! Sucking is just what he does. The leads of The Fix aren’t underdogs – they’re just mean-spirited people who will drop all morale pretence if it’s to their benefit.

It’s not a story so much as it is a series of sketches, therefore, with the outcome pre-determined. At this point you feel you can tell exactly where each subsequent issue is going to go, and the only decision at the end is whether they get away with their score, or whether they get shot. Because unlike the Marvel characters, these two are completely disposable. Again, it removes the stakes somewhat. You can make a long-running Marvel character completely awful, because at the end of the day the creative team have to put all their toys back in the sandbox.

With The Fix, there’s no sense of that. We can’t connect to the leads because they’re definitively bad people. They don’t seem to be in particular trouble, as they spend all their time mucking around and elaborately ruining other people’s lives. And at the end of the day, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber can always just kill them if they want. It makes for a fascinating series, where each new vignette tries to bring the characters to a new moral low – but the feeling I came away with was “okay, but why does it matter?” They could commit absolute atrocities by the time the series finishes, but it still doesn’t mean anything for me as a reader.

With The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I knew that the characters had to be extricated from their situation, because a year down the line Dan Slott will probably need to use some of them in the main Spider-Man book, and he’ll want them relatively unharmed/unchanged from their ‘classic’ behaviour. That adds a level of difficulty to the series which The Fix doesn’t experience itself. It’s fine enough as a series; and I’m glad to see an Image book which isn’t just another one-word astronaut dystopia; but it’s certainly a case where the creative team’s attempts to one-up their past success actually detract from the comic they’re making.

And I still can’t remember the names of any of the characters.

 

The Fix #2

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Steve Lieber

Colorist: Ryan Hill

Letterer/Designer: Nic J. Shaw

Publisher: Image Comics

Comics: Fix Your Solicitations!

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Solicitations come out from most comic publishers now, with companies from Marvel and DC through to First Second and Archie all giving an advance preview of what’s coming up three months into the future. A product of the peculiar retailing process almost unique to the comics industry, the use of solicitations was originally designed to help retailers know which comics they should pre-order, because their readers would flock to them. If you have a shop in England, for example, you’ll want to pre-order more copies of a book which Alan Moore is involved with. If you’re based in Ireland, a Declan Shalvey cover will add several extra copies to your pre-order form. And so on.

Each solicitation explains the issues published by a company in any given month. It shows the issue number, the cover, a synopsis of the issue (usually written by the person who writes the comic, it seems) and all the pre-order details. It’s a guide to which books tie in where, why a retailer should especially pre-order certain stories or concepts, and… well, fans immediately seized upon them.

Because they hint at future plot points, it quickly became clear that solicitations were something fans might latch onto as well as retailers – making them a valuable point of interest in the marketing process. It’s one thing if a solicitation encourages a retailer to pre-order an extra copy, but it’s another if the readers are actively encouraged to walk into the shop and pre-order comics themselves. “Everything changes!” became the norm for even the most unimportant of comics titles, and the whole actual argument of Importance sadly entered the industry.

For this reason, solicitations are an important point of entry for fans. Old and new readers follow them, to find out what books are out each month, and which ones might appeal especially to them. For a book like Bitch Planet, which specifically calls itself out as a book female fans will like, solicitations are a way to catch the eye of those fans in particular in the quest for non-compliance.

And, for this reason, it’s important that solicitations be improved. Each publisher has a set standard for how they lay out their solicitations, but some are far more preferable to others. Not in terms of the content – but in terms of the format. When you’re introducing people to news comics, publishers should be making the most of their creators, above almost everything else, and that means one thing: crediting people properly.

What I want to ask is that publishers follow a simple standard for crediting the creative teams on their comics, because at the moment some formats are far more preferable than others. Archie, right now, are the company who do this best, actually. They credit books as “script” and “art”, with the latter accounting for penciller, inker, colourist and letterer all-inclusive. Because of this, they offer credit to the majority of the team who worked on a comic – a tactic which can only help sell extra comics.

The letterer on their Dark Circle line, right now, is Rachel Deering. As letterer, she wouldn’t be credited at all by other publishers on their comics, but Archie list her right up there with the other artists. And I, as a comics fan, have actually already heard her name – because she crowdfunding a hugely successful and Eisner-nominated anthology comic, In The Dark. She’s a name, in other words, and her involvement in the comics makes me more interested in reading Archie’s comics.

Artists outside of pencillers are rising up in comics right now, led by colourists. People like Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart and Matt Wilson are all well-known names for fans now, and they evoke particular interest for particular fanbases. If I see Bellaire listed in solicitation copy, the comic automatically becomes more interesting to me, and I’m more likely to read the solicitation properly, see if I want to pre-order. The more that the comics industry does to make new Jordie Bellaires, the more people will be attracted to books they otherwise might have glossed over. If your solicitation doesn’t even mention her, though? Then I’ll never know there’s a Jordie Bellaire comic I’m missing out on.

And that’s a specific issue raised when you look at Image’s solicitations. I’ve been told that Image let their writers handle the solicitations, which is why they are so chaotic to read – and so poorly formatted. This May, Bellaire is solicited as part of the art team for Injection – but not for The Manhattan Projects, which she also works on. As a creator, surely writer Jonathan Hickman is selling himself short by not telling fans that a popular colourist is working on his comic. Bellaire has a fanbase, and the solicitation here doesn’t even let them know they’re missing out if they don’t pick up the book.

