From H.G. Wells’s classic novella to Avengers: Endgame––love them or loathe them––tales of time travel are a staple in science-fiction. The difficulty lies in creating a narrative that does something different with this trope. Only a handful have truly succeeded; the Back to the Future movie trilogy and Aftershock’s Revisionist spring to mind. Others (Image’s Chrononauts and Dark Horse’s Past Aways, and the aforementioned Avengers finale) fall short of spinning a story that simply hasn’t been told before. Unfortunately, and despite all the hype surrounding its premiere issue’s release, Time Before Time presents us with absolutely nothing unique by way of story or characterization.
We are quickly introduced to a future in which time travel is not only possible, it’s apparently big business for The Syndicate, which gets paid top dollar to smuggle goods from one time to another, relocate families, and even help criminals escape justice. A disgruntled Syndicate employee named Tatsuo wants out before his body succumbs to the radiation that’s slowly poisoning him. He and his friend Oscar devise a crazy idea: steal a pod and escape to another time, and never return. But things suddenly get more complicated, and Tatsuo quickly finds himself lost in time, embroiled in a plot that may prove bigger than himself, The Syndicate, and perhaps even time itself.
Barring a clever, quirky title and a single poignant scene between Tatsuo and Oscar, Time Before Time #1 falls flat as far as time travel stories go. Exposition is key to any first issue, but this one leaves too much to the reader to figure out. The opening scene shows Tatsuo relocating a mother and her son, but we’re left to wonder why? Are they trying to escape an abusive husband and father? Evading the law? These may seem like questions that don’t need answers, but I’d argue we need to know to understand if The Syndicate is a lawful, chaotic, or neutral organization, which then helps us as readers understand Tatsuo all the more.
As with many comics I’ve reviewed in the past, Time Before Time #1 also exhibits a pacing that just feels off. I’ll give writers Declan Shalvey and Rory McConville the benefit of the doubt here and suggest that perhaps it’s meant to feel this way. However, the story does jump a bit (time travel aside), and that exposition illustrated by artist Joe Palmer––particularly at the beginning of the issue––lacks differentiation between time periods. This could be the fact that Palmer seems to be a bit of a minimalist where illustration is concerned, and this is also problematic in a time travel story, which should be all about the details of the world to further sell not only the time travel element, but the worlds to where (or when, rather) the characters travel.
All in all, as a science-fiction aficionado and a time-travel story enthusiast, Time Before Time #1 is a time-travel story out of joint with many of the more successful ones across multiple media that have preceded it. I’d recommend backtracking to a time before Time Before Time to enjoy some of the more classic graphic time travel tales of yesterday.
Declan Shalvey & Rory McConville (W), Joe Palmer (A), Chris O’Halloran (C), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (L) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by John T. Trigonis