This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on April 5, 2016.
In “Crocked Critics” two comics critics are joined by their favorite companions: booze and sequential art. With minimal editing and maximal drinking, a pair of typically insightful writers take a serious look at a new comic while putting back drinks. For this particular journey we are joined by comics critics Daniel Elkin accompanied by Jameson Irish Whiskey (STILL ON SALE!) and Chase Magnett accompanied by Dogfish Head’s Namaste and Beer To Drink Music To as they take a look at The Fix #1 from writer Nick Spencer, artist Steve Lieber, and colorist Ryan Hill.
Chase Magnett: Right now I’m in 100% the wrong mood to be writing about The Fix #1. Because this is a comic I liked a lot. It’s a comic that makes me smile, genuinely smile, and laugh, genuinely laugh. That’s what I expected as a fan of Steve Lieber and Nick Spencer’s previous collaboration in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, but this comic still hit me right on the funny bone in unexpected ways. It’s a goddamn delight.
So sitting here with a few too many beers in me and the final couple episodes of Horace and Pete (a truly spectacular, but incredibly depressing television show) ringing in my head, I’m pulled to thoughts of melancholy, depression, cycles, and weakness. Yet I’m trying to think about a comic that makes guffaw. It’s a weird dichotomy to say the least.
I think there’s many to be found in everything though and as comics critics we certainly ought to be able to discover something of significance in juxtaposition no matter where it comes from or how odd it may be. The thing that strikes me about this very strange comparison swirling through my thoughts is that the ugliness of both these concepts isn’t exclusive. Two brothers torn down by violent, substance-abusing history and two partners prepared to utterly destroy themselves for the next bit of pleasure aren’t that terribly different.
Just look at Roy whose most significant father figure is a toxic cop who bangs his mom for a few weeks as a child. This is a damaged man who is now engaged in the series of vices and troubles he saw growing up. Yet in the world of The Fix, we see how to laugh at this sort of scenario instead of weeping. Lieber’s presentation of that very ugly childhood incident is laugh out loud funny, not because it misses how ugly it is, but because it embraces the ludicrous nature of it all. Rather than screaming at the void, I find myself laughing at it when I read The Fix. I don’t think that’s giving it too much credit either, because laughter is a very underrated thing.
Is this making any sense, my friend?
Daniel Elkin: I get where you’re coming from, old sport, and I don’t want to add any more turds to your shitty state, but I’m going take umbrage with your assertions. A Whole Shit-Ton of Umbrage.
For me, this comic is about the most insulting thing I’ve read all week. Now, certainly, I’ve been reading a lot of really great comics about interesting perspectives and intellectual challenges, but I’m not mad at The Fix because it is insipid. I’m mad at it because of what is at its core — it’s narrative conceit.
Let me break it down. We live in a day and age of unprecedented coverage of the horrific things that people in power are constantly and consistently doing to those beneath them. How many more videos are we going to have to watch of unarmed black men being shot down by cops before something changes? How many more “trials” are we going to have to stomach in which NOTHING is done? How many more reports of things like organized prison fight clubs or racists/homophobic texts between officers or massive cover ups must we endure? This is the state of the world. We are living in it. It’s ugly and brutal and horrific and wrong.
For Leiber and Spencer to sit down in this environment and think, “Hey… wouldn’t it be funny if we cast a couple of crooked cops as heroes” is a fucking slap in the face to everyone who is a victim of police corruption and brutality.
Then, top that off by making the “comic foil” in this book black because… well … because wouldn’t it be funny???
This is not funny. This book is insulting. I don’t like it. It needs to be fixed. And I need to keep drinking.
Chase Magnett: I suspect we’re reading this comic on very different levels. In fact, I’m pretty sure of it because I know we have very similar feelings regarding police in this country. Yet I look at this comic that is most certainly about corrupt police committing crimes and I’m not picking up what you’re throwing down.
I think the key difference for me comes in its presentation as a farce. I’m a huge fan of the Coen Bros. and I think there’s some shared DNA between their farces and The Fix #1. They have a knack for presenting ugly, mean characters as protagonists, but never heroes. You may be excited to see what Tom Hanks does next in The Ladykillers (a criminally underrated Coens pic) or Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar! but these are not men you’re told to admire or even accept. Hanks wants to kill an old lady and Brolin starts the picture by slapping around a young starlet. The cops in The Fix, at least the two leading men, are shit stains. They’re entertaining shit stains, the kind you can enjoy watching, but shit stains nonetheless.
One of the key differences between this pair being outright villainous and entertaining protagonists lies in the scope of their crimes. They rob an elderly man, but he’s also an elderly knee breaker. They let a drug addicted producer go free, but his worst crime was fucking a pair of Uggs (well, maybe he hurt a mime or a Jamba Juice employee, but c’mon). These guys are assholes, but they’re not the racist, vindictive assholes who are actually preying on communities. From the very start they’re criminals trying to make a buck with a badge. They have more in common with the crew in Ocean’s Eleven than any of the scum in Ferguson.
