“Ivar Anni-Padda, the eldest of an ancient clan of legendary adventurers, has spent his life tracking time arcs – portals that allow him to travel to different periods in Earth’s history. He is brilliant, cunning, charming, and more than a little devious. He is… Ivar, Timewalker.”
Thanks to an article/review by Chris Sims at ComicsAlliance, I have become acquainted with a cool new indie comic series called Ivar, Timewalker. Published by Valiant Comics, written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Clayton Henry (pencils) and Brian Reber (colours), Ivar, Timewalker is like Doctor Who, except–in my opinion–less boring and pretentious. It’s a sort of self-aware pastiche, where the comic’s creators seem to have put their own spin on the concept of a lone, dashing time-traveler in a three-piece suit and his educated-but-new-to-time-travel-shenanigans human companion. Unconstrained by TV budgets, however, they’re free to tell an adventurous story that feels exciting, unpredictable, mysterious, and just plain fun.
Plus, my initially favourable impression that they based their “companion” character on Martha Jones only ballooned once I realised the character was actually a physicist (PhD and all) of South Asian descent. Brown girls represent!
Issue #1 sees Ivar rescue/hijack Dr. Neela Sethi, and take her across time and space to flee from the Promeathans, “a group of artificial cyborg drones from the Fifth Dimension (as someone who has often been kept awake pondering beings who’ve figured out how to manipulate the fifth dimension, this is hitting all my metaphysics buttons). It ends with a shocking revelation–that an older, cybernetically-enhanced is the leader of these Promethans, from the vantage of an orbiting city no less, and she’s out for revenge against Ivar. Is Ivar really a good guy, or is he the bad guy of the piece, having betrayed Neela in some terrible way? The shades of grey here are super intriguing, not to mention older cyborg Neela looks totally badass.
Issue #2 keeps up with the fast momentum laid out in Ivar, Timewalker‘s debut.. There’s a nice discussion & dismissal a concept often discussed in relation to time-travel fiction (the butterfly effect), and Ivar mentions Stephen Hawking’s Chronology Protection Conjecture. I was surprised when Neela appeared ignorant of this–someone who went through the rigours of doctoral candidacy (where it is a widely acknowledged fact that the first year is spent reading papers, papers, and more papers) and presumably an experienced post-doc engaging in particle and theoretic physics hasn’t heard of this?
Ivar figures that the best way to demonstrate it is by going on an adventure that all newbie time-travellers engage in–trying to kill Hitler. And yes, the reference to that one Doctor Who episode seems completely intended, but there’s a wink-wink-nudge-nudge type vibe here that makes it less “rip-off” and more “knowing reinterpretation”.
Because this is an adventure story, Neela’s and Ivar’s adventure they’re interrupted by a crazy alien cyborg looking thing called an Anon-Lurker. It’s apparently a cyber-troll of the future, which is as terrifying as you can imagine. And unfortunately, emitting a gleeful LMAO, it runs off with the compass that Ivar uses to map out his time jumps. Well, crap. So how do Neela and Ivar get around this particular problem? It involves dressing up as Nazi soldiers to infiltrate a secret compound, and Neela meeting yet another Ivar from a different time point (this one heavily scarred). It’s all about five minutes before they’re caught, however,, and we’ll have to wait till the next issue to see how things pan out for them. Meanwhile, badass Neela and her Promeathans are still on the hunt for Ivar.
I found some of Neela’s dialogue forced and awkward in the first issue. There is less of that here, maybe because she and Ivar have to discuss the physics and ethics of time-travel–such as if killing a man, even a man who goes on to do greater evil, like Hitler, is ever justifiable–and it’s less “matters of plot”, than an off-shoot of the themes that Van Lente is exploring here, so it works. The art, however, is mostly solid. We cycle through different periods and settings, from quiet conversations to all-out fights with strange many-legged robot creatures (!), and Clayton Henry’s pencils and Brian Reber’s just keep up the energy and dynamism throughout. War time scenes are depicted as chaotically as more intimate conversations between Neela and Ivar, where the body language and expressions they bestow on the characters just make their blossoming friendship/relationship pop off the page.
Neela is a great character under the skillful hands of Van Lente, Henry and Reber–she’s funny, stubborn, yet completely human. She makes mistakes–like refusing to use the “zelig” chip that would allow her to blend in, even if she’s in a strange place and time–and she’s allowed to be afraid, to cry when being interrogated by Nazis (even while insisting she won’t talk). I’m totally sold on Ivar, too. He’s dashing and mysterious, and most refreshingly, actually reacts fairly well whenever Neela calls him out on his bullcrap. The chemistry between Ivar and Neela is great.
I also appreciate that we actually know who the “anatagonist” of the piece is: future Neela. It’s entirely possible that she is just a red herring, but regardless, seeing that contrast between confused, new-to-it-all Neela and this more bitter, jaded Neela adds a fantastic tension to the narrative. One that is only which is furthered by complications like Nazis and Anon-Lurkers.
Certainly, there are a lot of things happening in Ivar, Timewalker, but the comic never feels overly busy or helter-skelter. It all fits in with the chaos of time-travel and the charisma they’ve imbued in Ivar that makes the reader very much want to go along on adventures with him (even if Neela is sensible enough to be skeptical). It’s still early days, but if Van Lente and gang can keep up the momentum, I might just end up liking Ivar, Timewalker more than I like that other story about a time-traveling loner and his long-suffering human companion.