Friday, February 3, 2012

CHRONOS #9 - December 1998

Being & Nothingness
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Paul Guinan (penciler), Steve Leialoha & Dennis Rodier (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letters), Noelle Giddings (colors)

And now we’ve reached Chronos #9, the issue selected by DC for a promotional push to keep the series alive. New cover artist Tony Harris! New editor Mike Carlin! A guest appearance by Destiny of the Endless! A standalone story perfect for new readers! Extra copies shipped to retailers (presumably at DC’s expense)! Of course, if you’re an existing reader of this book, you’ll notice that the previous issue’s cliffhanger has been ignored, and the series lead has somehow learned important information about his past off-panel. That’s annoying, but the story does resolve a few mysteries from the previous issues and sets up a new status quo, so it’s not as if the audience is being dumped in favor of an early ‘00s Bill Jemas style “reinvention.”

The story opens with a flashback to the death of Chronos’ mother, followed by a conversation between the adult Chronos and Destiny. Abruptly, the scene shifts to an Oakland hospital in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic future.

However, as Chronos awakens, he discovers that this is the year 1998. He’s been in a coma for thirteen years…the same number of years we’ve previously learned his mother has been dead. Chronos investigates and learns that Ronald Reagan is still president, and since we already know John Francis Moore’s opinion on Reagan, that means America is now a bombed-out hellhole of a police state engaged with a futile war against Russia. Reagan’s also lying to the public about having Alzheimer’s, which is a classy touch on Moore’s part.

Within a few pages, Chronos has met this timeline’s version of himself, a government scientist working on time travel studies (his boss is Amanda Waller, for any of “The Wall” completists out there). This divergent-earth Walker Gabriel has been plagued with headaches his entire life, and now he knows why -- two versions of the same person can’t exist in the same timeline without causing problems.

Chronos explains how exactly this timeline was created…which is literally an entire issue’s worth of story crammed into three panels:

Using alternate Walker’s time travel equipment, Chronos recharges his powers and travels thirteen years into the past…again. This time, he does more than temporarily K.O. Wilson Sebastian, the drunk driver who killed his mother. Chronos drugs him, leaves him in a hotel room, and plants documents to ensure that Sebastian will never become Secretary of State and turn the Cold War into a hot one. Unfortunately, a two-page sequence details how Chronos accidentally caused his mother’s death in this new, new reality.

That’s another issue’s worth of material burned through in just a few panels. John Francis Moore is an efficiency machine, I tell you.

Chronos has another meeting with Destiny and decides that if his mother is to live, she cannot be connected to him in any way. He also throws in that he knows that he was born outside of time in Chronopolis, which apparently is the origin of his powers. How he knows this we don’t know, since this revelation hasn’t happened in any of the previous issues.

Following his new plan, Chronos goes back to Chronopolis on the day of his birth and kidnaps his infant self. His foster parents go on to adopt another child, a girl, and fate spares Chronos’ mother. Somehow, Wilson Sebastian isn’t involved with the drunk driving accident either, but his political career is ended, as the fake evidence planted by Chronos leads to his arrest as a traitor. (How this works I don’t know, since Chronos planted the evidence in the previous timeline. If he’s still planting evidence in this new, new, new reality, it would seem that he hasn’t learned a lesson about the immutableness of time.)

So, Chronos has effectively erased himself from time, which somehow is supposed to lead to a bold new direction for the title. And while I don’t think this was as new reader friendly as DC might’ve liked, it is one of the strongest issues of the book’s run. I think every kid lives with at least some fear that their parents might die in something like a car accident one day, so building on a childhood anxiety and making it a cornerstone of Chronos’ backstory is a smart choice on Moore’s part. The idea of a time traveler who’s constantly foiled by their efforts to change the past has certainly been done before, but Moore has a nice angle for it. Also, connecting the drunk driving accident that killed his mother to the start of World War III might sound absurd on its face, but Moore’s actually come up with a plausible justification. I don’t think the story needed a feeble-minded real life president in order to work, especially when it’s more plausible that the Constitution wouldn’t have been amended and a new president would’ve been elected in 1988 anyway, but we never can escape Watchmen, can we?

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