Comic books about dysfunctional family units lost in the mire of space-time seem to be all the rage these days. Tracing a lineage from comics like Challengers of the Unknown, or even novels like 1924’s The Land that Time Forgot, the conceit behind modern titles such as Black Science, or more recently Chrononauts, has become de rigueur in the indies. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, most of those stories - or at very least those mentioned - happen to be pretty darn great! Yup, science fiction loves a good ol’ ship-at-sea story as much as any genre, and in their newest Dark Horse venture, Matt Kindt and Scott Kolins deliver just that, though vetting it as a lost voyage across oceans of time. But are its twists on a by-now classic concept enough to give it a new wrinkle in time, or is Past Aways #1 simply more flotsam lost in space?
One of the most interesting things about this first issue is the way in which the co-creators introduce its concept and characters, both of which, in one way or another, are broken. It begins, quite expressly, with “something unexpected;” an anomaly from the future. Sometimes in fiction, these anomalies are manifest in robots, telephone booths or DeLoreans, but in the case of Past Aways, we get a castaway anachronism in the form of a miniature, acid-shitting dragon. Comics, brah!
As you might expect, a discovery of that magnitude raises a few alarm bells around the world, but none more loudly than in the undersea mega-lab of a man called Arthur, who years ago crash-landed in the past (our present) with his science exploratory team from untold years in the future. They have since been stranded here and split-up by hopelessness, in-fighting, attempted murder, insobriety and even unwanted immortality. Seeing this diarrhetic chicken-dragon as evidence that perhaps there is a way home after all, the now-buoyant Arthur begins assembling his old team to capitalize on the discovery and hope that this time, their next leap ... will be the leap home…
There is already so much going on in this first issue of Past Aways, but unlike a similar story in less capable hands, while this does feel full, it’s also neither too dense nor rushed. Being so robustly character-based, Kindt allows his story to unfold at the pace of their personalities, unfolding a mystery in what happened to them individually and as a team, without giving too much away in either case.
In fact, that’s what makes Past Aways #1 such a strong first issue; it posits some great questions through a clutch of dysfunctional characters and wraps them in a story of active volcanoes, quadri-copters, Rube Goldberg-esque suicide machines, absurdly complex subaquatic lairs, brute force barstool beat-downs and gigantic jaegers of unknown origin. Even from this paragraph alone, you can tell that Kindt and Kolins are having one hell of a ball in Past Aways, not just in these nutty concepts, but in its otherwise unseen elements.
According to an interview the team did with Newsarama, for example, the names of the folks that comprise this team are inspired by some of Kindt’s authorial sci-fi heroes, from Arthur (of C. Clarke fame), to my favorite character in the book, Marge, who is named after Margaret Mafackin’ Atwood. That level of homage takes this to a very special place of fun. And I don’t just mean caustic dragon anuses.
Structurally, Kindt is once again up to some great comic book trickery that makes the most of the medium’s often disused spaces: the gutters. Instead of subverting or accentuating his text like he does in Mind MGMT, however, here he uses the margins to host explanations of the team’s futuristic bits of tech. In so doing, he allows you to explore the world’s periphery at your own leisure; saving the bulk of the story for his cast, while giving you a feed of exposition that you can consume at your own pace.
Speaking of structure and pace; visually, Past Aways has a presence just as break-neck as its narrative, with Kolins often reaching out and smashing barriers as much as Kindt does in his writing. Like most consumers of comics, I love it when an artist showcases his or her dexterity, and Kolins gives us ample proof of his talents here, switching easily between beautiful boozy brawls and spectacular giant robot sprawls with a style that at once feels adaptably loose, cartoonishly fun and clean.
The colors from Bill Crabtree, meanwhile, offer a light, almost sublime feel to the adventure, making the story feel airy and digestible, which I think is super important in a book about something so heady as time travel. In fact, that’s a tone that each and every one of these creators takes to this book - levity - and it makes Past Aways that much more engaging.
Together, Kindt, Kolins and Crabtree (which sounds like the best legal firm in the multiverse) may not be reinventing the wheel with their time-traveling band of scientific malcontents, but there’s more than enough to chew on in Past Aways #1 to make me salivate for more. Don’t get left behind on this one.
Hear more about Past Aways #1 on this week's episode of the CBMFP!