Stories involving the concept of time travel are far from rare in both pop culture and serialized fiction. The British based “Doctor Who” has never been more popular both in it’s homeland as well as in America, and even so-called serious news organizations covered tidbits from the “Back to the Future” film trilogy which turned out to not come to pass by now. Franchises such as “Star Trek” or even the “X-Men” have had many key sagas which involved time travel, some of which were adapted to film. And those are simply the most memorable series involving the time travel hook. Entering this crowded stage is Valiant Entertainment’s newest series, “Ivar, Timewalker” as written by Fred Van Lente (“Archer & Armstrong”) and drawn by frequent collaborator Clayton Henry. Although this “Archer & Armstrong” spin off debuted last month, it is actually this second issue which proves even more entertaining than the first.
Ivar Anni-Padda, the eldest of three brothers who were granted immortality via “the Boon” in prehistoric times (the other two being Armstrong and the Eternal Warrior), has taken advantage of time portals that briefly manifest on earth at different locations and places to become a “time walker”. He’s taken a particular focus on young physicist Neela Sethi, who was about to invent the process for technologically based time travel in her lab. He’s since whisked her from one time period to the next, attempting to keep her safe from robotic soldiers from the fifth dimension – who are actually led by a future incarnation of Neela herself. The first issue was full of Fred Van Lente’s trademark skill of balancing comedic banter with serious moments and concepts, but naturally had to have a lot of exposition to bring the series off the ground. Having gotten past that obligatory portion, this second issue has more fun with deconstructing many of Neela’s (and through her, the audience’s) preconceptions about time travel based on absorbing previous media. In particular, the desire to go back into the past and kill Hitler to avert World War II. However, Ivar is a tricky and enigmatic sort, whose ventures into the time stream have been spanning for countless lifetimes. He’s keeping far more from Neela than he lets on, yet needs to tell her enough to ensure her cooperation.
The balance between fresh comedic moments and concepts atop of world building is simply better in this issue. The pair “time walk” from the era of giant bugs and dinosaurs to the first two world wars in Europe. A major highlight is the introduction of “internet trolls” as time traveling cybernetic warriors who seem to delight on time-stream carnage. Clayton Henry is joined on art by Robert Gill, who draws a sequence in World War I; meeting art deadlines is a challenge for any regular artist, and the ability to have other artists draw different time periods can allow Henry to remain aboard for more issues in a row. It’s a practice Ed Brubaker turned into an art during his run on “Captain America” (albeit with flashback sequences). The color work by Brian Reber keeps both artists’ styles flowing together. As always, the dialogue between Van Lente’s characters is always cracking and entertaining, from statistics about humanity’s often woeful history to lighthearted banter, it all flows together like threads on a cloth.
Valiant Entertainment’s resurgence has been no small feat; the company many industry insiders dismissed as a relic from the 1990’s has instead thrived by offering a small roster of often very creative and innovative takes on older characters. Fred Van Lente has proven to be especially adept within this company’s resurrection and “Ivar Timewalker” is no exception. It’s an often brutally funny, as well as honest, contemporary time travel adventure which anticipates the over-saturation of similar franchises and knows how to turn them on their head. Fans of all related creators and concepts should run, not walk, to Ivar.
The heap of comics below are honorable mentions. They’re worth a read and a review, but only walk in the shadow of the above piece.
Quantum & Woody Must Die #1: James Asmus returns to write another of Valiant Entertainment’s brilliantly revised franchises in this debut issue which technically came out last month, but via unexplained shipping snafus only arrived at this column’s local shop now. As Valiant Entertainment seeks to balance editorial whims with sales realities, it seems that Asmus’ run on the dysfunctional duo will continue, but in a series of mini series and/or one shots as opposed to an ongoing monthly title. Such a concept is sometimes dubbed “the Hellboy model” as Dark Horse and Mike Mignola have employed a similar strategy with that comic for much of its’ history. Having survived a confrontation with the insane Montosanto corporation (as well as a team-up with Valiant’s over buddy team, Archer & Armstrong) in last year’s “Delinquents”, the pair are at it again alongside artist Steve Leiber, who is fresh off a run on “Superior Foes of Spider-Man”. Adopted brothers Eric/Quantum and Woody, alongside the super-powered Goat (which houses the mind of their dead father and plenty of bizarre super powers) continue their “heroes for hire” style antics. Their efforts against a pair of lady thieves find them once again stumbling into another strange conspiracy which involves far out science and an attempt to kill them once and for all. However, the thing which may end up killing them may turn out to be family therapy once a week! Asmus’ spot on and bombastic sense of humor puts many raunchy sitcoms to shame, while Lieber (with Dave McCaig on colors) once again knocks it out of the part with a flair for visual gags alongside superhero action. The monthly pull list just isn’t the same with this series absent from it, so it’s great that Valiant’s best known buddy franchise is back for another run.
