Thee Comic Column #117: Catching up with the FDP

FBP_Federal_Bureau_of_Physics_Vol_1_17First: SPOILERS lay ahead. Nothing super detrimental, and in fact what I write will hopefully influence those not reading this book to pick it up, but if you’re behind in the series or the kind of person – like I am – who likes to know absolutely NOTHING going in, maybe skip this and just go read the book!

You have been warned.

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I first wrote about Federal Bureau of Physics back when the first issue landed. At that time the book was titled Collider – some legal issues changed that and really, FDP is a better title anyway. It hits a certain harmonic with the now iconic words that come through the telephone receiver every time someone in the book dials 911 and sets up another encroaching localized breakdown in the laws of physics as we know them:

911. What is the nature of your emergency: fire, ambulance, police… or physics?

FDP began as something of a procedural. Agent Adam Hardy is a member of a team of physics agents who get dispatched to deal with a new ordeal plaguing the otherwise recognizable world of the series – an ongoing series of disasters that demonstrate to the world that the laws of physics as we thought we knew them are no longer holding true. This includes but is by no means limited to things like the following: up is up. Down is down. Gravity. There’s no such thing as parallel universes. Etc. The stories in the series all, at one level, revolve around the reversal or just plain dismissal of these ‘laws’. The first arc begins with Agent Hardy and his partner responding to a gravity reversal at a high school and finishes with a pocket universe that absorbs a part of a city and the inhabitants therein. By the time we finish the subsequent arcs though we’ve seen some crazier and crazier events, and the story has slyly begun to use those events as catalysts to move a bigger, behind the scenes story to the forefront; namely the story of Agent Hardy’s father – a forerunner in the physics field and his disappearance. Also, what a wealthy enigmatic industrialist named Lance Blackwood might have to do with that disappearance, or at least know about it, and how Blackwood’s theory that the world, the Universe, everything we know is on the verge of ceasing to exit. How does all this tie together?

Oh, I know I warned of spoilers but that would be too much. The intricacies therein are what make FDP such a wonderful book!

I’d been reading FDP monthly since it began. I have a bit of an armchair love of quantum mechanics and the series seemed right up my alley. However, as is sometimes the case these days, at some point I fell behind on the issues and when I tried to catch up by reading one or two issues to get current I found I was not getting everything out of the series I suspected was actually there. I lapsed even longer. Then, about a month ago I sat down and read all sixteen issues (17 hit the stands earlier last month) in one sitting and realized that FDP is a very tightly plotted book. Everything that happens pinions on everything that’s come before it, and writer Simon Oliver does an amazing job peppering little scenes throughout the first several arcs of the book which eventually reach fruition by catapulting us into this new development, the possible end of everything. This is a delightful plotting method, so much so that reading FDP in one tight burst felt a lot like listening to a great album. Somewhere in my mind I realized for me the musical comparison is Radiohead’s Kid A – sorry Mr. Rodriguez, I know you hate them, but there’s a comparison in my head; the same tech-horror, look-what-we’ve-gotten-ourselves-into tone that permeates both works and much the same way Kid A climaxes with Motion Picture Soundtrack and the first time you hear it you experience a little slice of deja vu – as if, “Of course this is the final song, I knew it all along,” FDP’s recent paradigm shift from pockets of micro-scenarios to one giant macro one feels perfect. This was inevitable, even though the shorter arcs were also so tight we just did not see it coming.

Federal-Bureau-of-Physics-009-2014-Digital-Nahga-Empire-016

Series co-creator Robbi Rodriguez recently left FDP and at first I was very much nervous about this. Not that, with a story this good I would have bailed, but there is such a consistent tone between the way the characters are written and the way they and their environment are drawn that I was concerned there might be a hiccup. Also, Mr. Rodriguez uses some absolutely fabulous visual cues/ideas to really make this book “pretty”. The image above is from an arc that begins in issue #8 and involves a town named Nakeet, Alaska. For me this is my favorite arc of the series thus far, a ramp-up that begins in a local anomaly called Newton’s Gulch, a place where locals and tourists can write a wish on a small colored ball and throw it out into the air over the gulch. The ball disappears and supposedly if it comes back your wish is a go. This small idea is a perfect example of Rodriguez and Oliver working beautifully together, an idea that could have been a throw-away plot thread that Rodriguez takes the time to shape into a stunning visualize crescendo that perfectly compliments the story and how it evolves several key elements of the bigger tapestry slowly uncoiling. Like I said, I wasn’t worried about Rodriguez’s departure from FDP enough to ever stop reading it, but I was worried about missing these kind of moments.

Turns out there was absolutely no reason to worry.

First, series Colorist Rico Renzi remains on FDP and with the change in artist Mr. Renzi really proves just how vital he is to the book. The methodology Mr. Renzi approaches the series with is so signature that at this point that I would be equally afraid to lose him. Second, when new artist Alberto Ponticelli came aboard the series with issue 14 he really made it a seamless transition – a transition that is helped by a two-issue shift in the story that allows for an arc giving us the history of Agent Cicero (my personal favorite character at this point). Mr. Ponticelli hasn’t had too much of a chance to show off in the book yet, however his use of the white, negative space on pages 9, 10 and 11 of issue #17 and the way he comes out of it, well, it’s a sign that Ponticelli is already working with Oliver and Renzi in the same kind of perfect synchronization that Rodriguez was and as FDP ratchets up the stakes of its story, the book is well on its way to being the kind of iconic title that Vertigo was once known for upon its eventual (but hopefully not too soon) conclusion.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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