Thursday, May 1, 2014

Series Review: The Bunker

The Bunker
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrated by Joe Infurnari
Oni Press

Remember how at the end of college, you and your friends got together to spend one last magical night together, and by the end of the night you discovered through a message from the future that you would be responsible for the destruction of humanity? Me too. That's the premise behind the compelling series The Bunker from Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Joe Infurnari. Originally published digitally at Monkeybrain, the series has its print edition published by Oni Press.

The Bunker tells the story of five friends - Daniel, Natasha, Grady, Heidi and her brother Billy. These friends go into the woods to bury a time capsule for the future, and as soon as they start digging, they discover something much weirder - a bunker facility with their names on it (all except Billy's). On the inside, the bunker is filled with documentation about the future, including letters from their future selves.

Not surprisingly, the characters are skeptical, and assume that Grady (who was enthusiastic about burying the time capsule) set this up as a prank. But the letter tell the characters things about themselves that only they could know, and so they have to reckon with the fact that these may in fact be real messages from the future. The first issue of the series is a double sized issue, which collects the stories which were previously published online. The letters make clear that these friends are ultimately responsible for the deaths of billions of people, and provide guidance on how to prevent this horrible future. As the story progresses, we discover that one of the future versions of the characters has returned the present day (along with the bunker). We also learn more details about horrific future that awaits these characters, and about the things that they must do in order to prevent it. 

Some of this explanation is slightly confusing, in that at some points the characters instructions seem to be that they must change the future, and other points it appears that the characters are being told things must progress exactly as they are. This confusion seems to be part of the story, as it's not clear who can be trusted. We get glimpses of all of the characters in both the present and future (and in some cases, the past), and it's clear they all have compromised, and in many ways, are compromised.  

This is a strong series with great characterization and moody, stylish art. Originally conceived as a black-and-white, color was added when this was published by ONI Press. For a story involving time travel in the future, the look of the comic is different than what you would expect, and is somewhat unique for the genre. Infurnari illustrates the story in a noir style using a lot of light and shadow, and the color is somewhat minimalist and fairly muted throughout. 

There is great characterization, as each of the characters feels distinct, and has a purpose. They have their own distinct complexities, with problems from the past or potential future they are wrestling with, all of which are fairly troubling. Fialkov wisely depicts each of the characters as being fairly incredulous of these future revelations, even where the letters or other evidence demonstrates pretty conclusively that this is information that is genuinely from the future. If you were presented with evidence of a letter written by your future self, a letter which showed you that your youthful idealism was going to give way to some pretty dark choices, you wouldn't want to believe it either.  Fialkov also wisely doesn't attempt to explain the time travel through pseudo-science; it works because we need it to work in this story. 

It's clear from the get-go that the stakes are very high in this series, and as we watch the drama unfold we can see some of the pieces falling into place. If you're looking for a series with compelling characters, high stakes and a sense of existential dread, The Bunker is a great place to look.

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