Comic Picks By The Glick

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics vol. 1: The Paradigm Shift

March 12, 2014

This is a series that I want to like.  Unfortunately the premise of “FBP” is at odds with the blue-collar, honest government employees fighting the good fight procedural that it makes itself out to be.  The idea is that our world is now experiencing localized failures of physics and the U.S. government has created a new bureau to deal with these issues.  They can range from somewhat benign things like gravity failure and time dilation to things like Hoff’s Gravitational Inversion -- a bubble universe springing from nowhere.  It’s the job of people like Adam Hardy, whose dad was one of the first investigators into these things, his partner Jay and their supervisor Cicero to make sure that these failures of physics are dealt with as cleanly and efficiently as possible.  It’s clear that writer Simon Oliver wants to write a sci-fi procedural about weird physics phoenomena and the blue-collar government employees who have to deal with them.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is that reality is breaking down around everyone and they’re all treating it like an episode of “CSI!”  We’re talking about a world where some of the fundamental laws of nature suddenly decide to stop working and the government’s response is to form another department to deal with it.  What about assembling the best scientific minds around to find out just what the hell is causing physics to stop working right and then do something about it?  In a flashback sequence, one of the friends of Adam’s father likens the universe to pizza dough that’s stretched too far with holes starting to form.  In describing what happens when these “holes” form in the dough, the man essentially says that up and down don’t necessarily mean the same thing anymore.

Hearing something like that, creating a new government department to treat the symptoms does not strike me as a particularly sane response.  Even if the man and Adam’s dad are presented as “fringe” elements at the beginning of these outbreaks, the current state of the world basically validates what they’re talking about.  To any rational observer, it would appear that the end of the world is at hand.

In the world of “FBP,” however, physics is only breaking down just enough to give our characters interesting cases to solve.  To Oliver’s credit, the stories themselves are generally well-constructed with interesting takes on the particular physics issues they represent.  It was interesting and amusing to see things like Adam learn the “rules” of the bubble universe he has to infiltrate to rescue the normal humans inside, watching high school kids take advantage of a localized loss of gravity, and a middle-aged man realize he’s experiencing time dilation when he gets back from a bathroom break to find out that his wrestling program is over.  I also like the idea of the FBP becoming the healthcare equivalent of “free county treatment” after the physics protection business is privatized in the wake of the first arc’s events.  The analogue between the two services works in the context of the story.

We also get some long-term character storylines with potential.  Adam is presented as someone who wants to do right by his pioneering father, yet finds himself up against conspiratorial forces he knows nothing about.  Said forces appear to be exploiting his father’s work for their own personal gain as we find out in one key scene.  There’s also the matter of the new agent who joins their team, Rosa Reyes, whose socializes like someone from the planet Mars according to Adam.  That might be because of the strange circumstances surrounding her birth and subsequent return.  Though her obtuseness feels a bit too deliberate at first, it becomes easier to appreciate what she brings to the team as the story goes on and particularly so at its end.

That’s almost, but not quite true of the art for this volume which is provided by Robbi Rodriguez.  I can appreciate the exaggerated style with which he draws the characters as it works in a world where reality is breaking down around everyone.  However good he may be with the characters, he’s not quite as good when depicting the more esoteric breakdowns of physics they encounter.  They tend to come off as a mess of shapes and lines, with his storytelling really breaking down during an early sequence in which Adam tries to fix a gravity failure.  Maybe Rodriguez will get better at this stuff as the series goes on, though right now I’m left wishing that the series had an artist who’s good at drawing anything -- like Guy Davis -- onboard for this stuff.

Seeing if the art gets better is ultimately a secondary concern with this title.  In order to accept it on its own terms, I had to force myself to stop thinking about the wider implications of its premise.  The bottom line is that the world of “FBP” appears to be ending and its core cast are busy going around and rearranging its deck chairs.  Maybe Oliver has a really good reason as to why physics is only breaking down just this much, though all the indications I’m getting from this volume is that we’ve received all of the explanation we’re going to get.  So if you can force yourself to stop thinking about the broader implications facing a world where reality is slowly unraveling, then there are some decent stories here for you to enjoy.  That’s not how they should operate, but that’s what we’ve wound up with here.

Jason Glick

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