The Bunker: Apocalyptic Wish Fulfillment

The Bunker, Volume 1The Bunker, Volume 1

Written by: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrations by: Joe Infurnari
Published: August 19th 2014
Publisher: Oni Press
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Graphic Novel
Format: Paperback
Length: 128 pages

In The Bunker, five friends decide to bury a time capsule in the woods, only to find the titular bunker when they start digging. Once inside the bunker, they discover letters from their future selves, who somehow sent a bunker full of evidence back in time to warn their younger selves about the impending apocalypse they will have a part in causing. It turns out this innocuous-looking group of young people includes a future president, a soon-to-be brilliant scientist and several other eventual movers-and-shakers. Heavy stuff for a bunch of recent college grads, no?

When I started reading The Bunker, it occurred to me to wonder whether I’d ever read a graphic novel with art I hated despite enjoying the story. I’m honestly not sure I ever have. Probably the only situation where I continued enjoying a book in spite of the art is when the artist changed for an issue of a comic I was already invested in reading. In any case, I really did not like the art in The Bunker, and the story didn’t do anything to win me over.

My biggest problem with this book is a serious lack of characterization thanks to an indistinct art style and some fairly underdeveloped writing. The art is so stylized that it becomes very hard to tell the difference between the extremely generic characters. The main visual distinction is that some of the characters wear glasses and some don’t, and one guy is bigger than the others. We get a bit of back-story here and there, but the author spends the most time on one of the girls, who remembers being raped by her uncle when she was young – i.e. the most cliché, heavy-handed way to make a story about a woman feel Serious and Real.

As for the dialogue, it’s oftentimes the case that every other word the characters say is “fuck”, and everyone speaks with essentially the same voice. One character does make a few unfunny and off-color jokes in the first issue… but then things get all serious and he stops behaving that way. After the bunker and its predictions come into play, this turns into a fairly serious-minded tale of doom-and-gloom.

Ultimately, The Bunker just felt like a weird kind of wish-fulfillment. Instead of discovering a more personal and believable secret from their future selves, the characters find out that each of them is an incredibly important world-destroyer and of course that they were able to figure out how to send a huge bunker back in time. I think it’s possible to tell an interesting story about receiving notes from your future self, but this doesn’t feel like the way to do it, especially because the details strain credibility in so many ways.

The worst part? This first volume is almost all setup and very little plot. Not much of substance happens after the characters find the bunker – they freak out and fight with each other and then eventually get around to dealing with one of their predicted catastrophes. Definitely a disappointment.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Not Quite Detectives: Bad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of The Team Spirit by John Allison

Bad Machinery 1: The Case of the Team Spirit - John AllisonPublished: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Oni Press
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Mystery
Format: Paperback
Length: 112 Pages

Bad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of The Team Spirit collects the first major story arc of John Allison’s webcomic Bad Machinery, which is actually his third webcomic set in the same universe. Allison is most well-known for its predecessor, Scary Go Round, which ended in 2009.

However, despite the fact that Allison has worked in the same overall setting for years, knowledge of his earlier work isn’t necessary to enjoy Bad Machinery, which is both a new series and a bit of a reboot. Characters familiar to long-time readers do appear in Bad Machinery, but only in supporting roles. Although I’d read the occasional Scary Go Round strip, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the world of Tackleford, so I approached Bad Machinery with fresh eyes.

Bad Machinery tells the interlocking stories of a half-dozen or so students at Griswalds Grammar School in Keane End, Tackleford. To a certain degree it’s about the kids solving mysteries, with the girls and boys keeping tally of each team’s “victories”, but in this first volume, the mystery didn’t necessarily feel like the driving force of the story.

Instead, Allison is content to spend time with the kids in their daily lives – going to school, doing projects, fighting bullies and nursing crushes. The boys are more determined to solve the mystery of their favorite football club’s bad luck, but that doesn’t stop the girls from uncovering important clues that come to play in the book’s resolution.

I definitely enjoyed reading Bad Machinery, and to a certain degree it reminded me of another book I’ve been reading, Skippy Dies, which also focuses on the lives of kids and teachers at a British school. Bad Machinery is a much more all-ages book, however, and has none of the vulgarity or adult themes found in Skippy Dies.

Although this volume of the strip does build to a resolution and reveal of the central mystery, I felt like it definitely showed its origins as a webcomic. Most of the book’s pages ended with a gag in the sixth panel, and the pacing was loose and a bit rambling. Although Allison always meant to collect the strip in story arcs, I think it is best enjoyed if you keep its webcomic origins in mind when reading.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Bad Medicine Volume 1

Bad Medicine Volume 1Story: Nunzio DeFillipis & Christina Weir
Art: Christopher Mitten
Colors: Bill Crabtree

Published: January 30th, 2013
Publisher: Oni Press
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Length: 120 pages

Bad Medicine follows disgraced former cardiologist Dr. Randal Horne and hard-nosed NYPD detective Joely Huffman as they work together to solve strange murders apparently caused by fringe science and exotic diseases. Also along for the ride are the ever-cranky pathologist Teague and his oh-so-snarky partner, Hogarth. The first collected volume of Bad Medicine includes two story arcs. In the first arc, detective Huffman discovers a dead man with an invisible head in an experimental lab, and tracks down Randal Horne to help solve the mystery. In the second arc, the CDC asks Horne and Huffman et al to investigate what appears to be a werewolf attack.

As I was reading Bad Medicine, I couldn’t help comparing it to Fringe, and it isn’t just because the mysteries are caused by weird science. It’s also the fact that the main characters are an eccentric, disgraced doctor who went on walkabout and a no-nonsense blonde female detective. Even still, that wouldn’t be such a big deal if Bad Medicine brought anything unique to the table, but it really doesn’t have much to offer in terms of originality. The first mystery seems stranger than it actually is thanks to a bit of misdirection from the villain, and the second is a fairly bog-standard werewolf story.

However, I did generally like the art in the book. It’s reasonably unique, stylized enough to be distinctive while still feeling fairly grounded. I did have occasional problems figuring out what was going on in panels that were either too stylized or laid out poorly, but I was usually able to decipher the action upon further reading. It may also have been a side effect of reading a digital version of the book. The real problem with Bad Medicine is that the writing is stilted and uninteresting.

The dialogue never feels very natural, and the cast consists entirely of stock characters without any real defining traits. Horne talks to a ghost and Huffman has a pet cat she dotes on, but the characterization doesn’t go much deeper than that. We’re told that Horne has a terrible bedside manner, but he never actually says anything particularly off-putting, so it’s hard to see how he got the reputation. One of the supporting characters, Hogarth, spends most of his time throwing out wisecracks that just fall flat or feel out of place, and he ends up coming off as a one-note attempt at comic relief.

Overall, Bad Medicine was a pretty forgettable read, and I definitely won’t be checking out future volumes of the series.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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