Time Before Time (#7 -11) – Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville

2 out of 5

Sometimes when I’ve soured on a book, there’s no going back – even a solid arc is tainted by what’s become a predisposition. I was worried going into the second arc of Time Before Time that I was getting there – I’d paused my subscription to the book so that it ended after this run, which is generally my half-step out the door: I switch to digital while I decide whether or not the book is ditched or goes back into physicals.

Books have come back from such moratorium, but it’s difficult because of that mindset, just like a movie you later come to love can totally be tainted by a bad mood when you first view it. So along those lines, I’ll generally go back and give a series a re-read before making the cut; going back with lowered expectations may reveal that you had expectations in the first placed which biased things.

…No go with TBT, unfortunately, although it did make me feel more settled that I wasn’t being rash, since I experienced the same negatives I did on my first gothrough: a cluttered narrative; flat characters; undefined – for a book that takes place across time periods – art and color. But I still liked the lettering.

It is always interesting how “opinions” are, y’know, exactly that, given that the book seems to be doing well, and the praise in the letters pages and reviews are lumped upon exactly the things I find problematic; until the law passes that makes everyone agree with me, the world will continue to be a confusing place. And getting into the the second arc, TBT rather doubles down on the most primary flaw: the confuzzled story focus, which only makes its secondary hiccups of generic leads and indistinct time periods more apparent. That what I would consider something of a lazy “let’s make this more exciting” addition – a funny sidekick – pops up here added to the roadblocks for me, turning a promising concept into something that became a tad tedious to read.

The core time travel concept of Time Before Time is excellent: agencies which shuttle clients to past eras as a way of escaping from their various issues. The “once you’re in you’re in” mob ethos running these agencies provided some drama to background lead character Tatsuo and his friend scheming on a method of escape, taking a time travel device to the past. Within the first arc, this was relatively quickly ditched, though, focusing on Tatsuo time-hopping with fugitive Nadia, which has some intrigue but is also relatively quickly ditched – or set aside – to try to sort through the scuffles between agencies, and also this rogue smart-alek robot that’s popped up in Tatsuo’s timeline. All of these elements have promise – even the robot, if it didn’t feel like fluff to cover up for Tatsuo’s and Nadia’s flatness – but they’re delivered in this sort of even-keeled manner that doesn’t help to create any sense of urgency, or importance. By this point, I don’t have much sense of who these characters are beyond “quippy” or “stern,” and the dramatics with the agencies are so evil-corporation generic that it’s hard to muster much concern when they’re engaging in apparent double-crosses. (What’s being crossed doubly? Why does it matter when a character we just met is shot? Is it important when characters we haven’t seen before show up as a cliffhanger?)

It’s not that this is poorly written, just that it feels like we’re working off of a story outline that artist and writers toil on separately, and we’ll pen in the dialogue later. Within a moment, it can work, but examined as a sequential comic, it does not, or not very well.

The same backhanded “the art is good, but…” commentary applies to art and color. The letter writers are very keen on talking about how the time periods look distinct, but I’m not seeing it. Even Chris O’Halloran’s colors are the same mix of muted yellows and purples throughout; there’s nothing much differentiating anything, with Joe Palmer favoring very open spaces for all of his settings, and maybe there’s a few more pieces of trash around in certain time periods? That this lack of distinction is stretched across several time periods – another narrative cluttering element; zeroing in on, perhaps, two, would’ve helped strengthen the individual storylines for me – makes the effect more deleterious.

Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering is still great, though, very organic looking, and spaced perfectly to fit with Palmer’s tendency for slim characters and the aforementioned open spaces.