Quantum tornados, localized time dilation, and fluctuating gravity are the workaday business of the Federal Bureau of Physics, a governmental organization tasked with handling “physics-related emergencies,” in Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez’s ongoing comic series FBP. In the universe they create, the normal rules of physics are bent and torn as parallel universes slide over each other, generating gravitational shear and a host of other big-scale physics problems besides.
It is the latest in a string of comic titles that have sought to bring hard science sci-fi thinking back into the visual narrative genre. Rick Remender’s space-time hopping Black Science and end-of-humanity examining Low, and Simon Spurrier’s fantastically funny X-Club have all taken their turn at hypothesizing the shape of the world that will result from our leading edge of physics and engineering discoveries, and as was hoped, they proved that an audience exists in the comic world for sophisticated if geeky musings about events on a Planck scale.
FBP is a combination of big physics and a withering critique of Libertarian public sector skepticism. After a sabotaged case, physics protection becomes privatized, the wealthy getting the best of care, while everybody else is served by whatever remnants of the FBP didn’t jump ship at the first wave of privatization. Big corporations maneuver public opinion through a rhetoric of governmental mistrust to support what is decidedly not in their best interests in a tale that is eerily prescient given the recent election season here in the States.
The universe building, overarching story, and use of a twisting physics-scape are all on the largest scale, and when the book is operating on that level, it is at its best. The first volume, collecting the first 7 issues (for a mere $10 no less!) keeps itself routinely massaging those themes, and seems to be saving the character development for a later day. The protagonist, Adam Hardy, is a FBP agent to whom Things Happen, but who hasn’t yet found a voice or personality to make us root particularly for or against him. He picks up a partner along the way, Rosa Reyes, to whom things have also happened, and who is Taciturn and Mysterious to play against Adam’s Taciturn and Confused, and their supervisor Cicero’s Taciturn and Brilliant. Get the three of them together and, man, things really start not being said.
Sure, the character palette is a little pale at the moment, but given the size of the world that Oliver is trying to build, that’s what I expect for the introductory issues. The second volume came out recently, and I’ll definitely be picking it up just to hop around in this universe a bit more, and with the expectation that a team this good can’t but help dive deeper into the characters once they establish their primary plot architecture.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s art is a marvelous fit, everything seemingly ready to twist out of existence even when the local physics is behaving itself – there’s an unbalanced tension in the lines that keeps the world seeming not quite right, and that’s exactly where a book like this should set its visual ethos.
Overall, I’d call the book a solid 8, a book of cosmic potential that just needs to open up its human side to become one of the best sci-fi titles there is.