Wildstorm Explores "Fringe" Universe

If you've never watched "Fringe," you need only look at the triumvirate behind Fox's breakout television hit and you'll have a much better idea of what you've been missing. Not only is the three-headed monster of J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman responsible for "Fringe" but they are also set to re-launch a re-imagined "Star Trek" movie franchise on May 9.

Did we mention Abrams also headed up "Lost," "Alias" and "Cloverfield" while Orci and Kurtzman wrote Michael Bay's "Transformers" and polished Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" script? How's that for geek cred?

"Fringe" revolves around FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, who each week explores unexplained (albeit interconnected via "The Pattern") phenomena, based in fringe science. Her team includes Peter Bishop, a grifter with an IQ of 190, and his father Dr. Walter Bishop, a renowned fringe scientist who was institutionalized for 17 years for the apparent death of one of his lab assistants.

Described as a cross between Dr. Frankenstein and Albert Einstein, Walter Bishop (played by John Noble on the television series) is the primary focus of Wildstorm's "Fringe" comic book, which is written by Mike Johnson, who also works for Kurtzman/Orci (K/O) Productions.

The DC Comics imprint launched a six-issue tie-in miniseries in August to correspond with the "Fringe" television show's September launch. Once "Fringe" received a full season pickup, the second issue of the comic book series was held back, so that moving forward, the title could more closely align itself with the TV show.

Writer Johnson told CBR News that if you haven't had a chance to catch all the episodes of "Fringe," no worries. You can still jump on the Tom Mandrake-illustrated comic book series right now. "You don't need to have watched the show, but your enjoyment of the comic will be greatly enhanced if you do," explained Johnson.

In "Fringe" #1, readers were introduced to a young Walter Bishop and his fellow graduate student, William Bell, as they share their first "fringe-like experience" together. Fans of the show know William Bell as the future chairman and CEO of Massive Dynamic - the multi-billion dollar research and development conglomerate that finds itself smack dab in the middle of whatever Agent Dunham and her team are investigating each week.

Johnson revealed the next chapter in Bishop and Bell's early history is explored in "Fringe" #2, on sale on this week. "Things get even weirder for them," laughed Johnson. "By this time, [Bishop and Bell] are sharing a lab and starting to experiment with things that the university would probably not approve of, if it knew about them."

The budding relationship serves as the plot thread stringing the six-issue miniseries together. A series of backup features, telling done-in-one mysteries, are also included. "Each issue in the series is divided into two parts: the first half, or A-story, will continue the story of Bell and Bishop, while the second half, the B-story, will be a self-contained short story with unconnected characters that plays on a different Fringe-y concept, with subtle ties to the show itself," Johnson explained. "The A-stories with Bell and Bishop form one over-arching story that culminates in both 'Fringe' #6 and the pilot for the show, so make sure you watch it again. And the B-stories are each self-contained short stories. We are all huge fans over here of 'The Twilight Zone' and 'The Outer Limits,' the classics, so our B-stories are homages to sci-fi parables like the ones in those shows."

Johnson said Walter is an interesting character to write because in the "Fringe" comic stories, he's a "different guy" than the one we see on the show. "He's young, he's just starting his career, and most importantly he's not crazy," offered Johnson. "At least not in the conventional way, but we put hints in there that all will not end up well in his world.

"As for Bell, we're playing with the idea that he will end up the richest man in the world one day, in charge of the biggest corporation in the world, Massive Dynamic, but he starts as an idealistic young scientist."

While he said we may see Olivia and Peter at some point in the comics, Johnson added, "Just not in the way you might think."

Readers will also be introduced to some new supporting characters in "Fringe" that play important roles in the shared history of Bell and Bishop, but they have not yet been introduced on the TV show proper. "Or have they?" Johnson teased.

With "Fringe" now picked up for a full 22-episode season, fans are of course wondering if plans are afoot to continue on with the comics beyond the first miniseries. "Nothing is set in stone, but it would be great to do more if the demand is there," said Johnson. "We have a great team in place. Tom Mandrake is our artist. He's a brilliant storyteller whose style is perfect for the kinds of stories we want to tell. And the whole team at Wildstorm is creating beautiful books that are a great complement to show itself."

Wildstorm's "Fringe" comic book is very much set within the continuity of the greater "Fringe" mythos. But, Johnson added, "If anything contradicts the show, the show wins because it's on TV, and comics are on paper."

While Johnson doesn't work directly on the "Fringe" television show, he certainly wouldn't consider himself a fan on the fringe. "Even if I didn't work for the creators, I would be obsessed with this show. I eat it up," laughed Johnson. "It's smart, funny and creepy in the best way. It has the inherent suspense of a good police procedural in each episode, but with a cool ongoing story unfolding behind it all. And there are amazing actors who can do anything, and the relationships between the characters just get more interesting as the show goes along."

Mike Johnson is also writing the IDW Publishing prequel miniseries "Star Trek: Countdown," another K/O-Bad Robot collaboration, as well as serving as the co-writer on "Superman/Batman" for DC Comics with Michael Green.

"The 'Star Trek: Countdown' comic sets up the character of Nero, the villain played by Eric Bana. And Alex and Bob generously allow me to moonlight as the co-writer of 'Superman/Batman' for DC with the mad genius Michael Green," said Johnson. "Michael created the new show 'Kings' premiering soon and everybody should watch it, which I can say because it isn't in the 'Fringe' time slot. Or the time slot with 'Lost' for that matter."

Asked if he'd like to write a "Lost" comic book, Johnson confessed, "I'd write a one-shot from the polar bear's point of view. That would be fun."

"Fringe" #2 is on sale this week from Wildstorm Productions.

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