Uh-Oh! It’s a Big Science Threat! Better get the Oddly-Mannered-Yet-Brilliant-Scientist from the Shiny Research Place on the phone. What’s that? His budget’s been cut? Who’s the guy with the baseball cap and jeans? We need a lab coat, dammit!
In the world of FBP, lab coats are in short supply. The new series from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint focuses on the Federal Bureau of Physics, a government agency tasked to fix things like broken gravity when the laws of physics stop working. But budget cuts and personal drama are hounding the men who weld the universe back together, making for a world where the things we take for granted—like projectiles moving in a straight line—can fall apart.
I sent some questions to FBP writer Simon Oliver about how a universe with shaky fundamental forces trickles down to the average joe in the book’s world. You can read his answers below along with a preview of this week’s FBP #3, with the fine, kinetic artwork of Robbi Rodriguez bringing things to life. In the pages below, you'll see lead character Adam Hardy getting chased down as his corrupt partner tries to kill him in a spontaneously generated alternate dimension. Effed-up physics saves his life, for a little while anyway.
Kotaku: What made you decide to merge a police procedural with sci-fi concepts?
Oliver: The whole concept started with creating a world of broken physics. Very early on I made the big decision to make it public knowledge and not some Men in Black type secret. I figured the Government would have some kind of Homeland Security type response, so the FBP became a logical extension of that.
Kotaku: Given that spacetime incidents seem to be high-profile news, what is the average person’s awareness of physics in the FBP universe? Do people talk about particle/wave theory like we do the weather?
S Oliver: Yes, the incidents that arise from wonky physics are very much a part of the world of the book. You get up in the morning, put the coffee on and get the morning traffic, weather and physics report. A wormhole on your freeway exit, gravity failure causing problems mid-town, reverse entropy has a supermarket closed until it’s dealt with, that kind of stuff.
Right from the beginning development process I was really interested in making physics incidents a part of people’s everyday lives. I love this idea that no matter what you throw at the human race, after an initial period of “the sky’s falling in” we kind of get used to it, it becomes “normal” and we get back to the important day to day business of food warmth, shelter and who’s going win Celebrity Apprentice.
Really even the strangest things can become normal. Being from England and living in Los Angeles the crazy reality of an earthquake happening at any moment eventually becomes quite normal, it’s not something you think about every morning. I’ve never seen or experienced a tornado, and I can’t imagine what it’s like living in danger of them, but it’s a reality for many people.
Kotaku: There seems to be a bit of a metaphor in FBP, with the agency standing in for any number of under-funded government institutions and the physics standing in for the infrastructure that we take for granted. Am I off here? What are you trying to say about the real world in FBP?
S Oliver: Yeah I think that’s pretty close. I’m a firm believer in science fiction reflecting our own world. So I’ve really tried to wrap some very normal relatable type issues into the ongoing story. In the first arc private vs. public comes into play, mirroring some of the ongoing health care debate. Only in our book and the world of dangerous physics, people opt out of FBP coverage and go private.
Kotaku: What kind of research have you done for FBP? Does it ever feel daunting to sketch out pseudo-science concepts that need to feel real?
SOliver: A lot, I seek out physics concepts and the crazier the better. As far as bringing them into the narrative, I try and start with the character arcs, and then find a physics story line that suits the story, a “monster of the week” kind of approach.
Ideally I’d like to ground the physics in the book to “real” concepts. But I’m realistic, I know that sometimes I’m going to have to use the real concepts as jumping off points. So any scientists out there will have to forgive me sometimes.
As I’ve got deeper into the process, I started to find a lot of material for the arcs that I just couldn’t get in, from a size and narrative point of view. And knowing that a lot of people might end up wanting more of the physics side I just started a Tumblr blog, FROM THE DESK OF PROF. HARDY.
The blog entries are written from the perspective of Adam’s father, Professor Hardy. And it tries to explain some of the physics I’ve used in the book, and also some of the ideas that have caught my eye along the way.
But the great thing about the overall concept, a “world where physics has gone wrong” is I really don’t have to worry about is running out of material.
For example coming up, and with out giving too much away, we have a wormhole machine that’s fallen into the wrong hands, the arc I’m writing now plays with dual realities, where nothing is what it seems, and one new major character is deeply tied into multiverse theory. So if you like comics and are partial to physics I think we have the book for you.