If you look through Image, you’ll see this recurs – some teams credit colourists, some do not.

Other companies, however, handle things even more poorly. BOOM! Studios have perhaps the most regressive solicitation of any publisher right now, as they list comics as being by an “author” and an “artist”. This establishes ownership for the writer each time, and reduces the importance of the artist, who is meant to be a collaborator on each issue. Also, no mention at all for colourists, inkers, or anyone else involved in the process – all you see is the owner of the comic, and the penciller who happens to be working there.

Not only does this diminish the role of the other artists involved, but it also reduces opportunities to catch the attention of readers. Who knows if Jordie Bellaire is colouring any of these books, or if Rachel Deering is lettering? As a consumer I am given two introduction points to a book: the author, and the artist. If I don’t know either name, I move on, and the book loses a potential pre-order. If, however, the solicitation offered more members of the creative team in the solicitation, I could have four or five points of introduction instead, any of which might make me head to the LCS.

It might seem strange that this is something I’m so invested in, but it speaks to two important parts of the industry, and two critical failings in how it currently operates. For one, the way we sell comics to new readers is complex, unwieldy, and at times amateurish. Solicitations are one of the first things picked up on by those who’re interested in comics, or trying something new. If I’m not being sold new comics in as many ways as possible, then publishers need to rethink what they’re doing before they put these things online. Get your full creative teams on there.

Secondly: credit and respect for artists. Pencillers, letterers, editors, inkers, colourists, writers, everybody who works on a comic – these are people who have fans, who have worked hard, and who deserve to be recognised for that. It’s not hard to add the full creative team into solicitation copy, but it helps spread the fact that, actually, this is a collaborative medium and comics don’t appear fully-formed out of the heads of the writer. Drop this “author” nonsense and get to describing comics honestly – as a work where a creative team are working together, bouncing off each other’s energy, and making new and involving stories.

Solicitations lets readers see the future of comics – let’s show them a future where everybody gets their credit.

Image Release the Cover for Meredith McClaren’s ‘Hinges’

Meredith McClaren’s all-ages graphic novel ‘Hinges’, which got covered over here kinda recently, today gained a cover prior to the launch in late February. This looks utterly intriguing, so it seems only fair to share the cover on t’Spire.

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The story follows girl (not a talking chocolate biscuit) Orio, who finds herself in a world called Cobble, where everybody living in the town is a puppet on strings, or a stuffed animal, a doll – all kinds of vintage toys. Turning in at just over a hundred pages, the book is due for launch on February 25. I’m all over this one.

Tradd Moore Returns with Justin Jordan in April for The Legacy of Luther Strode

The newest set of Image Comics solicitations confirmed that, yes, Tradd Moore will be returning to the series that made his name, as he and writer Justin Jordan will begin ‘The Legacy of Luther Strode’ in April. Billed as being the final part of the trilogy of stories they’ve told with the character, the miniseries will kick off with a double-sized first issue.

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Much-anticipated by fans, the conclusion to the run promises to circle right back round to the start. The trilogy is about a young man who takes a bodybuilding course which goes strangely right, basically, and he finds himself the chiselled specimen you see above. But with great pecs comes great responsibility, and Luther finds himself chased and hunted by an assortment of villains, agents and assassins.

Having managed to escape those threats for the time being, the third miniseries will see him coming right back round for a showdown with the man who gave him his strange talents to begin with. I imagine a lot of fighting will also ensue.

Luther Strode has been an unexpected comics arrangement, really. Image don’t really do a series of miniseries featuring the same character, but Jordan has managed to create an indelible world which has only increased in intensity as each new story has come out. A lot of people will be eagerly waiting for this one.

Jimmie Robinson’s Got A New Image Series, ‘The Empty’

Next month sees a new miniseries from Jimmie Robinson over at Image, in the form of ‘The Empty’, a post-apocalyptic story which feels a little like ‘The Wasteland’ in tone. Set in a World where poison has flooded the natural world, killing off most plantlife and infecting wildlife, the last humans struggle to survive where there is no food for them.

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This looks brilliant, although the CBR preview is unfortunately an “exclusive” which means the watermark ruins some of the pages. The only one I can salvage is this unlettered one – which is a problem because the lettering is a distinctive part of the book.

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Robinson is doing everything with this book, he notes – writing, pencils, colouring, letters, all of it. I became a real fan of his work during ‘Five Weapons’, his all-ages series from last year, which proved absolutely charming. This seems to have a similar sense of warmth in it, even as the characters scratch and existence out of the desert.

The Empty seems a more sophisticated work than his previous series, and there’s a curvy elegance to scenes like the one above, where a horned fox helps a hunter track down some food. Not a jackalope, but a jackal…fox? Anyway, I also found some concept art for some of the characters:

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The Empty is out at the start of February.

Image Expo: Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson on ‘Paper Girls’

Last seen commissioning a sketch of Pixie, many wondered what Cliff Chiang’s next move would be following the wrap-up of his long run on Wonder Woman. Well now we know – he and colourist Matt Wilson will be joining up with Brian K. Vaughan for a series called ‘Paper Girls’.

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The ongoing series follows four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls on the night after Halloween, “when something very strange happens.”

I know literally nothing more about it than that. That cover does make it look like it’ll be a landscape book rather than a portrait one though, right?

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