The Bunker: Change the Past, Change the Future

The Bunker Volume 1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Joe Infurnari
Oni Press, 2014

I was impressed with this series when I read the first compilation in 2014, but it subsequently got lost in the shuffle–having too many good creator-owned comics is a good problem to have, I guess. The story opens with five college friends (Grady, Heidi, Natasha, Daniel, and Billy) who are about to graduate, heading out into the woods to bury a time capsule. When they start digging they are surprised to uncover a metal bunker. Inside there are letters addressed to each of them, purportedly from their future selves. Hard as that is to swallow, the letters claim that the group are going to be responsible for the destruction of the world. They also reveal some uncomfortable secrets about the group in the present, which serves as proof of authenticity. So they have a lot to deal with: can they trust each other; should they believe the predictions; and if they do believe, what can they do to change the outcome?

It’s a classic time travel theme (a bit like the Terminator films, minus the robotic apocalypse). The first issue is really packed, as it introduces all of the characters and the group dynamics, plus it includes numerous flash forwards to the future, both before and after the apocalypse. So the future reality is well established from the start. Post-apocalyptic dates are labelled AME, for “After Mass Extinction.” No fooling around, barring some future cheat like a dream or virtual reality.

The storytelling pace slows down to normal after that. But the second issue immediately introduces additional wrinkles. The friends are out in the world, and they start getting instructions from the future about actions they need to take, in the form of things like tomorrow’s newspaper. But will these actions create a new future, or just guarantee the one they were warned about?

As the story progresses Fialkov also includes childhood flashbacks, filling in the history that shaped these characters. And at the end of the fourth and final issue in the collection, one of them seems to be about to meet his future self: a direct bit of time travel that was only implied in the creation of the bunker.

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The Bunker Volume 2
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Joe Infurnari
Oni Press, 2015

After a brief scene showing the completion of the time machine in the future, the promised meeting of Grady and Future Grady takes place. Although not right away. Grady runs out, and Heidi shares what she discovered about his heroics at a terrorist bombing earlier in the day: he was given future information so he would be at the site at the right time (the next day’s newspaper mentioned above). So there are already signs that the group is being manipulated beyond the revelations in the bunker.

Future Grady makes his pitch about the group getting a second chance to avoid the mistakes that will doom the planet. And leaves, warning them that he will do it on his own if they choose not to cooperate. Outside he gets in a car with Future Natasha: her presence is a detail that he had neglected to inform the group about.  Flashbacks show that they  arrived from the future 30 days before the Bunker was discovered. They took steps to make sure that terrorist bombing would occur–despite meager evidence that any group had the means to do it–as well as sending Grady the newspaper and message so he would be there. Future Natasha asks the obvious question: how do we know that we didn’t cause the whole thing? Future Grady’s response: we’ll never know.

Heidi uses the information from her letter to visit the uncle who sexually abused her as a child. She warns him not to hurt any more children, but does not physically threaten him. Seems a bit anticlimactic, and it will be revisited later.  Billy and Grady go to the location of a second bomb. But Future Grady has warned Grady that they will get caught, so he hides when the police come to capture Billy. At the close of the volume, Future Grady tells Future Natasha that they have to take a comatose Heidi back to see her uncle.

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The Bunker Volume 3
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Joe Infurnari; Chapter 14 Illustrated by Brahm Revel, Colored by Jason Fischer
Oni Press, 2015

This collection begins three months later. Heidi tries to visit Billy in prison, but he refuses to talk to her.  Future Grady advises Grady not to go to a debate, saying he never had it (“This shit is all different now”).  This is the first indication that the time travel intervention has actually changed history.  Future Natasha visits Daniel, saying she came to prevent him from killing himself.  And Future Grady visits Billy in prison, explaining why he left him in the lurch…and also revealing that Billy and Heidi had murdered her uncle.

Billy meets with a federal prosecutor, and promises to tell her everything after he’s had a private meeting with Grady. He has realized that Grady is framing him for the bombings, and framing his sister Heidi for the murder (which we see happen, while she is still semi-conscious from an epileptic episode). The final scene finds Heidi talking to the prosecutor. She has written down the whole history of the bunker…and also provided a map. Her goal is to get both Gradys arrested.

That ends Volume Three, but there’s an additional bonus issue. It depicts a couple farming in Oklahoma under extreme drought conditions. The land is just about blowing away, but President Grady Potts announces a program approving the ASPIRE Genome for introduction into the US agricultural system. The couple volunteers to participate, and the final panels show a news story about a viral infection in Africa being blamed on the ASPIRE GMO…complete with a denial by chief scientist Daniel Adamson.

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The Bunker Volume 4
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; Illustrated and Lettered by Joe Infurnari; Colored by Gonzalo Duarte
Oni Press, 2017

The final volume is packed with revelations. There’s no way to talk about it without SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS!!!

They come one after another. Heidi’s confession didn’t accomplish what she hoped, because somebody from the future had anticipated it. But she did learn that Daniel was the one who had cleared all the evidence from the Bunker. The reason soon becomes clear: Future Grady told Daniel he needed to harvest something from Future Natasha, because she is immune to the infection that was wiping out mankind in the future. But as Daniel and Natasha begin to perform the harvesting operation (which would have killed Future Natasha), Federal officers close in, and they are arrested before it can be completed.

After that there are a series of events. Heidi’s girlfriend Ami turns out to be in on the time travel mission: she’s from the future, or perhaps it should be put as “a future.” The whole series made it appear that Grady was in charge–although he admitted that his mission was really to save his doomed friends, not the world–but it tuns out that Natasha was the one driving everything. She admits that there have been previous attempts to change the future. In retrospect this should not come as a surprise–if you had a time machine, wouldn’t you be tempted to keep trying to make everything right?–but revealing it sooner would have killed all the suspense.  And a future Natasha leaves a message saying she is President of the United States. Everything was made worse because of Natasha’s attempts to change the time line, and she should stop.

As the series concludes, Future Natasha meets a younger version of Grady. So clearly she is still trying to go further back in the time line to make things right. And that is the end. Has she gotten it right this time. or will the loop begin again? It’s not a completely satisfying close to the story line, but it is a logical stopping point. Time travel stories are usually full of contradictions, and this one manages to be more sensible than most. It could go on indefinitely, but this is where it ends, for now.

Gonzalo Duarte takes over the coloring chores on this last volume. It seems clear that he was attempting to emulate Infurnari’s coloring: lots of earth tones, and a generally muted palette. He succeeds in making this volume look consistent with the others. It should be said that the covers are not good marketing for the series. While they are fairly consistent with the internal art, their drabness does not convey the excitement that the storytelling generates.

About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
This entry was posted in indie comics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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