Black Widow #15: Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto once again bring readers the continued exploits of the greatest spy in the Marvel Universe for another visually thrilling, but quickly read, installment. Having finally taken the fight to the elusive international cabal, “Chaos”, Natasha has gone off the grid on a boat off the coast of Spain, and once again finds herself struggling to keep her head above water. This time, it’s a cadre of invisible warriors and “Chaos'” mysterious founder who have her vexed and pulled into a web so tightly that not even her ex, the Winter Soldier, is able to save her. The theme for much of this run has been that Black Widow lives in a shade of gray morally where only the slightest trigger could send her too far into the abyss. The near murder of her friend Isaiah has done this, but this time she may have bitten off more than she can chew. The action is quick, the voices for the characters fit, and as always the last pages offer a twist and a cliffhanger. The only blemish continues to be how easy it is to speed read each issue within five minutes, which for four dollars a pop may be too swift for many casual readers.
Captain America & the Mighty Avengers #5: Finally free of the “Axis” crossover, Al Ewing and artist Iban Coello finally have a chance to tell the stories they want to with their eclectic Avengers spin off team. More often than not, it involves some wacky supernatural and/or cross dimensional antics which used to be more frequent in “Defenders” comics of the 1980’s. As Blue Marvel, Spectrum, and Spider-Man try to figure out the mysteries of the Neutral Zone (and run afoul of Adam Brashear’s super villain son), the rest of the team continues their investigation of or around the corrupt corporaton Cortex and their evil CEO, Jason Quantrell. Power Man and White Tiger’s investigation of the murder of Gideon Mace sees them run into a demonic beast made up of their former enemies, while the power behind Quantrell is revealed to be a group not heard of since the end of the cult hit, “Nextwave”. When not having to abide by silly crossovers, Ewing is adapt at juggling a half dozen characters at once as well as playing well with toys crafted by others. He continues to skillfully expand on Blue Marvel’s world and past, and his flair for character captions are worth half the cover price. Coello’s art is on rare form, and the colors by Rachelle Rosenberg give them particular pop. It will remain to be seen if too much time was lost to the crossover to allow this volume of the series to live up to its’ potential.
Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #9: Kaare Andrews continues his Frank Miller-esque take on Marvel’s most well known martial arts superhero, breaking him down to build him up and in general offering a lot of kung fu and tripped out sequences. Having mended his broken body, Daniel Rand has a new costume, new weapons, and a new partner in Sparrow as he seeks to retake his corporate headquarters from the villains who destroyed K’un L’un. Still lacking the chi that empowers him, Rand has to rely on his pure martial arts talent as well as nimble antics to overcome a horde of ninjas and fight his way to the mechanical monstrosity, “the One” – who is literally the cybernetic corpse of his father. This issue is all about fast paced fighting sequences and setting up an even bigger battle next month, which Andrews executes with a lot of flair and style. This is clearly a twelve issue story cut into pieces rather than a run full of issues that stand on their own, and it will remain to be seen what if any changes Andrews is bringing will last. However, those seeking an action packed Iron Fist story who don’t mind retcons or hallucinations will be at home here.
Loki: Agent of Asgard #11: The second comic out this week by writer Al Ewing sees him continue to break Loki down bit by bit, drawing upon the work other writers (mostly Kieron Gillen on “Journey into Mystery” and “Young Avengers”) have done with him. This means that this issue provides a lot of weight if one has read those other comics from previous years, and may seem cluttered and complicated to anyone else. The gist is that the current Loki has been a pawn in the antics of his future self, the purely evil “King Loki”, and one of those acts was killing his younger, innocent self. In rapid succession he’s shunned by the Warriors Three, exiled from Asgardia and rejected by Verity, his only mortal friend on Earth. Lee Garbett returns on art and once again, alongside Antonio Fabela on colors, and as always does an exceptional job. King Loki’s dialogue is a hoot as always, but the rest may seem like a jumble if one doesn’t have those previous comics handy.
