Time Before Time imagines a world where time travel is possible, but the past cannot really be changed. The lead characters are from 2141, which is supposed to be one of the worst times in human history. It’s explained to the protagonist Tatsuo as such, “If the past could be changed, do you really think the world would be like this?”

Tatsuo and his friend Oscar are smugglers for a group known as The Syndicate. The Syndicate uses them and others as indentured servants, paying off debts that are constantly added to, making it almost impossible to ever be free. This finally pushes Tatsuo to the point that he decides the only way out is for he and Oscar to steal a time traveling “pod” and run away. Fate, however, steps in and Oscar winds up losing decades of his life trapped in 3455 on a job gone wrong. When his friend passes away, Tatsuo decides to steal a pod alone only to get hijacked by a woman with a gun to his head. There is a shootout at The Syndicate garage, the pod gets damaged, and the two of them get lost in time.

Helgi, the leader of this branch of The Syndicate, is short tempered, driven, and constantly under pressure from the head of the organization, his father. Helgi is trying to get a job done in 3455 for their most important client (who we never meet or learn anything about) and will throw everything and everyone at it to show that he can get the job done. He’s furious to learn about the stolen pod and needs to track Tatsuo down. It turns out Tatsuo and his kidnaper Nadia, who works for the FBI for some reason that is never explored, wound up in 2093. After the crash they are immediately found by members of a rival gang, “who control most of the latter half of the 21st century,” called The Union. The Union leader in 2093 is a woman named Kareena who is playing along with Tatsuo’s offer to give her information about The Syndicate in exchange for his and Nadia’s lives. She seems reasonable, but her plan is to kill them either way, letting us know everything we need to about her.

The rest of this book explores how time travelling criminals are generally bad people and never really dives any deeper than that. Nadia has the most compelling back story about how her family was split apart by trying to use time travel to get to a better, safer time. That said, we don’t really spend enough time with her or her thoughts for it to be more than a basic emotional grounding for the broader story. That’s maybe the biggest issue holding this book back, we don’t know enough about any character or the stakes of the world to get too attached. Time travel seemingly has no consequences, few risks outside of “radiation” (which they never get into) and is apparently only used for criminal activity like smuggling. Nothing is really explained in the greater context of the world to let us know how or why any of this is happening. That feels like a big miss in a volume that contains the first five issues of this comic’s run.

Joe Palmer’s art consists of thick lines and minimal detail. For some reason everyone in this world has acne as they all have dots that show up indiscriminately on their faces. It just sticks out oddly as the backgrounds tend to be very sparse and nothing else catches your eye. Colorist Chris O’Halloran goes with pretty flat, muted colors and there are times the panels get muddy. The color pallet makes it feel like there is no difference in any of the years/decades they jump around, as every year looks the same. It seems like another missed opportunity. To this book’s credit, there is very little gore, no nudity, and the only real thing to watch out for is language, so older teens should have no problem getting into this story. It’s easy to follow the time traveling, as new years are bannered at the top of each new section, which helped this not feel convoluted. I appreciate that the writers didn’t try to hold our hands throughout, but there was just enough detail missing for a concept as big as time travel that it leaves this book feeling flat. If you have a big audience for Sci-Fi comics this would be suitable for both adult audience and old teens. This title is still ongoing and Vol 2 will be out in early 2022.

Time Before Time, vol. 1
By Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville
Art by Joe Palmer
Image, 2021
ISBN: 9781534320062
Publisher Age Rating: M

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

  • Adam

    | he/him Technology Specialist


    Adam is a Technology Specialist at the Way Public Library in Perrysburg, Ohio. His duties include helping patrons understand how to use various library related apps, where he is sure to point out which have access to graphic novels and comics. He curates and has presented on the library's "Beyond Books" collection and takes secret joy in ordering video games as an actual job function. His favorite duty is ordering graphic novels for the adult section of the library, which he feels better equipped for than ordering books on say, transportation. A lifelong comic reader, he still remembers buying X-Force #1 and his mom throwing away X-Force #1. You can find him yearly at C2E2's librarians meet-up complaining to no one in particular about Rob Liefeld's inability to draw feet.

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