In the end we’re just skeletons that time turns to dust

Publisher: Image
Writers: Declan Shalvey & Rory McConville
Artist: Declan Shalvey
Colourist: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Ehaou

I was sceptical about a standalone issue of Time Before Time. I have really been loving this book and it has gotten better and better so I was a bit annoyed when I found out we were taking a whole issue away from our main characters. I was wrong. I was so so wrong. This is a gut punch. It’s got strong emotional beats and it underlines the awfulness of the Syndicate so well. It fleshes out characters we’ve already seen. Yet it also works as a one shot story.

Most of the story takes place in 1994 with the Hayes family – two hardworking parents and their daughter. They were relocated by the Syndicate but they remain in a poor neighbourhood with issues regarding their rent. When Mr Hayes sees a face form the past it may offer him a way out of having the Syndicate guys knocking on the doors. But there are choices to be made and the threat of the Syndicate is ever present.

I am going to spoil things a little in that we see Oscar, Tatsuo’s old friend, in this time period and see him doing work for the Syndicate. It’s an earlier period in his work and it’s interesting to see Oscar in this different time period, before he becomes the Oscar we met back in the first issue. We also meet a younger Helgi and we can see the foundations of the Helgi we’re more familiar with from the future as it were. Which is the past of this book. God, I love how this time travel stuff works.

Again I want to avoid spoilers because the joy of this issue, of this series, is finding the stuff out but needless to say readers who have been on this journey since the start will have several moments where they may gasp at how neatly things slot into place. There is information here that makes certain events later… or earlier make much more sense now we’ve seen earlier moments in these characters’ lives and careers.

At the same time there is a really emotional story here about a family trying to do their best. They aren’t bad people though they have gotten mixed up in the Syndicate. They clearly want a good life for their daughter but are trapped by circumstance and debts owed. The Syndicate is not a charity and it does feel like a lot of the time it does take advantage of people like the the Hayes. Just in one issue they are really well developed characters and their story packs a real emotional gut punch.

There are some nice touches in the art that make it stand out as something a bit different to the rest of the series. The characters seem a bit different, fresher, younger. which makes sense. Also spending so much time *ahem* in a familiar (to me at least) time period means the art also takes on a different dimension. It becomes a bit more… grounded in some ways if you will.

The design of the Hayes apartment really gets across their situation. It’s a bit bare and stark, with nothing special but at the same time is clearly a home. The clothing screams 1994 but there are still some really nice touches like the mud on Mr Haye’s boots and jeans giving the impression of a dirty job and the photographs on the fridge giving glimpses into the Hayes family’s past.

The colouring also helps with this. There’s a slightly more mundane colour scheme for 1994. Again it’s more normal in contrast with the future scenes where the purple saturation and the dark shadows are far more common. It’s just so well done, that dividing of the different eras just in the art and colouring.

I found this a deeply emotional and interesting issue. I got attached to the Hayes family and really appreciated their story. We’ve had some hints of what happens to the people the Syndicate relocate and it’s really good to see some of that actually play out. I loved seeing more of the past of the characters we’ve got to know. This really is an excellent issue with a touching story and great characterisation. I look forward to seeing more of Tatsuo and Nadia but to be honest this issue was so good I didn’t even really miss them.

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