I’ve always been interested in time travel stories. Perhaps it’s because, like a lot of people, I romanticize the past, or maybe it’s because I dream of future worlds I know I’ll never live long enough to see. Whatever the reason, books, movies, and TV shows about time travel have always held a tremendous allure for me. Doctor Who, Back to the Future, The Time Machine, even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, time travel movies and books and shows have always been a mainstay in my nerdy viewing library.
And yet, with all the amazing media produced about it, comics are the one area that seems to be really lacking when it comes to exploring the potential of the time travel genre, and that seems really odd to me. I mean, comics can go anywhere and show anything, so you’d think that something like time travel, where the story is limited only by the imagination of the artist and writer, would be incredibly fertile ground for comic book writers, but there are just not that many stories that actually deal with time travel or it’s potential.
Now, before you rush to point out that there is time travel in many, many comics from the big two, let me be clear with what I mean. Generally in comics from Marvel and DC, when time travel is a subject it falls into one of three categories. The first is as a justification for powers. This would be related to a character like Booster Gold, someone for whom travel from the future is used as a way to explain their powers, and possibly their back story. Multiple trips through time are not really explored, nor are the ramifications of most of their impact on the timeline. They’re from the future, they have powers, that’s all you need to know.
The other two categories are different sides of the same coin. The first is how travelling through time can mess things up, and this is usually used as a justification for doing some alternative history stuff, books like The Age of Apocalypse or Flashpoint fall into this category. The other, closely related and often used as a conclusion to the former, is the “Time travel to set things right” genre, where damage to the past is corrected, or something that happened in the past is changed to fix a current wrong, the second of which often leads to the aforementioned alternate universe cycle, and thus the snake succeeds in devouring its own tail.
But in all three of these approaches the actual trip through time, or the potential of a trip through time is, as I said, usually a secondary if anything element of the story. We’ll get Legends of Tomorrow on TV, but there’s no direct equivalent anywhere on the shelf. Infinity War and Loki will dive deep into time travel potential, while the main Avengers are too busy fighting Venom or making Cap a Nazi (I dunno. I read almost nothing from Marvel and from what I’ve seen that’s the right choice. Love their TV though). Even Hickman’s X run, that has time travel as a central plot point explaining everything that is happening, doesn’t really have time travel as you would expect it in a universe full of beings that have actual access to time travel technology, and is again, mainly used as a way to justify a slight alteration of their current continuity.
All of this, ALL OF THIS, leads me to today’s comic from Image, an actual story about actual time travel and the actual ramifications of what it would really mean. So let’s get into it!
Here’s the blurb:
The year is 2140, and to escape a world with no future, many turn to the Syndicate, a criminal organization who, for the right price, will smuggle you back in time to a better life. After working for the Syndicate for years, Tatsuo and Oscar decide to steal one of their boss’s time machines—but soon find that the one thing you can’t run from is your past. TIME BEFORE TIME is a brand-new ongoing series where writer/artist DECLAN SHALVEY (BOG BODIES) joins forces with the WRITE IT IN BLOOD team of RORY McCONVILLE and JOE PALMER. Looper meets SAGA in this extra-sized debut issue.
The first thing that came to mind as I read Time Before Time was this: finally! Finally, there is a good book about time travel that has the potential to really do something different and unique with the genre.
Time Before Time opens with our protagonist Tatsuo helping a mother and child from the future settle into their new life in the 1980s. As you can imagine, it’s not going super well.
We quickly learn that this job of his is not the healthiest of occupations, with multiple trips to the past causing him an increasingly worrying amount of medical issues. Add to this how the Syndicate keeps stringing him along to keep him working for them, and Tatsuo decides the only solution is to do for himself what he has done for so many others, escape to another time and place.
The rest of the first issue resolves around Tatsuo attempting to convince his friend Oscar to flee with him, a conversation that takes a rather dramatic turn when Oscar has an accident in the past, and Tatsuo resolves to stop stalling and make a break for it. I won’t give anything away, but as you can no doubt imagine, this plan does not go off without a hitch.
I love the potential of Time Before Time. Doctor Who staring a morally grey, less-than-altruistic criminal that just wants to run away and has no interest in helping anyone else out? Journeys to the past and the future? Discussion of the ability to change time forever, or not at all? Yeah, I’m 100% on board.
Time Before Time is a fun book with great potential, great art, and a great creative team. This is another book from Image that has the potential to get some serious legs under it, so if you missed your chance to snag a copy this week, call up your LCS and see if they have any more for you to grab. Trust me, this is one you don’t want to miss.