Having been genuinely bowled over by the compelling ‘Wynter‘ #1 by Guy Hasson recently, and by what Mr Hasson is doing generally with New Worlds Comics, I was perfectly primed for ‘Time Warriors’ #1 , the latest comic-book to be launched by Hasson.
I was excited about it, in fact. And I haven’t been disappointed.
This is remarkably Juan Manuel Almiron’s first comic; but you wouldn’t guess that when you look at his striking, absorbing style. Something about Almiron’s art is particularly bleak and harsh, even haunting in places. There’s a great, particularly off-kilter effect on page 5 where just one of the several characters in the panel is staring straight at us… something about that adds to the slightly claustrophobic effect, though it’s difficult to work out why exactly. It’s like the kind of subtle effect you expect to find in something in an art gallery.
The art is highly impressionistic, often feeling more like a long sequence of actual impressionist paintings rather than comic-book panels. And it kind of sticks in your mind that way, even if after you’ve finished reading the comic. Hasson has chosen a perfect artist to work with to dig into his themes and translate them compellingly into visual form. The cover art is pretty compelling too, really seeming to express something about the regimented mindset, the bleakness of obedience, and implied violence.
The story itself is suitably engaging, giving us an effective start-point and flowing quickly from the very first page without preamble. As was demonstrated in Wynter #1, Guy Hasson seems to thrive on high-tech sci-fi concepts and premises, off-set by dark themes. While a lot seems to happen in Time Warriors #1, it actually doesn’t give away a great deal yet. It explains some things – just enough for us to be able to get our heads around what is happening – but it leaves plenty undisclosed, drawing you along for the next chapter. You can tell that Hasson is confident in his story, able to pace it accordingly and tell us what we need to know for now while holding off bigger answers for later. It builds intrigue nicely. All we know at this stage is that our characters are engaged in a ‘time war’ to protect their race and their home planet. We don’t know what their home planet is or what they’re protecting it from.
They are sent to die repeated deaths, knowing that it’s never the end. Because they are a ‘suicide unit’, sent to collect vital information from deep in enemy territory, and then essentially to die. But this death isn’t merely the traditional risk of soldiers in a war; they are fully expected to die – it’s a crucial element of their duties. Then when they’re killed, time itself is interfered with so that they’ve never left for the mission; ‘it never happened, but the information is collected’. Every time one of the soldiers dies, their memories and consciousness are transported back into the past to provide vital intelligence to their commanders in order to plan for subsequent operations. The notion of moving consciousness through time isn’t new (what is new anymore in anything?), but this is a fascinating use of (and expansion of) the idea, with a great deal of potential. The two sides in this war have the same time-travel technology and, we can assume, have equal capabilities and are able to do exactly the same thing to each other just as effectively.
Guy doesn’t try to lionise characters, and Juan Manuel Almiron doesn’t try to prettify or glamorise the characters in the way that most mainstream comic books do. It’s much more naturalistic. It’s the situations that are extraordinary, while the characters are distinctly ordinary; a juxtaposition that serves this comic well. The bulk of Time Warriors #1 tracks each character as they experience their own, individual death. Hasson essentially introduces the characters as personalities to us at the point of their deaths; which I’m quite certain is something that’s never been done before as a concept. It’s fascinating, because some would argue that the point of mortality might be the ultimate point of ‘realness’, raw emotion and perception and the ultimate moment of the honest human condition.
What more insightful way is there to be introduced to someone than at their most naked – the point of dying? Kioshi’s drug death is a visually fascinating sequence, the visuals, the colours and highly subjective effect all blending to create a moment that feels very immersive as a reader.
April’s death, sat on the toilet with her panties down, is particularly disturbing too. ‘No, not like this…’ she pleads with an assassin who can’t hear her. It’s a pretty grim visual. There’s so much death in this book that the abiding impression you get from reading it is that it is a study of death itself; a meditation on the theme. I wonder if that is perhaps the core intention. The story and the premise sets Mr Hasson up for exploring the psychology of death and how it differs from character to character, from mind to mind, subjective experience to subjective experience. That’s a rich and fascinating theme to explore already and this is just in this one, opening issue.
While Guy Hasson’s plans for Time Warriors will no doubt involve many plot twists (and I suspect some subverting of expectations), I tend to wonder if the richest vein of what he has created here will be a multi-faceted study of the nature of death itself in all its complexity.
There is also of course a very different psychology, we can imagine, to people who ‘die’ regularly, as opposed to fearing just the one death. This is touched upon in this book too, with the characters showing a cavalier attitude towards their impending killings and even making jokes about it. What repeated ‘dying’ might do to people’s psychologies and their perception of death is something that Hasson may be able to explore with fascinating results.
The sequence of the Alison character going naked in public is particularly evocative and moody, especially the way onlookers reactions and expressions are captured. The psychology of this scene is also great; the fact she is also at one point invigorated (having first been painfully shy) by the sudden thrill of being naked in public only to then be shot and then being mortified at the embarrassment of dying naked in public. It superbly touches upon the delicate, changeful nature of psychology, which is so dependent on particular conditions; the wrong thing at the right moment can be a liberating, happy experience, while the wrong thing at the right moment can be the most horrific nightmare. Someone could be euphoric in a scenario (being naked in public and getting a kick out of it), but one alteration to the scenario is all the difference between euphoria and your worst nightmare (she wants to die with dignity).
Needless to say then, Time Warriors #1 is an engaging read. It works particularly well as a first issue too, with the promise of interesting things to come. There are enough unanswered questions and intrigues established that you’ll be left wondering. For one thing, #1 answers very little about the enemy, but teases us with a mysterious figure. The image of the mystery defector on the final page reminds me a lot of John the Baptist being imprisoned by Herod in the classic Christian mythology. That may or may not have been an intended allusion, but it’s a nicely moody allusion (and also a moody visual sequence, as it happens).
The other thing that insures this comic against dropping the ball, switching to cruise control or getting stuck in a rut, is that it is intended as finite. Unlike most comics, which have an undefined lifespan that could last years (even decades) and theoretically reinvent themselves a dozen times or ret-con like crazy, Guy Hasson’s vision with his comics is more like that of a novelist; there’s a definite intention, a defined path, and an end-game in place before the first issue is even finished. As Guy tells us himself, this story (as with all New Worlds Comics titles) ‘has an ending. So anything could happen.’ That in theory will impart Time Warriors with more of a sense of urgency and momentum; and that will probably be a very good thing.