The true strength in any ongoing fictional series, whether it is a comic book, a TV show, or even a film series, is in its’ supporting cast. No matter how appealing the lead character may be, if no other character in the narrative in engaging or interesting, the series will become stifled very quickly. Considering the nature of this time-traveling series, that theoretically presents a problem as so far, the only reoccurring characters the series has is Ivar himself and the woman (who isn’t a companion) he is attempting to “save” (or manipulate). To this end, Fred Van Lente, artist Clayton Henry, and colorist Brian Reber are shifting this issue’s focus to Dr. Neela Sethi with a quickly paced tale which does what Fred Van Lente’s scripts do best – mingle comedy with tragedy.
At the end of the previous issue, Neela seemed to finally catch on that Ivar had been less than honest with her about his motives when he initially “saved” her from 5th dimensional assassins and began their jaunt through time portals to begin with. Dumping him in the prehistoric era, Neela has decided to strike out on her own and do the only thing in the universe which she would want to use time travel for – to save her father from dying a seemingly random, pointless death. So, she zips from the 1940’s to the long bygone era of 2001 to gather as much cash as possible to begin her mission to cheat destiny and avert the worst tragedy in her life. Unfortunately, Ivar’s lessons about how time itself is immutable prove to be all too true, and Neela’s efforts to counter this become more extreme and entertaining. The end result sees Neela gain a greater (and literal) sense of self while Ivar just tries to survive, and redouble his efforts.
Since Ivar himself only appears in two pages this month, this means Neela as well as the overall narrative itself must sell this issue. Thankfully, not only does this not feel like a bump in the road, but it manages to perfectly showcase both the themes of the series as well as Fred Van Lente’s talents as a writer (and as always, Clayton Henry’s skill as an artist). As he’s displayed throughout his career on previous work such as “Archer & Armstrong”, “Incredible Hercules”, and “Taskmaster”, he can shift the tone of his story from knee slapping comedy to near tear jerking tragedy on a dime without any sense of narrative whiplash. This is an under appreciated skill for many writers, one which is easy to discount since it’s seamless for writers who are good at it. Despite how over the top time travel and some of the gags are, Neela’s increasingly desperate struggle against fate itself is easy to relate to, and the final page makes a nice play on a well worn genre line. Clayton Henry also gets a lot of opportunity to flex his pencils here, having to draw multiple versions of the same character while making them all look distinct.
This was a gem of an issue and further proof how Fred Van Lente’s finale for “Archer & Armstrong” wasn’t as much a shame as an opportunity for him to try something new at Valiant Entertainment without stretching himself thin or allowing a book to become worn down. The teaser for the next issue promises more of at least one of those duo will return, which should make for another great arc for this incredibly unique time travel series. Few comics embody the uniqueness and the longevity of Valiant’s franchises than this, and it is a series which shouldn’t be missed.