Review by Eli Katz
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have consistently impressed me with their work on JONAH HEX. In an era of decompression and huge, multi-chapter stories, they write sharp, stand-alone issues in a genre — the Western — which hasn’t been popular in comics since the 1950s. Now, with the opening issue of their new, three-part miniseries, TIME BOMB, they have impressed me yet again. Here, they team up with legendary artist Paul Gulacy to put together a wild, action-packed thriller that features some very creepy sci-fi elements. Think MISSION IMPOSSIBLE with a big, scary dose of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
TIME BOMB #1 begins with workers in Berlin discovering a long-forgotten Nazi bunker and then accidentally setting off a missile in the underground chamber. The missile explodes directly above the city, releasing a deadly virus that makes Ebola look like the common cold. Within minutes, the virus kills everyone in Berlin and then begins to spread quickly across the globe. There is no known cure and no way to contain the deadly cloud before it kills everyone left unprotected on the surface. Officials in the New World Order, a top military organization, decide that they have only one option available: to send a small team of Special Ops back into the recent past, and have them warn the workers not to open the Nazi bunker.
There’s just one hitch: the time-traveling technology, known as the Time Bomb, is still in the experimental stage and scientists aren’t quite sure how to set the travel coordinates. The team could end up anywhere in the world, at any point in the past, if they survive the trip at all. As luck would have it, the team does end up near Berlin, but they have traveled much further in time than expected: to the middle of the Second World War. And so instead of preventing a worldwide plague outbreak, they find themselves battling Nazis.
Now, most time-travel stories face a fundamental problem: the time travelers cannot really intervene in the past without the risk of altering the course of history forever. This limitation often leads to many boring and ultimately illogical scenes, where characters stand by and watch as some past tragedy unfolds in the hope that their noninterference will keep the present unchanged. These scenes are boring because we’ve seen them countless times before. And they’re illogical because, by simply traveling back in time and doing even the most mundane acts, the time jumpers are interrupting the sequence of past events and thus potentially causing major changes to the present and future.
But Palmiotti and Gray do a great job of getting around this problem. When one of the Special Ops scolds a fellow teammate for killing a Nazi and potentially screwing up the future, the teammate replies, “Change the time continuum? Are you fucking high? Last I checked the world was majorly fucked and about to end. How in the hell could us killing anyone at this point make the world in worse shape when we left?” This is not only fun dialogue, but also sound logic. If you’re coming from a doomed world, it’s hard to imagine screwing things up even worse than they are already. It’s refreshing finally to see characters in a comic being rational about time travel and realizing that they have no control over events once they’ve left their own era.
If there is one flaw in this book, it’s that the team of Special Ops is made up of flat, almost faceless characters. Each operative is given a brief, one- or two-page intro, but the main thing we learn from these pages is that most of the members are oversexed, unhesitant killers. Imagine three James Bonds, minus the tuxedos, plus a very tough woman. Palmiotti and Gray try to add tension between two of the teammates, and thus another level of drama to the story, by having the tough female member be the recently divorced wife of one of the James Bond-types. But this tension comes across as forced and unrealistic. In the face of Armageddon, would military commanders put such a delicate mission in the hands of a warring ex-couple? My guess is probably not. But this subplot is the only flaw in this otherwise top-notch book and is, at most, a minor distraction. After all, TIME BOMB is about pulse-racing action and cool sci-fi concepts, such as doomsday devices and time machines. It’s not trying to tell a factually accurate military story.
Paul Gulacy, who first made a name for himself in the 1970s on Marvel’s MASTER OF KUNG FU, does an outstanding job here on art. He has always drawn characters with a high degree of realism, and his style is perfect for this kind of book. Yes, the story is a high-concept, sci-fi adventure, but it’s still firmly rooted in the real world. The threats in this comic, from the Nazi death camps to the virus outbreak, are all too real, and so the illustrations need to look as serious as the subject matter they depict. Gulacy makes everything look very authentic, and yet he’s able to inject enough drama into his panels so that all the scenes, even ones with heavy dialogue, flow quickly. This is some of his best work to date. It has the energy of his early work, but with much greater polish.
TIME BOMB #1 is a superb opening issue. It wastes no time setting up the basic plot, introducing the main characters, and getting on with the fun of global cataclysm. This is one of the better comics to come out this year, and easily the best book that Radical has published.
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