Chronocops! – An Alan Moore Time Twister, Part 3

A Link in Comic Book History

As Lance Parkin correctly states: “A lot of Alan Moore’s work is concerned with the history of comics – subverting it, redefining it, challenging it, or often just celebrating it” (Parkin 2009: 12). Consequently, his Future Shocks and Time Twisters are often reminiscent of older comic productions, although they are presented by an alien and deal with equally futuristic topics. The oddball and mocking sense of humor displayed in these strips is reminiscent of early Mad magazines and other EC comics which also often end in a weird twist or pun. Even “veeblefetzer”, a word frequently used by Mad-creator Harvey Kurtzman to describe complicated or undefined machines, appears prominently in a Future Shock: The Wages of Sin!!

The closeness to the early EC comics becomes especially apparent in Chronocops, though. In spite of the strip’s main character being based on Joe Friday, the protagonist of the 1950s TV-series Dragnet, the hardboiled detective story is not quoted directly. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons modeled their Time Twister on a parody of the television feature in Mad #11. Dragged Net! was scripted by Harvey Kurtzman and drawn by Will Elder in 1954. The proximity in the depiction of the main character, Joe, is the most obvious similarity between the two comics. His face is practically identical in both comics (i.e. 1 & Kurtzman 1954: 3) and the stationary way in which the two paradox policemen are shown traveling time (2 – 4) is reminiscent of the way Mad’s cops are depicted on stake-out duty (Kurtzman 1954: 5). A further homage paid to the older strip is the logo shown in the lobby of the chronocops headquarters (2 – 5). This very closely resembles the EC emblem which featured on the early Mad magazines. Furthermore, various wordplays were borrowed from the older strip, like the weekday- (Kurtzman 1954: 1) and the stake-out-puns (Kurtzman 1954: 2). However, it is typical for Alan Moore, that he did not just copy these, but used them to advance his story by giving them additional new meanings, as was shown above.

The menu displayed in the canteen of Chronocops (3) also resembles the background jokes known from the early Mad strips (i.e. Kurtzman 1954: 3). “Dino Burgers” point towards the possibilities arising through time travel. ”Potrzebie” is the dative or locative of the Polish word for “a need”. However, it probably is better known in western culture for its non-sequitur use as running gag in the satirical strips of Harvey Kurtzman. Its first appearance incidentally was in Murder the Story (Kurtzman 1954: 4) which was in the same issue of Mad as Dragged Net! Finally, the “Elder Wine” combines these two interpretations by both pointing towards the past and the artist of the Mad parody on Dragnet.

The latter reading seems more appropriate as Will Elder is again referred to on another page of Chronocops. The traffic combustion of 1997 shows a wide selection of vehicles among which a police box and a space ship with a woman shouting “Villie!” appear (2). As these are crossroads used by time travelers, the first craft probably resembles a T.A.R.D.I.S. and therefore refers to Britain’s most famous temporal voyager and Alan Moore’s own work for Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Weekly. The latter is another running gag inspired by Dragged Net! In the Mad strip the woman keeps reappearing and shouting the same name, before she finally finds the little boy “Villie Elder” on the comic’s last panel (Kurtzman 1954: 3 – 7). In Chronocops she only appears once, as a visual reference to the Mad comic and its artist. Moore and Gibbons apparently did not extend the meaning of her presence the same way as they did with the aforementioned puns.

The proximity of Chronocops to the EC strips is hardly surprising as its author and artist have, on other occasions, both shown an affinity for these comics. Alan Moore, for example, proclaimed Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad the best comic ever (Kavanagh 2000) and Dave Gibbons declared that “a lot of the storytelling in Watchmen is actually Harvy Kurtzman storytelling” (Millidge 2011: 128).

It is noteworthy that, although the chronocops’ two later operations occur in our past and Tharg allegedly looks on them in hindsight, 1989 and 1997 are in the future of both the creators of the comic and their first readers. This allows Alan Moore to display his own political opinions and views on contemporary issues, giving the reader insight into his own hopes and fears. Accordingly, the political advertisement for a lab-con alliance against the social democrats (4) shows how little confidence the author has in the two large traditional British parties, especially as the scene takes place “on Carey Street”, which is a euphemism for being bankrupt. Although a man carrying a Time Twister, and a 2000 A.D. shop in the background (4) suggest that this does not affect the success of the comic industry, it does indicate what Alan Moore expected from the Thatcher administration that was in power at the time the comic was produced. Personal views in general and the criticism of the “iron lady” and her neoliberal politics in particular are typical for the author’s oeuvre (Di Liddo 2009: 111 – 125).

