Review: Time Before Time Issue One

Review by David Ferguson

  • Art by Joe Palmer (pencils / inks) and Chris O’Halloran (colours)
  • Written by Rory McConville and Declan Shalvey
  • Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
  • Cover by Declan Shalvey
  • Alternate cover by John Paul Leon

Whenever a new piece of media hits, my brain generally reaches to previous works to kind of frame it especially when I plan on reviewing it. Some may consider it an insult to the creators but what I am really trying to do is let the audience get a feel for the subject and decide if it will be for them. For this series, I go straight to my favourite science fiction Philip K. Dick in that it is a science fiction story about ordinary people. One of the creators’ elevator pitches for this series is “Looper” meets “The Wire.” From the “Looper” side of things, there is a similar idea of people being brought through time by a gang. However, in my opinion, Time Before Time‘s concept is far more interesting as people are using a gang to try to escape a bad life in their time (the 2140s) so there are parallels with refugees to be explored. I also feel that this book has already done a better job of making me care about the protagonist. Again, on the science fiction side, I like that they have already shut down the idea of possibly changing the past which, I think, has been overused as a kind of “get out of jail free card” in time travel stories. Additionally, they made the decision to strip back the science fiction (example: there will be no long exposition on the mechanics of time travel) and lean on the what the writers’ feel is one of their strengths: crime stories.

On the subject of crime stories, Declan Shalvey has experience with creator-owned works Savage Town (with Phil Barrett, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles) and last year’s Bog Bodies (with Gavin Fullerton, Rebecca Nalty and Clayton)(On a side note: I should have written something on Bog Bodies as I really enjoyed it and thought it was one of the best books of 2020). Both of these books were really character orientated and had Declan writing with other artists and, I think, really helped him develop as a writer. The rest of the team were involved in Write It In Blood, released earlier in the year, a crime book that was also very character based (and based on some complex relationships) with Declan providing a cover. It was actually the success of that creative team that led Declan & Rory McConville (who had already been working on Time Before Time) to keep the gang together. Rory is also known for his 2000AD work which includes working on Judge Dredd, which you might say is a good grounding in writing a mixture of science fiction and crime.

Write It In Blood was my exposure to Joe Palmer’s work. I enjoyed his character work in that book but I was even more impressed when it came to Time Before Time as we see that work surrounded by a rough and ready science fiction background. (If I am brutally honest, I was disappointed that Declan wasn’t drawing the series but I quickly got over that while reading this issue). Being teamed with Chris O’Halloran really makes Palmer’s art shine as Chris’ colours work in different ways when you compare Write It In Blood to Time Before Time. Palmer’s inks are powerful on their own but Chris adds two different flavours to them. Firstly, more subtle palette for a gangster story set in the southern United States and secondly a palette filled with wonderful purples and pinks that feels so sci-fi to me. The two work together to add to the personalities of the characters too and make the main cast stand out. Subtle little things like the way Palmer shows, main character, Tat feeling queasy after his time trip with a tilt of his body or the colour choices for another character’s outfit that yells “this person is important!” and added impact to that particular scene. I also love the design aspect of how the comic lets us know what year we are in with large numbers, which is played with at one point but I won’t spoil.

In the end, the issue did a great job of setting up the story and the “rules” of this world but, possibly more importantly, grabbed you by the neck at the end and insisted that this is going to be a ride and you should stay on-board.