The past several years have seen a bumper crop of humor comics, even among the dour, larger publishers. But how many are actually funny? How many really make you laugh, rather than nod your head in vague appreciation that the comic isn’t a depressing grimfest? OK—Ryan Ottley’s Grizzly Shark is a stupid, disgusting, glorious pleasure. But what else?
One good clue that you’re reading a comic with actual humor is whether it’s made by writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber. They first worked together on The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, an unexpected gem that Marvel likely intended as nothing more than a brand extension of the then-popular Superior Spider-Man (Peter Parker’s body controlled by Dr. Octopus). But the 2013-2014 series became one of Marvel’s best recent titles: an absurd, joke-packed, entertaining story about a bunch of fifth-rate supervillains and bottom-drawer human beings. Spencer and Lieber recently returned to that criminal-scum-filled drawer in the new Image ongoing series, The Fix, which has no spandex, but possibly even more jokes per page. If you enjoy dense, smart humor like Archer, this is the crime comedy you need.
Lieber describes the series, which focuses on two always corrupt, often inept cops named Mac and Roy, as “…sometimes farcical, sometimes really dark. Everyone in the story is a horrible, horrible person with one exception—an incorruptible drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels.” If you like to read about heists, flim-flams and corruptions, you’ll enjoy the adventures of Mac and Roy, who are running game—with various levels of success—on just about everyone they meet. They’re also trying to sell the film rights to their sketchy adventures. As Mac and Roy rob a nursing home, lose money betting on battlebot fights and debate the severity of getting shot in the hand (“Apparently, the human hand heals faster than any other part of the body”), readers are reminded of a paradox: horrible fictional people are the best.
However, Spencer says he doesn’t think of the characters as simply horrible: in some cases, they are just “breathtakingly honest.” That certainly applies to our narrator, Roy, who in the first issue makes a compelling case for why college, careers, marriage and families are a scam, not to mention why ‘police officer’ is the best profession for making a buck and screwing over everybody else. As Roy puts it, “Who gets to break the rules more than the guy who makes them?” It’s hard not to shudder at the gleeful, naked will-to-power of a cop who raves, “You can beat up whoever you want—you can even shoot them sometimes!” Sadly, that could well be the thought process of many real-life bad cops, and such satire tosses the reader far into the abyss.
All the characters in The Fix have their funny moments, but the most consistently ridiculous is probably Josh—a pretentious, anti-vaccination, gluten-shunning suburbanite, who also happens to be a brutal crime boss employing Mac and Roy. As to Josh’s origin, Spencer said, “I live on the East Side of Los Angeles. There’s a lot of inspiration for Josh.” Spencer said he sees many “people who live a very curated existence” and that their affectations “do not necessarily speak to character.” This evisceration of hypocrisy is a trademark of great comedy and a strong theme of The Fix.
Spencer and Lieber take another strong poke at presentation vs. reality when our bad-cop protagonists set up and expose a seemingly saintly cop. As the dupe is hauled away in cuffs, Roy scum-splains a sort of virtue-signaling phoniness: “…they’re doing the math on their own humanity, and finding themselves so far in the negative they gotta go full-on Mother Theresa just to balance the books.” Such moral math may remind readers of classic FX drama The Shield, in which a far-less humorous bad cop, Vic Mackey, tried to make the good in his life outweigh the bad, but the bad just kept compounding until it crushed everyone around him. The Fix has nothing in common with The Shield on the surface, but they show a similar insight into human nature.
Spencer is a fan of crime comic classics such as Criminal and 100 Bullets, but said he takes comedy inspiration from other genres. Many fans and writers noticed the influence of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Superior Foes of Spider-Man, but there’s another comedy that influenced the joke-packed panels of The Fix: Archer. Spencer and Lieber appreciate the relentless stream of humor, and approach the comic with that same design. Spencer said they try “to make the density of the page such that you can’t speed-read through the book.” That means the verbal and visual jokes are served in bulk: for example, an onanistic sound effect lies in the background of the first issue (this writer didn’t notice it until he read it a third time). Much like the intricate Kirby-esque chaos of Tom Scioli’s art on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Spencer and Lieber’s verbal-visual smorgasbord makes for a meaty comic that rewards rereading.
Lieber’s artistic process balances mechanics and psychology, as he discussed in an email: “You do a lot of brainstorming and doodling and erasing. I try a dozen different layouts and ideas on scrap paper, scribbles so sloppy no one but me could possibly interpret them, trying to nail the rhythms of how a scene should play out. Comics is a rhythmic medium, and it gets its juice from the juxtaposition of words and pictures and symbols. You have to be really sensitive to the rhythmic impact of every element on a page.” Alongside such experimentation, Lieber keeps focused on character: “As a storyteller, I try to serve the characters and let humor emerge from who they are and the situation they’re in. Our characters are all assholes, but they’re individual assholes, and I want to communicate the exact fucked-up way each of them would behave in any given moment.”
The Fix’s third issue released yesterday, with the first arc available in trade this August for Image’s always appealing price of $9.99. That’s a helluva bargain to read a genuinely funny, highly rereadable comic. Mac and Roy may deserve to be put in jail like the scum they are, but Spencer and Lieber—and Pretzels the dog—deserve your support.