Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dirty Dozen: FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics

Dirty Dozen is a semi-regular feature with twelve disconnected thoughts on the first twelve issues of a current ongoing series.

1. Perhaps my favorite thing about FBP is that it feels like the kind of concept that doesn't just lend itself to the comicbook medium but actually needs to exist in that medium in order to be what it wants to be. The prose is necessary for the explanations of the big physics ideas. The art is necessary to show us what a world where the laws of physics are coming to pieces actually looks like and how it operates. And even the monthly serialization is important in that it allows each new concept to be explored more completely than might be possible if they all had to share the same, smaller space. It's the perfect idea for a comic, and I'm not sure it would even get off the ground in any other format.

2. I don't know how I would feel about the lengthy and on-the-nose title of FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics if that had been this book's name all along. I doubt I'd love it, but I might not hate it so damn much if the first issue hadn't been published under the immeasurably superior name of Collider. What a raw deal that it had to change with the second issue. I wonder how much potential audience was lost in the transition.

3. Robbi Rodriguez's art is great for many reasons, but what makes him such an awesome choice for this series in particular is how he manages to show us immediately and regularly how unstable the world of FBP is. The characters are a little bit warped in their designs; the linework is jittery but in a controlled, strategic way; the set pieces are all sprawling and manic. In a story where the fabric of existence is coming apart at the seams, it's important to have an artist who can capture the madcap energy of that reality and relay it to the reader. Rodriquez does so page after page, because his natural style is a bit madder and less restrained than most, and on top of that he often intentionally plays up the craziness and chaos in this book, always with purpose and to great effect.

4. Hey, Vertigo, what possible reason could there be to not include colorist Rico Renzi and letterer Steve Wands on the covers? Renzi has colored every issue, and Wands has lettered all but one. And they've both done impeccable work all the way through. Give them some damn credit, ya jerks.

5. The opening arc, "The Paradigm Shift," is probably still my favorite, though technically "Wish You Were Here" won't end until issue #13 so maybe my opinion will change when that concludes. "The Paradigm Shift" was such a strong introduction to the series, though, and it was followed by the considerably weaker "There's Something About Rosa," which had some problems that were hard to ignore. For one thing, the opening sequence in which Rosa is tied to a chair by the arc's villains is never returned to---even when we see her get kidnapped, she isn't ever tortured or bound like that. Then in the end, Rosa, Adam, and Cicero all agree on trapping the baddies in an infinite black hole loop, a rather heavy-handed response to their villainy, and one with some enormous moral/ethical implications that never get discussed. I don't have a problem with the protagonists going to such extremes, necessarily, but it would've been nice to see them weigh their options at all, or for at least one of them to have had some qualms about their decision for even a second. They are so cavalier about it that the impact of what they do is actually lessened by their unnaturally casual attitudes. Following "There's Something About Rosa" meant that "Wish You Were Here" had some goodwill to earn back, and I think it pretty much has, but even that arc doesn't feel as tight as "The Paradigm Shift" did. On the other hand, the story of "The Paradigm Shift" wasn't nearly as dense or daring as either "There's Something..." or "Wish..." so maybe what I'm reacting to is the book's growing complexity, and I need to just shut up and enjoy the ever-more-intricate ride.

6. I like how Adam is such a shameless slut. He doesn't look down on or even actively objectify women, but he does flirt compulsively and sleep with anyone who's into the idea. It's unusual to see a character who is so sexually aggressive without being immature about it or overly interested in it. Adam is at times distracted by his sex drive, yes, but it's far from being his defining characteristic, and it's never really a big deal in the scheme of things.

7. Nathan Fox's approach to the cover art is perfect. For one thing, his style complements Rodriguez's, so there's consistency there which is always a plus. What I really admire, though, is how Fox always captures the spirit of each issue in a beautifully boiled-down form. Sometimes it's a scene or detail from the issue reimagined and highly stylized on the cover, sometimes it's more a visual representation of the central themes or characters of the story inside, but it's always a great fit and a strong first beat to each chapter.

8. Simon Oliver isn't afraid to jump suddenly from one scene to the next, or even leave out some things, letting the in-between moments happen off-panel so the reader can get more of the meaty good stuff. Sometimes this is a little jarring, when the transitions take place mid-page and without warning, and then all of a sudden the characters have information we don't. But Oliver is smart and structured enough to fill in any gaps quickly; he never leaves us hanging for very long. It's an efficient way to write, especially in a book so full of huge, hard-to-understand ideas, and it's nice that Oliver respects his readers enough to not worry about everything being perfectly smooth or easily consumable. He provides all the details we need to make sense of the story, he just does it via an unexpected, syncopated narrative rhythm that's as hard to predict as the physics of the story itself.

9. I did not care for the "too be revealed" panel in issue #12. If you want to allude to events I haven't seen yet, then just do it, and show them to me when the time is right. Give your audience enough credit to suss out what's being discussed from context clues without needing an editorial interruption to say that the answers are forthcoming. Also, don't advertise a series I'm already reading within the pages of that same series. It was distracting and off-putting, and wholly unnecessary.

10. I appreciate the diversity of the cast of FBP, and the way it's handled by the creators. It is never ignored, and even sometimes openly discussed, most notably when Sen and Cicero talk about Sen's gender identity, but even then it is not the point of the story, never the center of attention. FBP doesn't show off or brag about its diversity, nor does it try to dig too deep into the politics of race or gender or any of those sticking points. It stays true to its mission and its narrative, and just happens to have a less homogenous cast than is unfortunately still the norm. The characters are aware of and realistic about their differences, but that is never their focus, nor is it the book's.

11. If I had to choose a single scene as my favorite thus far, it'd have to be in issue #11 when the bad guys shoot wildly at Adam as he jumps into Newton's Gulch, only to have one-third of their bullets return through the weird physics of the area and kill the shooters instead. It's a nice bit of comically violent justice, and a perfect payoff for the concept of the Gulch, introduced a few issues earlier.

12. Right from the start, FBP is all about change. The series' central concept has to do with changes in our world due to the laws of physics breaking down, and no sooner is that established than there's another major change when the government decides to open up the physics game to private industry, making the FBP practically obsolete overnight. Adam's partner changes from the first arc to the second, and his goals and priorities seem to be in a state of near-constant flux. Sen changed herself so her body would match the gender with which she identified internally. Cicero represents a change in the FBP's approach from learning in the field via hands-on experience to learning in a classroom and then bringing that education to the field. And so forth. This is a series about the impermanence of anything and the instability of everything, and it is that theme—way more than the scientific theory or the zany action or any other aspect of this book—that keeps me coming back for more.

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