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Comics and the Philosophy of Time Travel

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Our perception of time—if you’ll forgive the physics terminology—is at the very fulcrum of many a fabulous science fiction story, comic, book, and movie. It is a dimension we have yet to conquer in real life (outside of conspiracy theories, that is), and its dips and paradoxes offer layers of action and recognition not readily offered by other storytelling tropes. I have a huge amount of admiration for any author or artist who tackles time travel, if only for the sheer amount of plot hole prevention it must take. And in a serial story, such as a monthly comic book, the stakes are raised even higher, for it is far easier to abandon a 22-page floppy than a 500-page novel in the face of confusion. The methods devised in keeping readers coming back month after month are of varying complexity and effectiveness.

 

morningglories

MORNING GLORIES, which recently released its 29th issue, has been compared to LOST more times than it’s been praised for its own originality. Joe Eisma’s glorious character designs and Nick Spencer’s biting, clever dialogue enable the cast to be the main draw despite harrowing and confusing circumstances at a mysterious boarding school. Of course there is a greater significance to all of the events, as well as a timeline that would make even Doctor Who weep with intimidation. Still, amidst all the insanity, a quip or two from Ike or a nerd-reference from Hunter brings you back to reality for a laugh and nod before rampant teenage superpowers and a giant whirling cylinder whisk you away to W-T-F land again. Word has it that Spencer and Eisma have 100 issues planned. If this is just the beginning, we are in for some serious craziness. Trust me and jump on the series now, before it gets any harder to catch up. You won’t regret it. (And don’t forget to check out FM’s interview with Nick Spencer, featured here.)

 

thorgodbomb

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, Marvel’s current run about the Mjolnir-wielding, now-mainstream member of the Avengers, has tackled time travel in an entirely different sense. This has been the kind of millenia-reaching story that gives scope and sandbag-weight to the smallest of circumstances, all while retaining its sense of humor. For what one of us has never imagined meeting our older or younger self? In this sprawling tale by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic, Thor gets to meet both at once. Along for the ride is a slew of intelligent musings on the existence of religion, commentary about generational legacies, and seemlingly endless jokes about wenches and ale (never too many, though). The result of all this is an epic that is broadly conceived, entertaining, and never overly obsessed with its own continuity—a problem that often plagues mainstream superhero titles.

 

sacrifice

While time travel often provides the background for a story that is still haunted by some kind of monster (such as THOR’s God Butcher), in certain cases—mostly involving prehistory and inexplciable wormholes—time IS the monster. Look at Sam Humphries’ and Dalton Rose’s SACRIFICE, just released in hardcover collection this week by Dark Horse: an epic, psychadelic, epilepsy-driven adventure about attempting to change the history of the Aztecs. Time is both catalyst and insurmountable enemy when Hector is rocketed back from the modern age to ancient Mexico, where his lasting obsession with Aztec mythology allows him to live among them and eventually try to alter their fate at the hands of the Europeans. Does he succeed? No spoilers. But this collected series is a fantastic, entertaining exercise in flashbacking and quoting Joy Division, not to mention a truly shining example of how time travel can start as a gimmick and evolve into something much more meaningful. And that’s the real point, isn’t it? Otherwise we’re just rolling back and forth laughing about anachronisms and clueless cavemen—quite fine for simple entertainment, but nothing that could sustain an ongoing story, let alone convince our future selves to write one.

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