Similarly, the combustion on “route’97” (2) is reminiscent of a rush-hour traffic jam in modern cities. The only differences are that this traffic jam is four-dimensional and occurs in front of the backdrop of starlit open-space. This similarity is used to create further references to contemporary issues. The “black time” one car hit (3), is not only a reference to oil puddles on the street, but also an expression for somebody being fashionably late. This probably offers an explanation why Zansibar Z. Ziggurat took his “Gainesmobile” with his initial painted on the bonnet down the one-way century shortcut (2 – 3). Thus the traffic combustion and the ensuing chaos are caused by the egoistic behavior of one privileged individual.

The author remains fascinated by the nature of time in his later works. He continues to discuss temporal concepts as he did in Chronocops and his other Time Twisters. An example for this is Watchmen in which Dr. Manhattan seems to perceive the past, present and future simultaneously. This suggests a similar block universe to the one apparently depicted in Chronocops. However, Watchmen uses its own larger volume to discuss the nature of time and the universe more deeply. Although no actual time traveling takes place in the graphic novel it becomes clear that Dr. Manhattan does not experience time linearly. As in Chronocops Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore use the advantages inherent to the medium comic to display this. The non-chronological ordering of the panels in Watchmen’s fourth chapter allows the reader to experience the events of Dr. Manhattan’s existence as closely as possible to the way the character does himself (Cormier 2010: 90).

Chronocops displays further technical aspects which are typical for Alan Moore’s work. In his essay On Writing for Comics the author describes the ideal textual layout as having a “basic elliptical structure, where elements at the beginning of the story mirror events which are to happen at the end, or where a particular phrase or a particular image will be used at the beginning and the end acting as bookends to give the story that takes place in between a sense of neatness and unity” (Moore 2003: 15). The close-ups of Joe Saturday’s face at the beginning and end of Chronocops are examples for this affinity for symmetry. Another prime example would be chapter V of Watchmen which is suitably named Fearful Symmetry.

Alan Moore also prefers a layered narrative in which various recognizable intertextual references lead the readers through the story and its now seemingly familiar universe. As shown above these well-known images can quote anything from contemporary news to pop-cultural icons of various ages and forms of media, like the archetypes of superheroes in Watchmen or the numerous aspects of Victorian literature in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. These allusions and the related popular images thereof are challenged, revised and re-contextualized, as are the apparently pointless hardboiled paradox police in Chronocops. Additionally, Alan Moore does not shy from reusing successfully implemented references, if they fit into other narratives. An example for this are the mythological names described above which are used even more effectively in Watchmen (Backe 2010: 130) than they were in Chronocops.

Other ideas known from this 2000 A.D. strip were reutilized by Alan Moore’s creative partners. Rick Veitch admitted to being inspired by this particular comic when he scripted the episode Wavelength for Alan Moore’s The Saga of the Swamp Thing: “Inside was a story told backwards in time. Chronocops. I read it and thought someday I’m going to swipe that. [...] One day Alan said to me on Swamp Thing, ‘I have no idea what to do next’ and I said about a story back in time and he was ‘you like that?’ It was his own story” (Wednesday 2011).


In the short stories Alan Moore created for the allegedly futuristic anthology 2000 A.D. the author not only experimented with different ways of utilizing the medium comic, but also with several concepts of time and chronomotion. The variety of ideas he analyzed is best shown by means of a few examples: In Dr. Dibworthy’s Disappointing Day the past is altered and with it the present. As the strip’s protagonist never becomes aware of these changes it seems that the plot only allows for one universe in which the paradoxical removal of the original scenario, from which all of the temporal modifications occur, is allowed. In The Startling Success of Sideways Scuttleton the main character travels through a multiverse of different worlds with their own respective histories. Finally, in Going Native an obvious and self-consistent causal loop is created in which the reason for the temporal traveling is created by the voyager himself during his sojourn in the past.

This concept of chronomotion and its consequences also is central for the plot of Chronocops, albeit less obviously. In this, comic author Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons play with the reader’s habits and expectations. By implementing various identical panels they give away information which will be ignored at first due to common reading customs. Thereby the strip’s creators cleverly juxtapose the medium’s two languages by using the text in the captions to divert attention from information depicted on the panels. Additionally, they use a typical aspect of Alan Moore’s works and create a layered narrative that features many references which lead the comic’s readers through the plot. However, many of these only become apparent in a second reading of the comic, as the necessary clues to decode some of these symbols are only shown at the end of the strip. These allusions include the protagonist’s names as well as visual clues like an alarm clock, a folded newspaper, and similar images at the beginning and end of the strip.

