The dangers of time travel and trusting yourself are the name of the game in the colorfully titled The Man Who F#&%ed Up Time, out this week from Aftershock Comics. Conjuring up images from a number of movies, TV shows, and comics from the last 100 years (depending on what your ‘go to’ time travel favorite is) this new comic by John Layman and Karl Mostert lays it’s cards on the table very early on.
With box office blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame messing around with time travel and Doctor Who making massive time waves on television and in comics, is it possible that Layman and Mostert have found a new angle for this type of story? Or is it a case of repeating past ideas?
Aftershock Comics are not new to time travel stories. There was an element of time warping in Jackpot, The Revisionist was obsessed with the consequences of time travel, and it can be argued that the more abstract offering from Warren Ellis and Paul Hester, Shipwreck, is the best of the bunch. This means that The Man Who F#&%ed Up Time has very big shoes to fill.
Layman’s approach is to jump right in. When the reader meets Sean Bennett, he has already caused cosmic chaos and the opening, energetic pages introduce the mixed up world that Bennett has created. This all comes with an internal voice-over from Bennett, laying the groundwork for the story and, to a certain degree, fleshing out his character.
When the narrative time hops to before the mess began, Layman continues to use the voice-over to introduce the rest of the cast, their awkward histories, and the mechanics for time traveling. After the outlandish opening the rest of it seems rather mundane. The scientists experimenting in a lab: the smart underling who should have a greater part in the team: the bully pushing the hero around. If you had a list of cliches, you’d be ticking them off, one after the other as you turned the pages.
There are some moments of engaging conversation with witty speech and nuanced character development. Unfortunately, there is a lot more tired exposition and conversations that will seem very familiar as they closely resemble a number of other similar stories from across multiple mediums.
Ultimately, only the central character, Sean Bennett, comes out of this opening issue with any personality worth mentioning. The rest play the extra’s game perfectly, doing nothing more than existing to give Bennett motivation. They are narrative props fulfilling a role in the same way that this comics time machine does. The lack of depth is disappointing.
The Art of Time
As with the narrative, Mostert’s artwork peaks in the opening sequence. The energy and urgency of Bennett��s character in the first few pages is palatable and, as a reader, you get a sense of threat from the images. The way that the panels are designed, with large open spaces in half page-sized panels followed by crowded scenes in much smaller panels, helps to intensify the action.
When the plot moves into the lab, the energy and excitement leave the comic. The characters become quite pedestrian while the backgrounds are architecturally sound but not very emotive. There is a contrast here between the two time periods, one that is important to the story, or at least to Bennett’s character, but the change is too great. Bennett’s mundane and disappointing life could still visually be interesting to the reader, however, it isn’t.
Unfortunately, when the plot returns to the alternative future, the damage has been done in more ways than one. From that point on the art doesn’t capture the exhilaration of the opening pages and as more futuristic elements are added, the more unoriginal it all starts to feel.
What doesn’t help Mostert is that the plot itself stops making sense. Whereas the reader is wanting a clever Back To The Future Part 2 story, they are left with a hastily written What If? Comic.
The saving graces for this comic are the colorwork by Dee Cunniff and the lettering by the writer, John Layman. Cunniffe’s colors are reminiscent of Jordie Bellaire’s work on The Manhattan Projects from Image Comics. It creates locations and draws comparisons between one place and another; namely the alternative timelines. The atmosphere in the Lab and the world surrounding is completely different to the monumental landscape of the alternative world Bennett finds himself in.
At the end of the day, The Man Who F#&%ed Up Time is a fun romp. You can laugh at the silly inclusion of dinosaurs in a ‘modern’ world setting and the cliched time machine surrounded with wires and bright lights. Unfortunately, there is nothing that elevates this above mild curiosity.
The writing is inconsistent and the plot is problematic if you think about it for more than a second. Overused cliches pad out the character development in an attempt to justify the actions of the central character. There are too many time travel stories out there doing a much better job than this comic.
The artwork is enjoyable and there is some fun to be had but this is nothing more than a throwaway comic. It’s like a Sunday afternoon movie that can help pass the time but you wouldn’t go out of your way to watch. Potentially, over the course of the next few issues, this comic could improve and become something special. It just isn’t there yet.