Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inker), Willie Schubert (letterer), Mike Danza (colorist)
“We may not avoid everything you’ve come to associate with a time travel book -- I may even let a paradox or two slip in despite all my protesting -- but hopefully, as STARMAN did for superheroics, as RESURRECTION MAN did for death, we can bring a unique perspective to them.” -Editor Archie Goodwin, from this issue's text piece.
Chronos opens with Chronos, Walker Gabriel, who’s just realized it’s his thirtieth birthday, in 1960 Hamburg. He’s already befriended the Beatles and is lecturing the audience to keep quiet during their set when a very large man named Mordecai appears. Mordecai takes Walker to a strange city, where he’s reunited with a mystery woman named Fiorella. Over the course of just a few pages, John Francis Moore unloads a decent amount of exposition. We learn that Fiorella and Walker were once lovers, Fiorella has manipulated men throughout time, the strange city is in the process of being rebuilt, various versions of Walker co-exist in this city, Mordecai is a robot, and an old enemy of Walker’s named Hayden Glass has escaped the twenty-third century and is looking to kill his younger self in 1998. Got that?
The scene shifts to the “today” of 1998. At a firm named Dystart, a man who looks suspiciously like Walker Gabriel is testing out the “Nomo 2000” with its inventor, Stephanie Wong. A first-person caption informs us that he’s “working” on his twenty-third birthday. Suddenly, a slightly younger Chronos appears. This is the twenty-three year old Walker, the true star of the series. (Although the thirty-year-old Walker doesn’t completely disappear. Artist Paul Guinan differentiates the seven year age gap by giving the younger Walker longer hair and sideburns.)
I’ve read this scene numerous times and still can’t quite make out if the guy testing the device is also supposed to be Walker, or if Guinan made the unfortunate choice of giving a minor background character a design identical to the series’ star (and the colorist gave him the same skin tone). The “working on my birthday” bit is apparently a reference to Walker, who’s a thief at this stage, stealing the Nomo 2000’s CPU; so I suppose opening with the lookalike, who’s “working” in a more traditional sense, was a red herring? Or is Walker stealing the device from his own firm? I don’t know. I don’t want to paint this book with the “too confusing” brush too soon, because it really isn’t, but I’ve always been hazy on this scene.
Anyway, Walker meets with his fence, Konstantin Vyronis, and hands over the CPU. He’s given another job, a theft at S.T.A.R. Labs. And speaking of “star,” it’s time for the Starman influence to creep in. Walker stops off at the home of his quasi-mentor, the original Chronos, David Clinton. Clinton’s prematurely aging and has a bad habit of fading out of existence for a few seconds at a time. He warns Walker about the dangers surrounding time travel, but the new Chronos apparently loves the money too much.
Returning to the earlier info dump, escaped criminal Hayden Glass appears to kill the younger Walker. He’s rescued by the clean-cut thirty year old Chronos, who dispatches Glass by dropping him off in the Jurassic era. (Moore also throws in that Glass is a shapechanger, which is important later on.)
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Walker attempts the S.T.A.R. Labs heist. He’s caught by a very ‘90s-looking officer of the Linear Authority. Walker’s time traveling without permission, apparently (or at least slowing time down at this stage). I'm assuming these guys are being brought in to assure readers that this series is faithful to the DC Universe’s established time traveling rules. Of course, I don’t know what those rules might be, and a vague reference to “the Crisis” implies that there are none now. That’s kind of DC continuity in a nutshell.
Regardless, Walker learns that he’s been set up by his fence Vyronis, who kills the officer and tries to pin the murder on Walker. Vyronis takes the tachyon generator Walker swiped from S.T.A.R. Labs and uses a mysterious disk to open a portal through time. Walker grabs him, they struggle through the “energy nexus,” and Walker emerges in 1800s Kansas. The town of Smallville, specifically. Can you guess the last name of the man who discovers him?
And that takes us to page twenty-two. This isn’t going to sound like a compliment but I mean it as one -- John Francis Moore is perhaps the densest writer in comics. Marvel and DC publish entire trades today that don’t pack in this much story. That’s not hyperbole; I could easily see a modern comic wasting an entire issue on the first two scenes of this story (which Moore capably handles in just seven pages). The sheer amount of story could’ve easily created a cramped, cluttered mess, but Paul Guinan’s European-style art is always clear and attractive. I can see why John Francis Moore would’ve preferred tighter close-ups of the characters, but the unique way Guinan sets the “camera” so far away from the characters gives him a lot of space to show off his detailed backgrounds, and it gives the letterer room to place the numerous word balloons above and in-between the characters. If the layouts were drawn in a traditional manner, all of the characters would have word balloons pasted all over their foreheads and chins. Guinan’s style might seem a little odd at first, but I think it fits the unorthodox tone of the series quite well. This isn’t a traditional superhero book, or the now-traditional Vertigo revamp of a superhero book. Chronos is hard to describe, which I’m sure made it impossible for DC to market, but it debuts strong and continues to improve as the issues continue.