After four issues, which brings us to the end of the first story arc of Chrononauts, here’s the story in a nutshell: two irresponsible teenaged goofballs steal a hot car and proceed to have a crazy weekend in which they total the car and cause all manner of hijinks around town, before getting caught, returning the car to Dad’s garage and half-heartedly saying “I’m sorry”. Just replace “teenaged goofballs” with “adult goofballs” and the car with a time machine, and “town” with “the world” and there you have it. As I’ve said many times, Chrononauts is not a deep and profound book like Nameless, nor a serious contemplation of the creation of history like Invisible Republic. Instead, it’s a romp, and in this issue the romp comes to an end of sorts.
When we left them in issue #3, Corbin and Danny seemed to be more or less “bust” in their time-traveling and timeline-destroying adventures. Their fatal error was in underestimating the ambition and intelligence of people from the past, which is a logical enough mistake given these two characters who are walking Male Egos. This catches up to them when the warrior chief in Samarkand in 1504 steals a time suit and demands to know how it works. And lest they think this is beyond him, he reminds the boys that his specialty was extracting information from enemy soldiers. (Middle eastern armies had all manner of torture down to a science.) As Danny is taken away for torture, Corbin is tossed out of the city at night, with the General remarking that he won’t last a night in the desert.
That’s a slight underestimation of Corbin’s resourcefulness, it turns out, and without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Corbin saves the day in spectacular fashion. The jokes and historical references continue come fast and furious through in this final issue (Mannix gets a particularly amusing “Indiana Jones” moment). There’s a bit of grousing back at mission control as well, with the staff wondering how it will feel when the many changes Corbin and Danny have been making to the timeline finally manifest themselves, but the book never gets bogged down in serious consequences for very long. It’s good that it hints at the larger ramifications of the adventures of Quinn and Reilly, but in a more realistic story those two have caused serious existential damage to the fabric of the universe. Here, it ends on a joke, which is in keeping with the “boy’s own” spirit of the comic.
Chrononauts has been an interesting title to review, mainly because there’s so seemingly little substance here. The action-adventure genre elements are so unbound and joyous, and Sean Murphy draws them so well, that it’s clear the creators’ hearts are in the adventure and excitement rather than producing a story with more lofty themes and stakes. Therefore the strong points here become the little details, such as the many historical tableaus Murphy is required to render out, and does so well here as always. (There’s a particularly wonderful sequence in which Corbin must “walk the earth” in 1504 and it’s equal to anything in a Ridley Scott film.)
Because its dramatic ambitions are so modest, and its energy so earnest, it’s almost unfair to criticize Chrononauts for what it isn’t. This is a simple, straightforward, boy’s-own action-adventure, and on that level, it’s been a fantastic success.