By Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, and Brian Reber
Okay, so if t = t0/(1-v2/c2)1/2 and if Hitler can’t die, but Neela really, really wants to save her father except that c2 is constant and… my head hurts. Stephen Hawking can go screw! Once again, the delightfully charming and snark-tastic Ivar, Timewalker places its bright spotlight on Neela. Okay, technically, that spotlight is on like, at least nine or ten Neelas. It’s complicated. But, as temporally labyrinthine as the plot points can be, Van Lente, Henry and Reber thoroughly infuse this issue, like all the ones before it, with a tremendous amount of heart. Or hearts, as the case may be.
Like so many of Valiant’s offerings, Ivar, Timewalker excels at blending genres and offering a welcome hand to readers new and old alike. This book has been, and continues to be a, swashbuckling effort geared towards humor and honest to goodness sci-fi adventures. It reaches out to you and says, “Hey, come on, this’ll be fun” and then proceeds to hop through the fictional timestream guided by sharp, familiar quips and sharper, more familiar feelings. This is the result of the entire creative team giving their all towards a shared vision for tone and technique and it’s blatantly obvious just how much fun they’re having making this book. That enthusiasm is contagious and the fact that they’ve created one of the best new characters in this or any timeline with Neela, doesn’t hurt one bit either.
This issue is all ‘bout that Neela, ‘bout that Neela, no Ivar. (I’m so sorry). Actually, Ivar does make a brief appearance, but this is clearly shaping up to be the story of Neela coming to terms with her past and present, while learning to accept that the future is by far the most malleable. Van Lente doesn’t merely allow for Neela’s humorous and frustrated dialogue to do the heavy lifting (though it’s a constant source of joy) instead the story aims to examine loss and desperation in between its gags and tribulations.
With an ominous set of former towers looming in the background (which underscores the idea of perspective Neela herself acknowledges later), Neela’s attempts to prove Ivar and the Universe wrong walk that tightrope between heart-wrenching and knee-slapping with expert precision. Her character’s been developed a great deal since that first issue, where she jumped head first into crazy towns and watching her both stand defiant and struggle to accept her circumstances is a testament to Van Lente’s skill. “I’m not trying to alter world history. Just my history.” Neela laments at one point, a wonderful play on the myopic idea of the world revolving around you except that the universe actually does care enough to stand in her way.
This issues demands far less than the normal amount of insanity for Clayton Henry to render into existence (don’t worry there’s still a dinosaur, evil cybernetic beings, automotive accidents, etc.) but that doesn’t make his work any less impressive. Not by a long shot. Henry’s style is incredibly welcoming, with characters that are recognizably emotive throughout. None of the humor would carry as much heft were it not for Henry’s pitch perfect rendering of Neela’s expressions and movements to convey exactly the emotional toll called for. A Scooby-Doo like sprint, a confident thumbs-up, an exasperated plea to break through bureaucracy because her wallet is in an S.S. locker in 1944, etc. It’s all teeming with jubilant care and keeps just the right amount exaggerated cartooning to complement the more realistic elements. Of particular note this issue is Henry’s page layouts, specifically the two-page spread that scatters moments in time (which is getting pretty relative at this point) through equally sized panels to deliver a montage effect that would make ever the most fervent 80’s film fan proud.
Then of course there is the coloring stalwart of the Valiant Universe, Brian Reber who’s style fluctuates from “fun and bright!” to “less bright, but still really fun!” Reber consistently delivers whatever is called for and with Ivar he deftly captures the swashbuckling smart-alec tone while still utilizing a fun array of applications and effects. From the iridescent purple glow of a time travelling Neela to the grainy, surreal astral wonder of the aforementioned splash page’s background, Reber matches Henry step for step without ever overdoing it. If one were to just pick up this book and flip through it without allowing for their eyes to affix on a single panel detail or line of dialogue, the color would leave no doubt as to the story’s tone and appeal, and that’s all Reber.
Ivar, Timewalker is your new favorite binge-worthy TV show except it’s not on TV and there’s only four issues available to date, but you get the idea. A richly developed protagonist adrift in a sea of time traveling adventures with an emotional resonance that tickles the funny bone and pats your back when you’re feeling down. If you want the big, over-the-top superhero in a shared universe story, there’s more appropriate Valiant books for that; but if you want to experience another sliver of that same universe with a lot less gravitas and a lot more “science, bitches!” well, you know where to look.