The Bunker Handles Fate In That Way Only Comics Seem To Nail
I don’t know what it is about comics and their exploration of destiny. I don’t know if it’s something specific to these writers; or if it’s something to do with the medium itself. Images, embedded with text, placed next to each other in a barely-linear form. The point stands no matter the means: comic books are weirdly good at exploring the theme of fate. Better than films or games, though maybe just as good as prose fiction. The Bunker, a new title from industry veterans Fialkov and Infurnari, is the newest addition to this caste of destiny-questioning fiction.
The Bunker‘s premise is a curious blend of Lost, Terminator and Lord Of The Flies, and was released in digital download only (see here) on the second of August. Notice that those three comparisons are three completely different works from totally different mediums. So, despite the oddball correlation, let’s do a rundown what these similarities are:
The Bunker’s big mystery in its opening pages are the bunker, or more accurately, the time capsule. Our protagonists- five teenage friends about to graduate and be separated possibly forever- come across a time capsule in a local forest. (They come across the time capsule whilst trying to bury their own time capsule, which is nice and meta. ) Just like Lost‘s enigmatic “hatch,” one of the most surreal and disappointing, but totally compelling plot devices in human history, the kids are baffled by the mystery of the thing. It has their names printed on (some excellent panelling introduces us to each of the characters using the stencilled words), which is instantly a sinister prospect. Surely, the answer must lie with in? The intrepid kids do so.
The Lostey vibes continue as the kids find, within the hatched bunker, notes written for each of them… Apparently by their future selves. Ooh, mysterious. One of the characters even flat out says it: “So… Who’s seen LOST?”
The Bunker is a comic about the collapsing of time, of the present and the future and how they constantly intertwine. Rather than like Lost’s rubbishey stupid mythology, The Bunker gives its readers a pretty damn clear, and twistey idea of what is going on with the characters and what’s actually going to happen.
Which leads onto the comparison with Terminator: the letters to each of the kids. Our story in the first issue regards Grady Potts, the slightly tubby protagonist whose letter says the most. Indeed, his letter is what leads us through the issue’s narrative; from its present as the kids find the bunker, to the future where manking has been decimated, near-extinction. This is, robots aside, blow for blow the same plot as Terminator. Not in a bad way, either. A kid’s (or bunch of them in this case) actions have led to humanity’s destruction in the future- and now the temporal flow has been interrupted as they try to save themselves in the past.
But unlike Terminator, The Bunker isn’t focusing on action. Answers aren’t found through shooting and punching and driving. The answers are found through dialogue and writing: admittedly, most of which is very obscure “oh you have to make the right decisions, Grady,” or, “Daniel will do this,” or, “Heidi will do that,” but it isn’t clear how relevant or important any of these things are. Indeed, some of the issue’s writing really isn’t that strong. For a first issue, it’s strong overall, but there are half-baked moments, like when in Grady’s letter to his former self he describes a genetically modified foodstuff which kills millions in the future, as: “like fruit of a poisoned tree.” Not exactly inspired.
What’s worse is the written letter, which again is largely good, but seriously inconsistent in a couple of places. At one point it writes to Grady: ” you’re a stronger man than you know or understand,” but earlier in the text says “there is no place that your icy fucking hand hasn’t turned to shit.” The half praise, half cuttingly-critical tone of the letter is a little confusing. Though I’m hoping that this will become clear and clever in hindsight- perhaps Grady is the ultimate villain, and the letter is trying to convince him to be a good guy? It’s certainly trying to make him do things differently. As it is, the letter (and writing in general) comes across as thrilling, but a little try-hard. The flashforward scenes to the future are also interesting if seemingly random as heck.
This feels almost like an Issue 0, rather than an Issue 1. No plot actually begins here, we’re just introduced to the characters and the potential of the future.
And I suppose that the characters are what it’s all about. Which is totally fair enough. And this is where the comparison to Lord Of The Flies comes in: this is a tale obviously about coming of age. And not in a “ooh sex and drugs and freedom” coming of age, but of realising the potential and power that one’s actions have. That by asserting oneself and doing the right thing now, the future can be changed.
Lord Of The Flies is obviously a tale where the kids do the wrong things, and to put it bluntly, s**t gets f***ed. It takes place on a small scale- a deserted island rather than a global apocalypse- but The Bunker essentially appears to be a similar story, but where the kids in the future, after mistakes have been made, after they have turned on each other, reaching back in time to prevent the problems they’ll face in the future.
But despite the similarities with TV, prose, and film, The Bunker’s successes are distinct to the graphic novel medium. The swapping between narrative threads, using panels and distinct captions is incredibly effective for embedding the present in the future, or vice versa. Thematically, all of these questions of destiny tie to other comics which so effectively explore the idea; for example Rising Stars or Ex Machina. Hopefully, by the end of The Bunker we’ll have a story exploring destiny and choice as great as these previous graphic novels.
The end of the new issue is pretty exciting, and inverts what has been set up in the preceding thirty-four pages. It’s a clever twist, and indeed, considering how twisty the whole text is, I’m left wondering how exactly Fialkov and Infurnari are going to keep the plot going, and keep it catchy without feeling relentless.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that the art is a generally excellent blend of pencil-sketched illustrations and intelligent, liberal panel design choices. A couple of moments later on are perfectly punctuated and designed from a panelling standpoint. Infurnari has definitely done well here.
Overall, The Bunker is an interesting, unique story unfolding right in front of us. There are no strings attached to DC or Marvel, the men basically self published it, so this is definitely something unique in the industry. For a couple of bucks- you need to check it out. The Bunker’s next issue releases on the second of September.