Writer: Robert Jeffrey II
Artist: Jordi Pérez
Colorist: Paris Alleyne
Creators: Jason Reeves, John Reuben-Milton
Publisher: 133art Publishing
Ret:Con #1 is an ambitious time-travel pulp thriller with elements of Afro-futurism and international intrigue. The story opens in Germany in 1944, where slingshot Agent ‘4am’ seeks to heal the future by correcting the worst abuses of the past. By the mid-22nd century, time-travel technology has been exploited by the world powers to the point that the earth itself is coming apart from “time quakes.” Can our hero save what is left of humanity by picking off key members of the Third Reich?
The answer poses a challenge for the creative team at 133art Publishing. There is a reason time-travel stories are rare in comics. They require the kind of meticulous planning and forethought that does not easily lend itself to a serial format. That is why successful examples, Days of Future Past, for instance, are packaged as short, self-contained stories. As of right now, it is apparent the creators of Ret:Con #1 are still figuring out how to overcome this challenge. There is much to like and enjoy in this effort at dystopian storytelling. And, I found the inaugural issue to be fun and engaging. But, I also thought it was lackluster in places and a bit confusing.
The good news is that Robert Jeffrey II (DC Comics New Talent Showcase 2018) has come up with an interesting angle. I find the idea that planet earth is collapsing under the weight of too many time slips to be intriguing, though the story is a bit unclear as to why time travel can also solve the problem. In fact, it seems to imply the opposite. Wouldn’t more time travel make things worse? And, what do killing Nazis in particular have to do with healing a ruptured earth? A World War II cold open in a time travel book felt like a safe choice with limited payoff.
Clearly, the creators are trying to establish plot themes that unfold in subsequent installments. But the effort is muddled by the choice to devote the bulk of the issue to making clear the chronology leading to earth’s demise. As a result, plot threads go unaddressed, such as an A.I. theme hinted at in the tag line on page one. Overall, I think Ret:Con might benefit from an editorial hand that can balance story elements with the challenges of exposition in a time-travel plot.
That said, there is a lot of potential in this comic. 133art Publishing continues its effort to create strong Afro-centric themes and characters. That the future is being saved by an all-black cast is itself significant, as is the fact that the science behind the story is driven by non-Western powers. In the mid-20th century, resources are scarce and superpowers will do anything for an edge. An alliance to beat China’s foray into time travel almost works until India goes its own way. Included in Ret:Con #1 is Jeffrey II’s prose story, “Touch the Stars,” with art from Quinn McGowan and Sunil Ghagre. Aashini Kharti, the first time traveler, is the most compelling character in the comic. I hope to see more of her in the future.
The artistic team also does a fine job bringing this comic book to life. Jordi Pérez (Queen of Bad Dreams) uses creative paneling, splashes, and perspective to keep the story moving. We glimpse our hero from the ground up, standing tall as he saves the future. But, as the disorientation of time travel sets in upon his return, the perspective shifts to an aerial view. We look down on him as he struggles to regain the memory of his mission. Pérez joins with Paris Alleyne (Marvel Action: Spider Man) to use a bold pastiche of colors and textures to show the disconcerting process by which Agent ‘4am’ passes through time.
Ret:Con is not perfect, but it is worth keeping your eye on. Take a break from predictable corporate comics and their over-hyped events, and check out this and other offerings from 133art Publishing here.