Chronocops at first seems like a science fiction parody of the 1950s TV-show Dragnet. It starts off with the protagonists preventing an apparent and well-known paradox, while they claim how usual and necessary this action is. However, by the end of the comic it becomes apparent that the plot plays in a block universe in which self-consistent causal loops are possible, but changes to history cannot occur. Thus their claims are shown to be wrong and the existence of their profession is proved unnecessary. In this manner Chronocops is revealed as a parody on the various science fiction productions featuring time police and similar agencies. The hardboiled television detective therefore functions as an instrument for this satire. Similarly, the actual mechanism of time traveling remains unknown in this Time Twister as chronomotion in the end is just another literary device used to produce the strip’s central gags.

Among these are various allusions to temporary issues. The manner in which various references, the futuristic appearance of the anthology and the topic of time traveling are utilized to satirically point towards contemporary issues and suggest possible outcomes thereof, is typical for Alan Moore’s oeuvre. It is one of many aspects found in Chronocops that will later be reused by the comic’s creators in other productions. The strip therefore inadvertently points towards the future. As this Time Twister also prominently displays a parody on Dragnet and other features that originally appeared in an early Mad magazine, the strip can also be seen as homage of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons to the early comic book creators Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. By honoring the history of its own medium and anticipating later developments therein, the 2000 A.D. short comic strip Chronocops can be seen as an interesting link in comic book history.

Works Cited

Backe, Hans-Joachim. 2010. Under the Hood. Die Verweisstruktur der Watchmen. Bochum & Essen: Ch. A. Bachmann.

Cormier, Jon. 2010. Nothing Ever Ends: Structural Symmetries in Watchmen. In Richard Bensam (ed.). Minutes to Midnight. Twelve Essays on Watchmen, 85 – 96. Edwardsville: Sequart.

Deutsch, David. 1997. The Fabric of Reality. London: Penguin.

Di Liddo, Annalisa. 2009. Alan Moore. Comics as Performance, Fiction as Scalpel. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Eisner, Will. 2004. Comics and Sequential Art. Principles & Practice of the World’s Most Popular Art Form. Tamarac: Poorhouse.

Horwith, Paul. 1987. Asymmetries in Time. Problems in the Philosophy of Science. Cambridge & London: MIT Press.

Kavanagh, Barry. 2000. The Alan Moore Interview (17.10.2000). (25 October, 2013).

Kurtzman, Harvey & Will Elder. 1954. Dragged Net! Mad 11 (May). New York: EC.

McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins.

Millidge, Gary Spencer. 2011. Alan Moore. Storyteller. Lewes: ILEX.

MacManus, Steve (ed.). 2011. The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks. Wellingborough: Rebellion 2011.

Moore, Alan. 2003. Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. Urbana: Avatar.

Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons. 1986 – 1987. Watchmen. New York: DC.

Nahin, Paul J. 1998. Time Machines. Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics and Science Fiction. Second Edition. New York: Springer.

Novikov, Igor Dmitriyevich. 1983. Evolution of the Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parkin, Lance. 2009. Alan Moore. The Essential Guide to the Creator of Watchmen, From Hell and V for Vendetta. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials.

Parkin, Lance. 2012. Doctor Who and the Genesis of Alan Moore. (25 October, 2013). In Maggie Gray. 2012. Rummaging Around in Alan Moore’s Shorts. (25 October, 2013).

Thill, Scott. 2008. Archaeologizing Watchmen: An Interview With Dave Gibbons. (25 October, 2013).

Veitch, Rick. 1987. Wavelength. Swamp Thing 62 (July). New York: DC.

Wednesday, Ian Mat. 2011. Time Bandit. (25 October, 2013).

Wood, Richard. 2005. So Far and Nor Further! Rhodesia’s Bid For Independence During the Retreat From Empire 1959 – 1965. Victoria: Trafford.

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Scott Brand received an M.A. in History in 2011. He is currently based in Zurich, Switzerland. He has presented and published academic papers on various aspects of popular media, including the works of Alan Moore. There are no plans to stop doing so in the near future. More information on the author can be found on:

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