I had high hopes of this series when I first read the descriptions. Lerner’s Graphic Universe does some really good graphic novels for kids and this sounded like something not only my kids at the library but I myself would enjoy; a great Tintin read-alike with time travel and historical facts.
The story is introduced with a foreword explaining that a “time gun” has been created, allowing people to travel back in time. However, it has been stolen by villains and now agents are battling time crimes all over the world. It also gives a brief explanation of the rules for this particular time travel device “It is not possible to change your own destiny. Every living person has a beginning and an end that cannot be rewritten. Who knows, maybe your next-door neighbor was born in 1929 and is now 21 years old.”
This seems rather contradictory and doesn’t really explain how the time travel works in the ensuing story. However, moving on, we meet Mortensen, one of the agents fighting time crimes, in Denmark, 1929. He is meeting an antique bookseller who has discovered a rare medieval text…with a picture of an airplane. Mortensen travels back to Scotland, 1512, and is captured before he can fix the time anomaly. He is rescued by a man named Mandrake, who seems to be some kind of wizard and is the person who wrote the book Mortensen is trying to track down. Mandrake helps Mortensen escape and takes him to a witch named Blossom. She’s mute but clever. In fact, she seems to know far too much for an uneducated peasant woman and Mortensen discovers that she has a secret room full of books from the crashed plane depicted in the ancient manuscript. She sadly agrees to destroy the books and other evidence of the plane crash and Mortensen travels back to 1929, only to discover Blossom was burned as a witch. A little more time manipulation and Blossom is saved, the time crime is stopped, the criminal uncovered, and Mortensen has a new partner.
Additional material includes information on illuminated manuscripts, the history of bicycles, witch hunts, dungeons, and historic libraries, all things Mortensen encounters on his journey.
The art has a classic adventure story feel. Mortensen and the other protagonists all have distinctive characteristics; Mortensen has a long oblong face and messy hair, Mandrake a wilting mustache and bewildered, bugged-out eyes. Then there’s the demure Blossom, who has short hair and appears to be wearing lipstick, a time anomaly for 1512 indeed. The panels fit closely together, cramming as much action into each page as possible, although some panels show only a single face or movement. The characters are to the forefront of most of the artwork, leaving the backgrounds and settings vague. This story is all about the action, not the characters. We never learn Mortensen’s first name or his motivations for being a time agent. Blossom is described as clever, but her willingness to risk her life for Mortensen for no apparent reason is a bit odd. Since she can’t speak, and has no way to communicate with Mortensen other than gestures, it’s hard to figure out what she’s thinking. Her face is pretty, but has no real changes of expression.
The premise of Mortensen’s Escapades is intriguing and there’s plenty of action and adventure, but I found myself wanting more information on the time travel, Mortensen’s agency, Blossom’s history and thoughts, and Mortensen himself. At less than 50 pages, there isn’t room for much information or backstory. Hopefully the sequels will flesh out the characters more. The additional historical information is a facet of many of Lerner’s fiction offerings and something I’ve found my young patrons really love. This isn’t a perfect book, but it’s an enjoyable, all-ages, classic adventure story that fans of Tintin and kids interested in history will eagerly enjoy.