By Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, Andrew Dalhouse, and Dave Sharpe
Time is a flat circle. Maybe. Or is it a Möbius strip? Wait, is that the same thing? Time travel is confusing enough, but throw in a pair of immortal brothers, a floating metropolis orbiting the singularity of a collapsing universe, and some primo burgers, and well, you got yourself just another day in the Ivar corner of the Valiant Universe. “Day” is a relative term, of course. Coming off the heels of last month’s exceptionally strong issue, Ivar, Timewalker #5 falls ever so slightly short in the emotional resonance realm, but maintains the whimsically smart momentum we’ve come to expect.
Fred Van Lente has packed a ton of information, character moments, action, and the usual wit into these 22 pages and frames an A and B plot with a neat time-loop device that’s bound to pleasantly confound. The past few issues have really established Neela as the star, placing her quirks, heartbreak and determination front and center, so it’s understandable that Van Lente needed to give Ivar some more facetime this issue. Dude’s name is on the cover of the book after all. Amongst all the scattered techno-time-babble the narrative structures itself on Ivar’s “getting the band together” tribulations and Neela’s adventures with…well, herself outside of spacetime. Continuing to explore and exploit those cracks in trust between our heroic duo, Neela is as ardently admirable and smirk inducing in dealing with her future self, who, is really kind of a jerk about the whole thing. Van Lente peppers their dialogue with authoritative statements on the morality and philosophy of manipulating time and the universe itself. Like a microcosm for what the series itself has been exploring, their three page exchange digs deep into cause and effect; in essence, consequences. But of course, Van Lente isn’t content to wring the heart out of this playful title leaving only sterile philosophical musings. No, it’s all about understanding who the characters challenging them really are and with Neela, it’s a pleasure to see how much she’s developed in only five issues. She has fortitude and doubts and flaws and brains and….look, point being, she’s fully realized and utterly relatable. That’s just science, bitches!
Tying together the two plots, Van Lente has the supporting cast point out to our two temporally-trapped protagonists that they are like so obviously crazy in love and want to have like one million babies, hello! Okay, not quite like that, but their unspoken attraction is quite bluntly addressed. It’s still early, both in terms of the series and this arc in particular, but the there hasn’t been much established to justify this supposed star-crossed lovers idea just yet. Sure, Neela’s whole world has been turned asunder and Ivar was there to help her come to terms with this very vulnerable state of affairs, but aside from a tug of war of learning to trust one another, there will hopefully (and almost assuredly) be greater examination down the road other than “these two love each other now.”
The meat of the issue comes in the form of Ivar recruiting his brother in the future which provides the requisite action and, more importantly, the insight into Ivar’s state of mind. Van Lente has a great handle on the Anni Padda brothers and their strained relationships with one another as brothers so often do. Arriving with a peace offering of this century’s finest burgers, the two proceed to verbally jab each other between their Nergal Horde physical jabbing and in the process lay the groundwork for this arc’s objectives. Van Lente always manages to keep the tone light and focus on character development without ever taking away the weight of the actions unfolding and this issue is no exception. It doesn’t hurt that it also features the return of ZOMG, everyone’s favorite message board aggregate consciousness, the Lurker.
Stepping in on art duties this month is Francis Portela with Andrew Dalhouse on colors. Frequent Van Lente collaborator Portela doesn’t stray to far from the style established by Clayton Henry in the introductory arc, which is a welcome bit of continuity considering how important the tone is to the title. His opening sequence is finely detailed and cinematic with great attention to the designs of the heavy sci-fi armor and spacecraft. Throughout there’s never a sparse background and every landscape is textured to convey the decayed, craggy state of the Eternal Emperor’s world. Portela’s facial expressions for Ivar in particular are spot-on and elastic, so much so that he stands out atop the far more dour and grim characters that cohabit his panels. Appropriately, his linework is reminiscent of Robert Gill in regards to its sharpness and yet Gilad (and Neela in some places) feel stiff and dead-eyed in places, which stands in contrast to the far more animated Ivar. That aside, Portela is impressive in how much he comfortably packs into every panel and page and the success of this issue’s framing sequence can be largely attributed to how well his style and craft lends itself to the science fiction fun.
Wow, this issue is red. Like, Roxanne-did-not-listen-to-you-and-turned-on-that-light-anyway red. Of course there’s a justified reason for this, as much of the action transpires deep within the bowels of the earth in a lava-lit Nergal mining operation. Dalhouse’s palette is actually far more nuanced than merely washing everything in a warm ensanguined bath however, as he manages to carefully integrate various burnt umbers and terracottas in order to control the lighting. The more digitized effects are toned down in favor or subtle glows and well rounded applications of texture, specifically to the varied clothing. Away from the lava pit, Dalhouse plays in the neon sandbox of futuristic space exploration and the delicate balance of the singularity in particular is stunning. Dalhouse is a great complement to Portela and still instills a level of storytelling absolutely essential to the mood and feel of the various levels of emotion in play.
How does time travel work? Who cares really when those tripping the Möbius strip fantastic are as wonderfully depicted as the cast of Ivar, Timewalker. A loaded issue that subtlety slips in exposition below the radar in favor of highlighting the motivations and conundrums of those experiencing them, #5 is another strong entry into arguably Valiant’s most consistently surprising book. A bit of step back from the last issue in terms of becoming fully engrossed with a single character, sure, but with the pieces Van Lente, Portela and Dalhouse have put on the board with this issue, the potential for charm, chaos and Lurker lulz is exponentially high.