Time Jump War #1, October 1989, Apple Comics
writer: Chuck Dixon
artist: Enrique Villagran
cover artist: Ricardo Villagran
logo designer: Marc Hempel
Blogger's note: Entry for Friday, January 25, 2008.
Time travel. Let's talk about it.
Like every other kind of practical application technology, I believe that the inevitable advent of time travel would result in sexual exploitation and, eventually, misuse -- the type that might unravel the universe itself. Like the telephone and the Internet, the idea of time travel is really just another medium for interpersonal communication; whereas the phone and the web have conquered the inhibition of distance (and arguably, to a lesser degree, social insecurity), time travel would overcome chronology. Sure, at first, we'd all jump to talk to a long deceased loved one, but how long before someone tries to hook up with "the one that got away" again? Who would be the first to join Cleopatra's male harem? Who would dare undergo a gender change and go back in time to pick up himself?
(I saw that last one on an old HBO sci-fi series, so don't judge me, okay?)
Fortunately, whenever time travel is utilized in mainstream media, it hinges around the optimism of humanity and the benevolence of its benefactors, not the perversion to which most cutting edge technology is subjected. From H.G. Wells' socio-political themes in The Time Machine, to Marty and Doc's more familial intentions in Back to the Future, to Commander Chakotay's preservation of the temporal prime directive in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Shattered," those that tamper with or are tossed around by time often willingly embrace the incredible responsibility therein, and though their plights are compellingly personal, the consequences of their actions are almost always universal. Interestingly, these time travelling heroes achieve their nobility not by making things better but by simply maintaining the status quo -- by tirelessly keeping things exactly the way they've always been. Just ask Homer Simpson; sure, he expedited the extinction of the dinosaurs, but his family ended up with frog-tongues. Close enough, eh?
Which finally brings us to Apple Comics' Time Jump War. Arguably boasting one of the most conceptually transparent titles I've ever seen in comics (unless Marvel decides to change its upcoming Secret Invasion crossover to Skrulls Are Actually Every Character We've Mistaken Killed or Resurrected These Past 20 Years), I found this first issue at an overstocked book warehouse a few months ago, shortly after Southern California was ravaged by wildfires. My girlfriend and I decided to survey the damage closest to our apartment (which was thankfully some twenty miles away), and we found this dusty old bookstore rife with inexpensive gems. I found some of Matt Groening's early Life is Hell collections, including Work is Hell and Love is Hell (which is begging to be read the week of Valentine's Day), Maus I and II, and a variety of '90s single issues -- a relatively expected discovery considering the market's grim 'n gritty saturation back then. Fortunately, Time Jump War straddles the decade and is free of any excessively violent, obscenely existential undertones. The Silver Age-esque exclamations on its front cover explain it all: "Action in Outer Space! A lone man and woman face a terror from beyond time!"
Though these teasers would be enough to peak the interest of any open-minded, sci-fi-oriented geek, what sealed the deal for me were these two words: Chuck Dixon. Chuck Dixon's run on Batman, Detective Comics, and most notably Robin were formative when I was a younger collector; of course, befitting the character's original appeal, I was attracted to Robin's adventurous adolescence, but Dixon's balance of action and introspection defined entertaining comics for me. Tim Drake bore the weight of the world one page, then effortlessly swung over the Gotham rooftops the next, fulfilling every young readers' fantasies while still acknowledging the burdens of his tumultuous teenaged years. In my opinion, Dixon's faithfulness to the character was the sole cause of his success, and now that he's recently regained the title's reigns, I'll be adding Robin to my monthly purchase list again.
What does this have to do with Time Jump War, you ask? Well, everything. First of all, like my finding this very issue, TJW begins with an unlikely discovery, when German soldiers find a tablet some one hundred meters below their projected construction site. It tells the story of Captain Doyle Macklinton and his co-pilot Lt. Veronica Killy, whose adventure inexplicably began in their native 2098. On a mission to thwart aliens from utilizing a mysterious wormhole to transport their army, "Doy" and "Ronnie" end up destroying the anomaly from the other side, where their crew is attacked in their sleep by the cocoon-inducing alien enemy. Our interstellar heroes barely make it out alive in their respective escape pods, crash landing on an Earth that bares no resemblance to the one they remember -- let alone one to which even the reader could relate, what with that wholly mammoth stomping about. Of course, this is where Doy and Ronnie's epic just begins.
Though this work predates Dixon's saturation in the Batman family, his familiar style is evident in every panel, oozing sympathic character introspection one panel, then "Yee haw!"-style action the next. Also, the lack of mainstream, editorial baggage allows for some much more adult-oriented material, and Dixon lets a few key four-lettered words fly -- truly, the kid gloves were off, making his brilliance is all the more evident. The time travelling subtext actually takes a backseat to the palpable personalities of Dixon's space-faring heroes, which is quite a feat considering Time Jump War's origins as a comic book. Dixon describes in his insightful inside cover introduction that the plot actually sprung from artist Enrique Villagran's character designs. "I . . . asked him what story they went with. He replied that they went with whatever story I chose for them to go with," Dixon explains. Apparently, he elaborates, that's how they make comics in the Villagrans' Argentine process -- draw some characters, presumably with an interesting quirk (in this case, an astronaut meets a cave woman), then build a story around them. Beholding Villagran's work, which boast strong Kubert influences, I can understand Dixon's desire to collaborate; his bold lines and dynamic choreography suck the reader in, and the depths of both the spaceships and the cosmos itself compensates for any lack of color in these stark black and white pages. In fact, I wonder if color would distract from Villagran's passion, as we can see the finished page as he did, and hopefully feel the same modicum of satisfaction.
Naturally, I couldn't travel back in time to prove Villagran's satisfaction, but at the very least I would make an effort to pick up this series fresh from the new release stands, to experience the wonder fans back them must have felt beholding this work for the first time. Spaceships, hot chicks, dinosaurs (I assume) . . . What else makes for a fun comic book? For that matter, what else really makes for a good reason to time travel? If one isn't travelling to the "unwritten" future to get a jump on trekking in space, or going back to see the dinosaurs every child wonders about, why else would humanity even bother? Mankind certainly wouldn’t be writing its own wartime wrongs; we have a hard time agreeing on the battles we’re fighting today, you know? So, sure, yes, time travelling would be an interpersonal communication technology, but it would also be an undeniable chance to communicate with oneself, as well -- to fulfill all of those fantastic thoughts and dreams that have haunted us our whole lives.
Which kind of brings my argument full circle, doesn't it?