A lot of time travel stories try to address the mind-bending paradoxes inevitable to the genre but end up digging themselves deeper into philosophical conundrums and plot holes. And the usual trope in the genre is also for the protagonists to be aware of the dangers of fiddling with the spacetime continuum and to take care not to tamper with it.
But in Mark Millar and Sean G. Murphy’s Chrononauts, both the book itself and its main characters jettison the baggage of their genre and just focus on just having a good time. In the process, we readers get treated to one of the most refreshingly laid back and straightforward time travel adventure stories in a long time.
Professors Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly are two scientific geniuses-cum-best friends who invent a form of time travel in which the only device necessary is a snazzy, skintight suit. These Chrono-Suits not only allow the wearer to travel through time but they also allow him to carry objects and people when making the time leaps.
On the day of their first time jump Quinn goes first but something goes awry (of course) and he’s knocked off his course. Intent on saving his friend, Reilly goes in after him but when he arrives at Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in 1504 – the time and place where Quinn has ended up in – he’s taken aback to learn that not only has his friend been eagerly awaiting his arrival, he’s already been here for years (you know, time travel stuff). Not only that, but Quinn has been creating quite the fantasy life for himself, jumping into different points in history, living it up and then amassing a veritable arsenal of modern weaponry at his base in Samarkand where he has been made ruler. He also keeps a mansion in jazz age New York where he has a vast wardrobe of clothing appropriate for each time and place that he visits as well as a chart of lovers from each era including a certain struggling young actress by the name of Norma Jean Baker. And when Quinn asks Reilly to stay with him instead of taking him back to the modern era, Danny does what any red-blooded American anti-hero would do: he stays. The two friends’ only problem now (well, aside from the ethical ones) is that they’re effectively fugitives with a Tommy Lee Jones lookalike donning his own Chrono-Suit and hot on their tails.
If all this sounds like the ultimate time travel fantasy bromance, that’s because it is! And it’s also what makes the book so fun and refreshing. Don’t pick it up expecting Primer. Chrononauts doesn’t bother with the speculative science nor does it bog itself down trying to solve paradoxical quandaries. Its approach to the genre is best captured by its own characters’ blasé attitude to messing with the timeline of known history with brazen recklessness.
Millar has been creating some terrific characters of late, and while Quinn and Reilly don’t command as much pathos as, say, Duke McQueen from Starlight, they share a good, old-fashioned and simple bromance reminiscent of Apollo and Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica (both versions but I’m thinking more the original) in that Quinn is the more straight-laced one (well, at first anyway) and Reilly is the cocky but lovable one.
Mark Millar continues his trajectory of working with some of the best artists in the industry, and the level of detail that Sean G. Murphy brings to panels depicting different places and time settings is exquisite. If you’re a fan of Hellblazer: City of Demons, Punk Rock Jesus and especially The Wake, you’re in for a visual treat. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth employs the same kind of washed out pastel look that he used for Murphy’s art in The Wake. He is one of my favorite colorists in the business and he and Murphy really were made for each other as evidenced by both The Wake and now Chrononauts.
Some readers may have some misgivings about the final chapter in the book in which things seem to get tidied up a bit too neatly and easily. As I mention at the beginning of this review, however, for me that’s part of the appeal of the book in that it is a time travel tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t ignore the riddles of time travel completely, but it doesn’t get itself stuck in a logical quagmire either. Like its lead characters, Chrononauts is mostly interested in just having a good time. And whereas we might otherwise be indifferent to these characters’ self-indulgent shenanigans, it is their love and loyalty to each other that makes us care and want to join them for the ride.
The trade paperback of Chrononauts, collecting the four issues of the miniseries, is out in comic shops today. Don’t waste any time in grabbing your copy.