Friday, January 17, 2014

'The Bunker' Broadens Reach, Deepens the Intrigue

by Brian Truitt)

Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari are no longer alone in The Bunker.

Their sci-fi digital comic series debuted online in August and quickly found fans in readers as well as folks in the industry, and The Bunker comes to print starting next month as an ongoing series with its new publishing home, Oni Press.

With talk of a TV adaptation in the works, The Bunker is getting a touch-up for its big relaunch in February. Written by Fialkov and illustrated by Infurnari, the first issue will collect all five chapters of the digital-only comic, and Infurnari recolored all the pages so far and reassembled them panel by panel for an improved reading experience. (Readers can still preorder Bunker No. 1 from their local comic shops.)

"When we were doing the digital, the whole idea was it was me and Joe and no one else. We didn't have any other input. It was literally us making our story," Fialkov says. "And with that came the realization that we didn't know how long we'd be able to do it for.

"Now with the support of Oni, we have a good vision for a nice long run. We can take our time and tell the story we want. It's nice to get to breathe, and when you read issues 2 and 3, there's a lot more room for character and the drama of the story."

The premise of The Bunker offers pieces of Back to the Future, Lost, Twilight Zone and Stand by Me: Five college-age kids stumble upon a mysterious underground bunker filled with papers and other paraphernalia that their future selves seem to have left them to show how they pretty much will be responsible for the end of the world.

Grady is the nice guy who apparently will become the evil president of the United States, his friend Billy doesn't seem to actually have any sort of a future, and the rest each start having to deal with the repercussions of knowing of the disaster that will come to fruition years later. Meanwhile, a villainous force ends up back in the present in the first issue's major last-page reveal to deepen the intrigue.

"Suddenly no matter what happens with these characters, their lives are going to be different," Fialkov says. "Now it becomes about how the timeline is shifting and how their destinies are changing, whether they want them to or not. You get to see each character making the choice about who they are and who they're going to be."

People have taken notice of it, too. Fialkov has done high-profile work at DC Comics (I, Vampire) and Marvel Comics (Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates), but when he meets fans these days, they mainly want to chat about The Bunker. And within an hour of the first chapter going live for download in August, Oni publisher Joe Nozemack emailed the writer "to yell at me and say, 'Why didn't you bring this to us?!' " Fialkov says with a laugh.

"It's crazy that two guys with nothing just made a book, and it's crazy how it's caught on and how many people it's touched."

Now having a print deal doesn't change the story that Fialkov and Infurnari want to tell. The plot thickens again in issue 2 where Billy and Grady, though they're separate from one another, both come to realize what their jobs are and what kind of men they are.

"I love writing superhero comics and I love writing people punching each other," Fialkov says. "But to have to write scenes that are two people trying to more or less outthink each other, without underestimating or overestimating each other, is so fun."

The malevolent individual at the end of the first issue will also start to manipulate the youngsters as each of them start making decisions that will alter the timeline.

"It's the story of five people trying to save the future using Cliff's Notes vs. one guy trying to destroy the future with the full novel in front of him," Fialkov says. "No matter what he always has a better picture of what's there than they do, and it creates this great tension between them."

Grady is the biggest question mark coming from the first issue of The Bunker — it's evident what he may one day become, but not clear on how he gets there.

His story line takes a major step forward in the second issue when he learns that there is going to be a terrorist attack and Grady needs to be in a certain place to look like the hero. It's the first step in the path of him eventually becoming the president and bringing on the apocalypse, but by avoiding it, it might mean people might get hurt or worse.

That's what The Bunker is ultimately about, according to Fialkov. There are no good decisions, no right or wrong answers, but everything we do changes the path taken and potentially changes who you are as a person.

"What's right for me is not right for everyone else," the writer says. "It's about finding a balance between those things, to be happy and powerful and whatever without doing it at the expense of everyone else around you.

"And the problem with that equation that people deal with is the closer you get to making things better for you, the closer you are to making it worse for everyone else."