Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Sean Gordon Murphy
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with writer Mark Millar; growing up I was a huge fan of his Ultimates series, especially his time on Ultimate Fantastic Four (rather controversial but true), and if it weren’t for Civil War I probably wouldn’t be the avid comic reader I am today. Even as I grew up I came to appreciate some of his older work, including Red Son, a book I feel is one of the best studies of Superman in recent times. However, somewhere at the time of Kick-Ass I lost interest with Millar. It seemed he was more devoted to pushing the boundaries of good taste and getting his books adapted to film than creating quality comics. I completely dropped off during Kick-Ass 2 and only read the first issue of Jupiter’s Legacy before deciding it wasn’t for me. With Chrononauts however, I was more than willing to give Millar another chance. I’m partial to time travel stories and the work of Sean Gordon Murphy was surely worth the price of admission, I was hoping this would be a return to the glory days. Sadly, this début issue falls flat with an opening that doesn’t offer much new to the genre and instead just feels like a standard “science gone wrong” story.
The plot of the comic follows two scientists who are about to become the first people to successfully travel through time and broadcast the results. The comic opens with the successful launch of satellite into the timestream before jumping eighteen months later as they begin the first manned mission. No prizes for guessing that this will not go as planned and propel the plot for further issues. This sounds relatively simple and sadly the story never seems to take any risks or go into any new territory beyond this. We’re not given much context as to the events happening which lead to a very jarring and disorientating first reading which gave me very little reason to care. This was remedied on a second reading but it still soured my initial experience.
Outside of the lacklustre plot, it’s the completely flat characterisation that completely killed me enjoyment of the story. I was initially concerned that I didn’t seem to be getting any sort feel for the lead characters personalities, but this was soon understood when I realised how one dimensional and unlikeable they actually were. One is your typical dedicated to the job scientist (complete with girlfriend who has left him due to his obsession) while the other is a loud, impulsive dudebro who it stuns me was able to focus long enough to become involved with a time travel experiment. These caricatures aren’t played for laughs either or as satire (outside of one particularly good joke involving the dudebro) they’re played straight and we’re meant to accept and care for these characters. It’s a complete misfire and I found myself rolling my eyes instead of getting involved in their story. Even more problematic is the clunky dialogue used to explain their characteristics. I audibly groaned at the lines “How could you leave me for that sleazy lawyer?”, “He made time for me.” I can almost see the eventual moment where our hero will be trapped in some future desolate timeline and will remorsefully state that he now has all the time in the world. It’s just very clunky, predictable and formulaic which is a huge shame given how Millar often upends genre tropes.
What is consistently fantastic throughout however is the gorgeous art by Sean Murphy. It is equal parts detailed and stylised with all the small parts of the huge time machines crafted meticulously to give a very real and fleshed out looking technological style. The story too is laid out perfectly, with Murphy using very cool stylistic tricks to portray the jumps through time. The books strongest moment also includes a silent scene in which Corben observes a watch from his dad. It’s a simple moment, but Murphy renders it to artistic perfection that we learn everything we need to without dialogue. The issue is a real showcase of the limitless talent of Murphy and it’s worth buying alone just to experience the art. The colours of Matt Hollingsworth perfectly complement Murphy’s art leaving us with a very beautiful book that features a very cool, modern sci-fi style.
Overall, the debut issue of Chrononauts is a disappointment. Given Millar’s tendencies to shake up genres and push boundaries this feels like a very (ironically) safe time travel story, with nothing feeling particularly big or new outside Murphy’s art work. It’s a real shame, as I was hoping Millar could recapture some of his magic but none of that seems to be on display here. Fans of Millar will probably pick it up regardless of this review, however if you’re on the fence I’d suggest waiting for trade, there isn’t a lot that actually happens in this issue and it’s hard to tell whether the book will improve from a plot perspective. I’ll stick with the series mostly due to the art, and truly hope Millar manages to add some meat to the story otherwise this could end up being one of his more forgettable projects.