Ms. Marvel #12: On a week full of seconds, this is the second issue of this series shipping this month (to make up for skipping January) as well as the second Marvel comic where Loki appears. Writer and franchise co-creator G. Willow Wilson seems to be fond of having Kamala Khan do a “team-up” after every major arc, and this issue is no exception. As with most great serialized comics, on the surface this may be a done-in-one story, but in the longer term it carries along with subplots which have been running through the series since the start. Kamala’s best friend Bruno is secretly in love with her, but hasn’t found the right way to tell her without either creeping her out or risking their friendship – and that was before she gained superpowers and became the costumed defender of Jersey City. Elmo Bondoc fills in for Adrian Alphona on art, with regular colorist Ian Herring making sure that his pencils match the color palette for a series. Loki, who currently is performing missions for Frigga on Asgardia, has been sent to Kamala’s high school to ferret out her enemy “the Inventor”, whose inventions could pose a threat to the realm eternal. However, this is merely an excuse to have Loki turn up at the Valentine’s Day dance and stir up trouble between Bruno, Kamala, and everyone present. It may be a bit juvenile, but readers should remember that Loki once used to literally grant super powers to random prison convicts in the hopes of defeating Thor. The result is another fun and quirky story which this series is known for, even if it does feel more episodic than many previous issues. To date, Kamala has gotten to team up with Wolverine, Lockjaw, Spider-Man, and now Loki. Could Carol Danvers or even Monica Rambeau be arriving in the near future?
She-Hulk #12: Despite critical acclaim and many quality issues, this run on the jade giantess by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente officially comes to an end. As always there will be those wondering why such a solid series couldn’t connect to readers, and as always the answers will be varied. It could be a lack of promotion, the stubborn insistence of charging readers four dollars for a twenty page story, or an unflattering fill-in artist at a critical ordering juncture, or just bad luck. At any rate, Marvel Comics were wise to be willing to let this issue skip January so Pulido could wrap up the last issue himself. Everything comes to a head with the solving of the mystery of the “blue file”, which amounts to minor Spider-Man cast off Nightwatch performing a magical spell to cloud the minds of many to earn himself a noteworthy name and thus merchandising success. Left unanswered is how he came back to life after clearly being murdered on panel (despite time traveling efforts by a future incarnation of himself) in “Spider-Man Unlimited #14”, circa 1996. Considering that Nightwatch was, at best, Marvel Comics’ attempt to knock off Spawn (who himself was heavily riffed off Todd McFarlane’s art on Amazing Spider-Man), it may be best to wave one’s hand at such questions and utter the word, “magic”, as a reply. The end result is a solid finale between Nightwatch, She-Hulk, Hellcat, and her mysterious paralegal, Angie. The Shocker makes a surprise appearance (redeeming himself a bit from his cowardly antics in “Superior Foes of Spider-Man”) and the ending should be enough to satisfy long time readers as well as those who will ultimately discover this run in hardcover.
Silver Surfer #9: It remains hard to fathom how the same writer who has offered predictable dross in “Spider-Verse” is knocking things out of the part (or the universe) in this series about Marvel’s first solo cosmic hero. Dan Slott, alongside Michael and Laura Allred on story/art, continue along with their imaginative, humorous, and at times gripping saga of Silver Surfer riding the space waves alongside his latest companion, small town innkeeper Dawn Greenwood. Unfortunately, just as Norrin Radd grew as close to Dawn Greenwood as he once did to lost love Shalla Bal (if not closer), the pair wound up on planet Lifeboat Alpha – a world full of survivors of Galactus’ planetary feasts. Finding out about Surfer’s past as the herald to the devourer of worlds has seemed to break the pair apart, just as Galactus has followed the Surfer to this world. The issue’s highlight is easily Norrin’s epic, but ultimately futile, efforts to defeat Galactus in a fight to save the planet. It is a jaw dropping sequence rendered as beautiful and epic as possible by the Allreds. Low sales make it a high probability that this series, like She-Hulk above it, will not survive past a twelfth issue. Regardless, issues like this demonstrate that after years of high selling but critically questionable tales on a big book like “Amazing Spider-Man”, this will be another feather in Dan Slott’s cap in terms of smaller scale but higher quality stories.