Writers: Declan Shalvey & Rory McConville
Artist: Joe Palmer
Colourist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Ehaou
Most of us have spent the last year and a bit pondering the meaning of time which has gone both slowly and quickly. It felt like a moment stretching out before us even as it whizzed by. Living through a pandemic can really mess with your sense of time but not as much as this book messes with time.
The premise of Time Before Time is simple enough. There is a shady syndicate who relocate people who pay large amounts of money to places in the past to escape, well, whatever it is they want to escape. We follow Tatsuo as he relocates people (at a cost to his own internal organs) and wonders about his own escape.
The art gives the impression of a dystopia in 2141. It’s not clear why Tatsuo, his friend Oscar and the other guys are based in this year but apparently it’s pretty bad. The background information about falling GDP, crop failure and a hurricane death toll gives the impression these are bad times (maybe even 2020 levels of bad). No wonder Tatsuo and Oscar ponder an escape.
Except that they don’t get one. Well Tatsuo does but perhaps not quite in the way he planned. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, there’s a whole story with Oscar that is best experienced with a full emotional assault, and there’s a few little twists for those of us who haven’t read what the next couple of issues are about.
There’s a lot of exposition in this issue, a lot of the basic blocks of world building, but it’s not laboured and it is done pretty naturally through the conversations of Tatsuo and Oscar. We meet the main characters and get the set up. We don’t know the ins and outs of the syndicate but we can infer much. This is a really solid foundation for taking the story forward as we know the main mechanics of the world and how it works, the background if you will.
Yet there’s still questions to keep us interested – who are the syndicate, how did they get these time pods (which appear to keep breaking and are possibly limited in number) and how do they find their clients, and why were Tatsuo and Oscar employed there? All questions that it looks like are likely to be running threads through the rest of the book. It feels nicely plotted.
The art too is nicely plotted. The past in many ways seems almost as run down as 2141. It’s nice that there is no clear utopia here. The background details of 2141 are nice and give the sense that this isn’t the best time period. There’s also some nice work as we see the passing of time (ha) from 2140 to 2141 as we see the seasons turning through a conversation between Tatsuo and Oscar.
We are never in doubt what year it is as the year is in the first panel looming large over the landscape. It’s a really obvious way of separating the years but at the same time effective. There are also subtle changes in the colour palette depending on the time period with subtle almost neon shades for 1987 and more beige tones in 1963.
The design of the time machine pod itself is suitably industrial, fitting in with the general griminess of 2141. Yet at the same time looking like they don’t quite belong. They are also not old fashioned. There’s a lot of nice little details and whilst saying the vomit is well drawn and coloured might sound like a weird compliment it is also true.
There’s some nice panels where all we see is the character’s expression against a solid background. It very nicely conveys what the character thinks without any other distractions, All the faces seem stylised in very particular ways which works for the tone the book is going for.
The characters are not only well drawn in the art but in the writing too. The relationship between Tatsuo and Oscar is the backbone from which most of the plot of this issue hangs as well as the exposition. We don’t get much about the other characters, except perhaps Helgi who is the boss but answers to his father, but we don’t need that at this stage. The character stuff with Tatsuo and his best friend is more than engaging.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the lettering which is solid and engaging. Here the emphasis is never over used and the speech patterns are nicely realised. All that helps the interplay between Tatsuo and Oscar.
Overall there’s some real potential here for the story to develop interesting ways. You could argue that the main plot only kicks off in the last few pages leading us into the future in more ways than one. I’d be interested to see what journey this takes us on.
If you like a bit of time travel I’d say read. If you like a bit of dystopia I would say read. If you like both then definitely read.