By Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, Andrew Dalhouse, Karl Kessel, and Dave Sharpe
Say what you will about the tenets of nihilism, at least it’s an ethos. No, wait. It’s the exact opposite of that. “Nothing is Forever!” is literally the antithesis of an aspirational ideology and in Ivar, Timewalker #8 our temporal-trespassing band of heroes comes face to (half metal) face with the end of everything itself. Considering the stakes and the reunion of Ivar and Neela (the present day one…and the future one too…look, just go with it) it’s surprising that this issue ever so slightly underwhelms. This can in part be attributed to the very high bar set by its previous installments, as well as distinct lack bite to the characterization. Ivar is in the enviable position of having such an established quality that even a slight letdown of an issue is still an engaging, fanciful experience to trip the time fantastic.
There are love triangles and then there are love triangles so bizarre they include two “moi”s in the menage-a-trois. Fred Van Lente has always reveled in making it perfectly clear that all the pseudo-science babble is thoroughly less important than the relationships and humor, even though the narrative’s time travel elements are consistent and well thought out. Here in issue 8, Van Lente injects the heft of Melville’s lamentations with appropriate wryness into Future Neela’s (the evil one, I guess?) insatiable drive for entropy while balancing against the joy of Present Neela’s (definitely not evil) newfound admittance of love and the unknown possibilities of what may come. In essence, the title has brilliantly become a tramedy.
Thematically there’s been the undercurrent of love and loss involved since the beginning, but here Van Lente is making sure we understand just how grand in scope loss is. The loss of her father in many ways was the inciting event that sent all of the current events into place, or at least the motivations for them to occur, and now the title is showing how that loss is quickly and excitingly unraveling into the loss of everything; friends, fathers, brothers, lovers, the multiverse itself. That sounds cornier than it reads, promise, but it’s a solid foundation to build this science fiction adventure comedy on and one that’s brought to a crescendo of a narrative climax here.
Unfortunately, it just manages to miss the mark a tad to the right when it comes to the characterizations this issue. Admittedly, this is a strange thing to say considering Van Lente undoubtedly knows the characters better than anyone since, you know, he’s been writing them for quite some time. More than anything the disappointment comes with from a forced sense of urgency, perhaps the result of trying to up the pacing of the unfolding disastrous events, but seeing Neela’s dialogue be riddled with self-doubt that strays closer to damsel-isms (“I always try to help, but I just make things worse”) than it has in the past felt flat. By far, she’s been the breakout star of this book (and this round Valiant Next titles as well) because of just how well rounded and relatable she’s been portrayed. She certainly made mistakes and she certainly admitted her own lack of confidence, but it never stopped her from 1) kicking ass and 2) refusing to take shit from anyone. Here, there’s an odd deference to Ivar in light of their romantic revelation that doesn’t quite ring true. It’s an odd jump in character that lacks her internal rationalization that she both deeply cares for Ivar and that she was wrong about her actions. It’s a minor quibble that isn’t really so minor given the stakes and focus of this issue.
The clean, welcoming and rounded line work of Francis Portela (with Karl Kesel on inks this issue) continue to not only reinforce the tone, but set it. That balance of wide-eyed, expressive humor with detailed sci-fi settings and action is easily digested, yet richly executed. Portela’s soft figures bounce atop the truly excellent, larger-than-life future design work of the Oblivi-1 station’s industrial interiors. The splashes invoke the necessary sense of grandeur: crashing through hulls, a slew of golden and sanguine soldiers, eye-blasts to the gut, and the literal edge of existence, just the usual no big deal scope. Panel layouts remain traditional but effective, save for a great double-page splash that features a thoroughly determined Future Neela traipsing via multiple renderings atop the static image of the violent landscape that’s a welcomed curveball midway through. Portela has the pacing accelerate as the issue progresses, shifting angles and transitions to match the tension of completing a mission with sacrifices and trying to escape in time with the Moby Dick sequence being particularly well-framed. Even if Portela’s rendering isn’t to one’s particular taste (Gilad’s beard makes his head look two-feet wide) it’s consistently light and fun, yet bold throughout.
Perhaps it was the dour setting of the Oblivi-1 station, but the shading of the colors this issue seemed darker than normal and perhaps, needed. There’s a plethora of bright hues to be found in Dalhouse’s palette throughout, but there’s an odd shrouded effect in some instances (e.g. Armstrong and Gilad beating the automaton threats) that flatten out what should be more dynamic scenes. Some of it is the texturing of clothing that veers towards being overwrought, but other times it’s definitely intentional so as to smartly contrast the kinetic bursts. Dalhouse utilizes the digital effects smartly, particular the electro-science indigo glow, and never allows them to feel out of place while still incorporating a otherworldliness about them. A little dark perhaps, but still richly saturated, the colors continue to compliment Portela’s forms and even have their own key moments of storytelling via frenzied flares of the sci-fi fantastical.
Ivar, Timealker #8 reveals itself as the tramedy that it’s been all along. It’s about loss and fighting back against it through time itself while instilling the sense that love fills the future with possibilities that may seem impossible. Dramatically accelerating to the climax before the fallout and resolution of the arc’s conclusion next month, it moves almost too quickly to fully emotionally grab hold of. Lighter on quotable quips or humorous internet commentary than past issues, it attempts to get a little more serious than it may be capable of and the unfortunate fallout is the inexplicable small shifts in characterizations found within. It’s still a hell of a ride however, and if there’s one thing that this consistently quality laden title is lush with, it’s potential. Nothing is forever and all things are lost with time, but you can still find hope in the future while fighting back against it. Fucking nihilists, man.