I’m not okay with endorsing police brutality as hilarious hijinks, but I don’t think that’s what is happening in The Fix #1. It reads like a crime farce with the added twist of the criminals being police in this scenario. Trying to pin down a point where these two are made out to be heroes or where they actively dismiss the very real problems of policing in this country is something I can’t do here.
Or maybe I just need to drink less.
Elkin: Never drink less, Chase.
I understand what you are trying to say here, but I really feel that it is a matter of context. Right now, here, in America, police and policing are all under scrutiny and suspicion. This is not the time to make a buddy-cop Butch and Sundance. It just reads wrong.
Especially when you look at the “scope of their crimes” as you allude to. When they are talking to the crime boss guy (the only character who I found genuinely humorous), they allude to murder they helped cover up. BAM. That’s the scope of crime that rings all the warning bells. As for them not “preying on communities” — these are police officers. They, by their very existence, need to garner public trust. The reason we have police in the first place is because we feel that, left unfettered, we’d all be cheating and hurting each other all the time. The law is in place in order to foster social order. It is an agreed upon contract. THIS is how “good” people are to live their lives. We empower our protectors — cops — to uphold those values. We give them certain rights and privileges in order to keep things running smoothly.
The corrupt cop is, perhaps, the greatest monster of them all. For this comic to cast this creature in any sort of comic light, to make them sympathetic (or at least try to), ESPECIALLY in the context of today’s concerns, shows how deaf these creators are.
I stand by this assertion. And I need another drink.
Magnett: I suppose the key difference in how we’re reading this story (because I don’t think we’ll get on the same page with this one) is whether it’s a cop or gangster story. This comic struck me as being much more like a comedic version of Goodfellas or Jackie Brown than Training Day or End of Watch. The police aspect is secondary to the criminal aspect.
Just look at what their boss is doing when it flashes between him being an overly concerned parent and a monstrous criminal. Every act of torture and interrogation he commits is coded like that of an organized crime boss. The joke with him isn’t corrupt cop meets Portland-style super-dad, but mob boss meets Portland-style super-dad.
I understand how any jokes concerning cops breaking the law or giving into corruption could be read as in poor taste though. We live in a society where our police are increasingly militarized and no matter how much institutional racism and brutality is uncovered, nothing seems to really get better. N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” has never been as relevant as it is today.
And I have to point out that I’m coming from a place of privilege before I say this next thing, because I’ve never had to live in fear of police, but I don’t think that makes the concept of adding a farcical riff to police-crime stories beyond the realm of possibility. The coding of The Fix as a gangster story and its aversion to tackling those subjects allows this to still function as a comedy for me and one I enjoy. However, I completely understand why that would rub someone else the wrong way. When the police are killing unarmed citizens in the streets as an ugly basis, it makes a lot of sense to say “fuck this” to any story that treats police corruption of any kind with a tone of silliness.
Maybe you’re right here, or maybe I just need another drink.
Elkin: Maybe if this book wasn’t trying to make its protagonists anti-heroes. Maybe if they just weren’t police. Maybe if this wasn’t such a resonating subject in today’s headlines. Maybe then I could put this aside and let the laughs laugh.
But I can’t, Chase. No matter how much I keep drinking.
This book is just the wrong book at the wrong time.
Magnett: Alright, I’m not going to deny you that and I think we’ve reached a dead end on this point.
But Steve Lieber sure knows how to tell a joke in comics, am I right?
Elkin: He draws a nice dog.
Elkin: Seriously, though. I get it. This is a well-constructed bit of comic book making. No denying that, taken out of context, there is much to enjoy here. I just can’t get past the premise. It clouds all my readings of it, and therefore I find it hard to praise.
I’m sorry. I like to have a good time when I’m drinking with you, my friend. But now I’m just sad. In a way, I kinda miss the cash-grab innocence of Haunted Mansion.
Magnett: Naw, I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk you out of your point. We may diverge at what we’re saying, but what you’re laying down is super valid and it’s making me think. And that’s not just the booze talking. I like having a good time drinking with you too, but between Horace and Pete and police brutality, this effort may have been doomed from the outset.
So… You see any good movies lately?
Elkin: I just saw this thing at the theaters last week. It had some guy dressed like a bat. I think he hated god or something. Then he found out that his mom and god’s mom had the same name. Then they kissed?? I dunno. The whole thing was kind of a blur.
Maybe next time we should drink and talk about bats and gods? It might make for more fun.
Magnett: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I saw a movie that had some Judeo-Christian overtones as well called Midnight Special. It was pretty great. It had Michael Shannon in it, but I’m sure that he wasn’t in your movie too.
Let’s talk about dumb protagonists who dress up like bats and talk about the Cheney Doctrine next time. That sounds like way more fun.
Elkin: Or giant robots blowing shit up. I like that.
Magnett: Me too, buddy. Me too.
Elkin: I love you, man.
Magnett: Love you too.