REVIEW: 'Time Before Time' #1 by Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville, Joe Palmer, and Chris O'Halloran

 'Time Before Time' describes itself as 'Looper' meets 'Saga' which is a lofty aspiration but it does have a cool neo-noir crime thriller vibe that upends time travel tropes. Issue one will grab you and deserves a first arc commitment from fans. 

Writer: Declan Shalvey, Rory McConville
Artist: Joe Palmer, Chris O'Halloran
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: May 12, 2021
Cover Price: $3.99

The year is 2140, and to escape a world with no future, many turn to the Syndicate, a criminal organization who, for the right price, will smuggle you back in time to a better life. After working for the Syndicate for years, Tatsuo and Oscar decide to steal one of their boss’s time machines—but soon find that the one thing you can’t run from is your past.TIME BEFORE TIME is a brand-new ongoing series where writer/artist DECLAN SHALVEY (BOG BODIES) joins forces with the WRITE IT IN BLOOD team of RORY McCONVILLE and JOE PALMER. Looper meets SAGA in this extra-sized debut issue.

★★★1/2 (3.5/5)

I'm always up for a good time travel story and what Declan Shalvey and Rory McConville have conjured up here in 'Time Before Time' #1 is an intriguing set-up with a solid premise. Imagine things are so bad that you'd give up everything to return to another time and place to seek out a better life. A refugee of time and space. Your only hope is a criminal organization who can smuggle you back in time in one of their time machines. The agents in charge of your travels are indebted to the big boss and are paying off their debts in service. One agent has had enough and plans to steal one of those time machines and skip town and time. Is it a heist story? A sci-fi story? A crime thriller? Yes. 

Shalvey and McConville take what would normally be a straight forward heist story and throw in some consequential sci-fi elements that elevates it. The risks of messing with time travel are real and we get that described in two ways in the very first issue. Working for the mob is inherently dangerous but time travel takes a toll on the body plus whatever is awaiting you on the other side of the timeline. However,  the consequences for agent Tatsuo are even worse. There's a surprising escalation that could make this series a must-buy. 

Joe Palmer and Chris O'Halloran create a gritty shadowy atmosphere. It has a bit of a noir vibe even as O'Halloran's rich colors cut through the shadows, the underworld of 'Time Before Time' is a dark place. Palmer's designs are era appropriate for the past but forward thinking for the 2140 setting and beyond. The comic eschewed a glossy, futuristic aesthetic to a more grounded seedy world that these criminals inhabit from night clubs to the time machine itself which looks rather pedestrian.  

'Time Before Time' #1 is off to a strong start. The neo-noir time travel crime thriller ends with a bang taking a familiar plot line and upending all expectations. This story could go anywhere moving forward and that's exciting. It also looks properly grimy and sordid thanks to the art team. Issue one does enough to recommend getting on board now.