Review by Eli Katz
There’s a great James Bond-like moment in TIME BOMB #2. One of the Special Ops, transported back to Nazi Germany, is caught killing a high-ranking SS officer behind a pub. Three German soldiers, drunk and armed with machineguns, surround the Special Op, Ken Weinhauser, and demand an explanation for the killing. Ken tells the men that the dead official was a spy, caught selling secrets about the doomsday device that the Nazi regime is busy constructing. He then tries to convince them that he is a Gestapo agent himself and that he needs their help to identify other traitors in the area. To initiate them into the Gestapo, he pulls out a pen and marks each man’s forehead with a faint, silver-colored “X.”
For a brief moment, the men are taken in by the phony initiation ritual. The booze, coupled with the promise of promotion and extravagant honors, clouds their judgment. But one of the soldiers quickly realizes the absurdity of Ken’s explanation and says, “Do you take us for fools? This story of yours is pure shit!” He then throws Ken to the ground and orders his fellow soldiers to gun down Ken in the alley. Cornered, Ken points his pen up into the air and shoots out what looks to be a distress signal — a final message to his partners, perhaps, that he has failed the mission. The projectile bursts like a flare, and the three German soldiers follow its fiery trail as it moves through the sky. Their decision to do so is fatal. The projectile releases a set of bullets programmed to hit anything covered with the pen’s silver ink. The next instant, the three German soldiers fall over dead, each with their brains spilling onto the cobblestone road.
This isn’t a particularly important moment in TIME BOMB #2. But it’s emblematic of the fun, fast action that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray pack into this book. Page after page, they put their four main heroes, the time-traveling Special Ops, into impossible situations and then devise ingenious ways of getting them out of almost certain death. In the process, Palmiotti and Gray make issue 2 of TIME BOMB even more thrilling and enjoyable than their phenomenal opening issue. They give us more action, more twists, and even more disturbing scenes of horror. Plus, they introduce an unnamed Nazi villain who’s a creepy combination of just about every evil German genius in film. He’s Strangelove, Christian Szell, and Hans Landa rolled up into one slightly disfigured genocidal maniac.
Issue 2 begins where issue one left off: the four Special Ops are still running around World War II Germany, after traveling back from the year 2012 to find the Nazi’s Omega Missile that contains a killer virus. That missile has been accidentally launched 67 years after the war’s end, and its virus is quickly wiping out the world’s population. The group, fluent in German, splits up and tries to find the facility where the Omega Missile is being built. If the Special Ops can destroy the bomb before Nazi scientists complete the device, they can prevent the future catastrophe. But locating and breaking into a super secret underground facility is hardly easy, and each member encounters a number of nasty Nazi threats along the way.
One major strength of TIME BOMB is, as I’ve already suggested, its inventive action sequences. This is not some dumb shoot-’em-up, take-’em-down-with-one-punch kind of book. The action is fast and furious, to be sure, but it’s also highly imaginative. The nearly impossible escapes — such as the trick that Ken pulls with the pen — are just clever enough to be believable in the context of a high-concept sci-fi story. And the heroes are portrayed as being sufficiently intelligent to pull off these desperate but effective ploys. What’s even better, however, is that the Nazis that the Special Ops confront, from the grunts to the top-ranking SS officials, are equally intelligent. Just about every Nazi these Ops meet identifies them as imposters and goes after them with characteristic German stubbornness. And because the Germans are worthy adversaries, capable of playing subtle games of cat and mouse, the story is genuinely suspenseful.
The book’s other great strength is its unpredictability. Issue 2 ends with a startling cliffhanger and leaves open the possibility that the heroes might fail their mission or, at the very least, so completely screw up the past that they change the course of the Second World War. Because this book exists in its own universe, unconnected from other titles or storylines, anything and everything is possible — including an unhappy ending. It’s satisfying to read a book where, finally, it isn’t clear who’ll live and who’ll die, who’ll win and who’ll lose.
Although TIME BOMB is exceptional, it does have one problem. Its depiction of women — especially its female hero, the curvaceous Peggy Medina — is based largely on terrible action-genre clichés. The only female Special Op on the team, Peggy has at least one nude scene per issue, and is constantly finding herself in highly sexualized situations. In issue 2 alone, she has a close encounter with her horny ex-husband, wears a low-cut dirndl that barely conceals her breasts, and seduces a German thug in order to learn more about the classified Omega Project. With each scene, her clothes become tighter and more revealing until she isn’t wearing any clothes at all. She’s more fanboy eye candy than she is a fully developed character, and her lines of dialogue are the least inspired in the book. During a gun battle, for example, she fires two revolvers and screams, “Die, you fucking Nazis fucks!” She is, in other words, a vulgarized version of a Bond girl, with all the charm and wit of an Inglourious Basterd. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect deeper characterization from an action-adventure comic. But because Palmiotti and Gray do such a superb job with the rest of the story, this flaw is all the more noticeable.
As he did in TIME BOMB # 1, Paul Gulacy produces some of the best art of his career in this issue. There isn’t a bad panel in the book; every illustration crackles with energy. Gulacy as an artist has often been compared to Jim Steranko, because his character designs are realistic and highly detailed and his page layouts are, in key moments, complex, even experimental. The comparison is certainly apt here. Gulacy makes his super spies look like Steranko’s Agents of SHIELD — handsome, rugged, and yet very human. Ken, Peggy, and the rest of the team look like real people, trapped in a terribly real world war. The bombed-out scenes in Berlin, with the Nazi tanks rumbling through the streets, are vivid and disturbing. However, at particularly dramatic points, Gulacy breaks free from the confines of realism and traditional sequential storytelling and, instead, draws irregularly shaped, Steranko-like panels that cut across the page and intensify the action and gore. This mix between realism and pumped-up, panel-breaking illustrations makes the book both believable and incredibly engaging.
With a solid story and outstanding art, TIME BOMB is more entertaining than just about any other comic on the stands right now. It’s gripping. It’s gruesome. Often, it’s very smart. Just don’t expect much psychological depth to its characters.
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