One of the most unfortunate symptoms of luxuriating along the rich underbelly of the comics industry is that indie titles, through sometimes no fault of their own, are often plagued with delays. It’s the nature of the beast unfortunately, but it also means that the story has to be gripping to hold your attention. So, after a five-month break between issues, how does Paranoid American’s consumerism conspiracy book, Time Samplers, hold up? Well, it does feel like a sampler, but more the kind you get at your local T.G.I. Friday’s - a loaded reference, I know, about a book decrying the commodification of consumption. What I mean is, there seems to be a lot served up on one plate: a bit of the ol’ 1% vs. 99% here, some quasi-Masonic skullduggery there and a dash of clandestine “man behind the curtain” stuff just for fun, all wrapped up in zany misadventure.
Opening in a way very similar to last issue, the book begins by introducing an oracular character proselytizing the shared nature of the moon and humanity, waxing philosophical on “dark sides.” This syrupy but brief scene quickly changes, revealing that this introspective lady is actually a girl named Luna (obviously), who wakes up in the real world as some sports bra-wearing, hipstery righteous babe that rocks around selling her jewelry to pawn shops ... “ironically,” I’m guessing.
As the normally “SO-not-mainstream” Luna is uncharacteristically compelled to shop at the great Temple of Stuff (the shopping mall), we cut to the still-shadowy leader from issue one, who continues to manage his unseen, manipulative, world-spanning organization as it secretly pulls the strings of the global economy. In a scene that takes a page out of Lex Luthor’s book from All Star Superman, this power-hungry figurehead uses Luna like a hand puppet; not in the sexy way you’re thinking, but rather as a remote-controlled sleeper agent to transform peaceful protests into violent riots, albeit with some fairly trite rhetoric.
From there, we are thrust into the other plot of Time Samplers, which sees a stereotypical scientist (whose name is even “Doc”) join forces with pawnshop owner Carmot, to try and extract their underground musician / detective friends, Cal and Lex, from the chaotic environs of the W.I.L.D. Machine. If I remember correctly, this thing clones the time-stream, allowing folks to manipulate copy histories for research, fun and, presumably, “science.” This part starts out pretty fun, as we follow the oddball pair’s escape from a shared sort of existential crisis through the darker corners of their own minds, but it’s still not entirely clear what any of this has to do with anything, other than to show some zany imagery, actually use the main characters, and give a brief synopsis of a secret society.
Time Samplers isn’t without its charms and it clearly isn’t taking itself too seriously, but at the same time, it feels too much like a vehicle for the theories of publisher Paranoid American. That would be fine if the so-far divergent plots came together naturally, rather than shoe horned, or if this offered anything new to the conspiracy discourse ... but it doesn’t.
It also feels like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, with the different premises of the book coming across as a random jumble. I’d say this might develop and coalesce in time, but given how long it’s taken for the second issue to come out, I don’t hold high hopes that this will ever become cohesive. Honestly, I think the team should focus on putting this out as a collection rather than by single issue.
Colacitti’s art waivers in quality quite a bit here, and he works better when drawing the ethereal rather than the real world, which feels empty and stiff. Saying that, some of his stuff does have a quaint Allred feel to it at times, but it just needs to be significantly tightened. I also got the chance to see his impressive black and white sketches over at the Time Samplers Facebook page, and I kinda wish this thing wasn’t colored - his art might seem less cartoonish that way.
I think it’s great that these guys are doing this apparently on their own steam. That type of drive should always be commended, and I want it to be clear that I do so here. I just wish that all the time between issues was spent polishing the art a bit more and bringing together the still-frayed plot threads more satisfyingly. Time Samplers isn’t a complete wash, and its wackiness might appeal to some, but I’m pretty sure this is one for the diehard Paranoid American faithful.
Writers: Thomas Gorence, Erik Konocis, Julius Freeman Artist: Nicolas Colacitti Publisher: Paranoid American Price: $2.99 Release Date: 5/22/13