Today, Drew and Ryan are discussing Chrononauts 2, originally released April 15th, 2015.
Homer: Sorry but this is a highly sophistimacated doo-whackey. If you don’t use it responsibly… Kablammo!
Lisa: Ow! Someone just punched me in the face!
Homer: It was your mother!
The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror VIII”
Drew: I’m endlessly amused by the notion of using sci-fi technology for mundane personal uses. Homer using his teleporter to grab a beer without getting up, or to avoid having to climb the stairs feels like an abuse of the technology, but it’s also a compelling estimation of how it would be used in the hands of an everyday person. As much as we might claim to want to use a time-machine to avert a world war or warn people of impending disaster, we’re probably more likely to use it to ace a history presentation, meddle with the affairs of our family, or just bring the younger versions of our friend group to the present in hopes of winning an argument. Doctors Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly find even less noble uses for their chronosuits in Mark Millar and Sean Gordon Murphy’s Chrononauts 2, and it proves to be an absolute blast.
Last we saw Danny, he was about to be trampled by the Moghul army storming Samarkind in 1504. Fortunately, the Samarkind defenses are right behind him, complete with tanks, humvees, and muscle car-mounted gatling guns. Danny manages to survive the battle, and is quickly escorted into Samarkind, where Corbin has established himself as king. It turns out, Corbin’s chronosuit is functioning just fine, and he’s been in Samarkind for years. Only, beefing up Samarkind’s armory isn’t his only passtime — he’s also been kicking around the philosophy scene in Paris in the 1960s, is worshipped as a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, leads a clan in Feudal Japan, and rules the stock exchange of New York in 1929. Those are decidedly different dreams he’s living, but they start to cohere around bro-iness.
That they represent decidedly masculine forms of power is obvious enough, but Millar makes the sexual nature of these fantasies a bit more explicit, as Corbin reveals that he has a girl in every timezone, as it were.
I get the feeling that this information is mostly presented this way to cram a bunch of jokes into this panel, but it’s hard not to see it as super skeevy. Never mind that Corbin doesn’t care enough to actually remember any of this information, or that he reduces all of these people to a few meaningless data points, the fact that he keeps it on a suspiciously large (and embarrassingly titled) “Score Board” suggests a great deal about his security in his masculinity.
The more I think about it, the more important that insecurity is to his actions. The whole reason Corbin has chosen to abandon his own time is because he feels he has nothing to live for there: no wife, no family, nothing except his work. Importantly, though, he’s not just escaping his time, hoping to carve out some quiet little life that won’t alter the time-stream — he’s living out an oversized fantasy, where he can steal whatever he wants, from military equipment to tomorrow night’s roulette spins, all to receive power, money, and attention from women. That means he’s changing all kinds of history, but all of it for his own personal gain. He’s not afraid of the repercussions of doing something like preventing the Holocaust, he just can’t see how it might get him laid.
It’s a despicable motivation, but it’s also easy to follow, and seems destined to bite Corbin in the ass. Not only has his recklessness pissed off the entire NASA team, prompting them to send back Mannix and his security team, but his skirt-chasing has angered Gay Orlova, who resolves to tell her other boyfriend, gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Neither threat is on Corbin’s radar, and put both his New York safehouse and anywhen else he could go at risk. That conflict comes just at the right moment, as Corbin and Danny’s time-skipping escapades start to wear thin. Some actual adversity might be the shot in the arm this series needs to avoid devolving into a chronicle of historical wish-fulfillment.
Ryan, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the issue. You and I were both pleased with the bro-y tone of issue 1, but I was kind of surprised to see Corbin taking on the role of irresponsible horn-dog here. Doesn’t that feel more like Danny? I have to admit that the sexual politics of this issue made me a little uncomfortable, even as I understand this issue isn’t necessarily endorsing Corbin’s attitude. Did you feel any of that?
Ryan: Oh, I felt it as well, Drew. How surprising is it that such a light-hearted sci-fi romp like this title can be so subtly controversial. Before I address the sexual, I would first like to mention the racial politics brought up in a comment from a reader on the last issue. The choices of comic authors in regards to the race or gender of leading characters have come under a lot of scrutiny lately, and it is no surprise that a book featuring two White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males could incur some eyebrow-raising. Though I believe that authorial intent stops being relevant the second a work is put in the hands of a reader, a Louis CK bit made me consider a possible pragmatic motive behind Danny and Corbin’s whiteness. Louis CK says:
Here is how great it is to be white: I could get into a time machine and go to any time, and it would be fucking awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege. Black people can’t fuck with time machines. A black guy in a time machine is like, “Hey, anything before 1980, no thank you; I don’t wanna go.” But I could go to any time. The year two? I don’t even know what was happening then. But I know when I get there — “Welcome, we have a table waiting right here for you, sir.”
CK flawlessly draws attention to the uncomfortable fact which may have limited Millar’s choices for the protagonists of this series. While it could be fascinating to see how a non-white chrononaut’s ethnicity colors interracial exchanges throughout different time periods, it is easy to imagine this racial inter-play dominating the plot. Also, why even bother when it has already been done to objective perfection?
As far as Corbin’s new-found and bombastic male chauvinism goes, there is plenty more to say. In regards to his cheesy and objectifying “Score Board,” he should know that he needs not be so ostentatious about keeping track of his conquests; it turns out that there is an app for that. To Drew’s point that this sudden turn for the selfish seems like it could fit better the more footloose Danny, I would have agreed with him at the beginning of this issue. However, the sexism and selfish deeds displayed by Corbin all seem to be very intentional to justify his brash decision to forsake his previous life and the Noble Prize grant money he would have received (about $1.4 million dollars) to live out a ridiculous life without temporal limitations.
His actions reduce his heartfelt telephone apology to his ex-wife to exposition feeding into his escape, and also make Corbin a bit of a despicable guy. But he is still a likeable despicable guy, joining the proud echelon of characters who we love despite the fact that they are not necessarily good people: Jordan Belfort, Michael Bluth, Sterling Archer, The Hound, anyone on Entourage, Tony Soprano, Walter White, etc. This should set up Danny as the moral straight-man accomplice for the next few issues as the two begin to face adversity coming from all angles and time periods.
All controversies aside, Chrononauts 2 is one hell of a fun ride if one can suspend their disbelief and/or need for the politically correct. The issue begins with a swerve that made me worry that the series had already jumped the shark:
If Sean Gordon Murphy’s art style wasn’t so self-aware, stylized, and — at times — cartoony, than I think this series would feel like a pastiche of itself. Instead, this issue felt like a mash-up of all the nerdy and bro-ish responses which a group of friends sitting around swilling PBRs would hazard if asked what they would do with a free pass through history. I look forward to the ridiculous scenarios and controversy Chrononauts will continue to court as the stakes are raised in this seminal testament to the transcendental ideals of Philia Vincit Omnia.
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