by Drew Baumgartner & Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, read on at your own risk!
Drew: The first time travel story I remember experiencing is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Its time-travel mechanic was as logical as it needed to be to satisfy six-year-old me, but it left me with some weird assumptions about how time worked. Specifically, the way the movie intercuts between its present-day and feudal Japan scenes convinced me that the past is playing out in parallel with the present. That is, even though time travel is possible, if I travel to the past, wait five minutes, then return to the present, I can only arrive five minutes after I left. It makes no logical sense, but continues to be a popular feature of time travel stories in order to allow them to follow separate storylines in separate time periods simultaneously. Indeed, it’s a technique employed judiciously in Green Valley 9, as Max Landis and Giuseppe Camuncoli delight in touching upon just about every time travel trope as they draw the series to a close.
By my count, the climax of this issue follows four threads in four different times: 1) Gulliver and Percival’s battle with the Tyrannosaur in the present (or, at least, their present); 2) Ralphus’ attempts to prevent the sacking of Kelodia back on the night of the raid; 3) Bertwald’s battle with Cyril, skipping through time, but ultimately ending at the birth of the planet; and 4) the time police’s monitoring of the situation from the future. It’s that last one that particularly interests me. While the other scenes can be understood as expressing the subjective experiences of the characters, the time police scenes seem to suggest that these events set deep in the past are somehow happening simultaneously with their surveillance.
They’re somehow watching the events of this issue play out in real time, even though they happened hundreds of years ago. How can people with the ability to see through time be surprised at what happens next? I get the hand-waving necessary for time-travel stories, but I can’t help but think Landis is intentionally drawing our attention to how nonsensical this is. He needs them to offer some explanation of what is happening, but he can’t do so without lampshading how absurd that idea is.
And as I said, this issue seems to delight in its absurdities. The story wraps to a satisfying conclusion with Cyril and his dinosaurs dead, the nights of Kelodia back in their own time, and Bertwald accepting that he can’t change the past. But then we get an epilogue that says “hey, maybe you can!” It turns out, Ralphus’ time-traveling presence in Kelodia saved the day, after all, so our dudes get to return home and reunite with their loved ones. It’s an over-the-top act of gilding the lily, taking what would otherwise be considered a happy (if bittersweet) ending and granting every character’s wildest dream.
Camuncoli drives home just how over-the-top that ending is as Bertwald rides back through the still-standing Kelodia.
There’s a lot going on in this sequence, but I want to start by looking at Bertwald’s direction of motion. Thanks to our left-to-right reading system, audiences in the west tend to associate left-to-right motion with forward progress, something Camuncoli plays conventionally in that second panel. But, of course, the progress here isn’t exactly forward, so Camuncoli complicates that by having Bertwald ride towards the left of the page in that third column, and straight towards us at the top and bottom of the page. The result is disorienting, perfectly reflecting Bertwald’s confusion and disbelief at his situation — all of which is complicated by those memories that take up an increasing amount of space on the page. Note that Camuncoli superimposes those memories over these other panels, roughing up their edges as if to suggest that these are mere stories written on parchment that can easily be brushed aside. His memories are no longer a part of reality.
Michael, I really enjoyed this issue — it was as full of madcap nonsense as I came to expect of this series, wrapping it all up in an almost distractingly tidy package. Were you as pleased with this ending as I was, or did all of that silliness fling this thing over the rails for you? Also, how’d you like that final check-in with the time police that suggested that the Knights of Kelodia went on to, among other things, be depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry (which some have argued is an early example of a comic strip)?
Michael: What do you think we love more: time travel stories or agonizing over the logistics of time travel stories? These days, a popular trend in time travel stories is the characters themselves warning the audience not to try to make sense of the time travel logistics. This is kind of a cop-out, but at the same time we are talking about a sci-fi concept that is either impossible or would likely break the fabric of reality. Still, I know that I can’t help myself from imagining the butterfly effect that takes place when presented with the implications of time travel within a story.
I’d wager that the time cops that are observing the events of Green Valley 9 are “outside of time” so they aren’t necessarily affected by the changes in the time stream. But Drew’s right in noting that it’s odd that they are watching in anticipation as if they’ve got money on a football game. Why are they merely watching and not going after Cyril themselves? In Green Valley 6 the time cops told Bertwald the truth about the “wizard” Cyril. In addition they mentioned that because of Cyril’s time-meddling that they couldn’t risk apprehending him themselves so it would be up to Bert.
We don’t have any reason to believe that the time cops are lying to Bert about him being the last line of defense between Cyril and temporal meltdown, but it feels like they could be doing a little more than just watching, right? After the danger subsides and time is reset, the cops remark on how “a bunch of primitives” were the ones who finally took down Cyril.
This, added to the fact that Giuseppe Camuncoli draws them in their business black suits, makes me feel like they are the upper management who don’t get their hands dirty. They could be any group that’s high up on the totem pole but with The Knights of Kelodia doing the dirty work, I see the time cops as high-ranking military/political figures that sit comfortably while they send soldiers to put themselves in harm’s way.
I’ll admit that I’m a little conflicted about the way Green Valley ended. As Drew pointed out, Bertwald has finally come to accept that his family and home were gone and it’s time to move on…until of course he realizes that it’s not. And like Drew, I would have preferred the bittersweet, emotional conclusion. But Landis does seem to want to indulge in all of the time travel fun so he has his cake and eats it too by bringing back Kelodia and Amalia.
Since I do like to analyze the time travel butterfly effect of it all, I liked how Landis handled the old “time travel inadvertently makes everything happy again” trope. For example, in X-Men: Days of Future Past (the movie), not only does Wolverine’s time travelling prevent a dystopian future but it also inexplicably brings back all of his pals who died prior to that movie. Don’t get me wrong, I found myself giddy seeing the old cast but it didn’t really sate my cause-and-effect curiosity.
Green Valley 9 on the other hand makes a very simple justification in the way that it brings back Amalia and Kelodia: Ralphus’s time travel electricity was so unusual that it alerted the watchman to the invading barbarians.
The ending may be cheesy as all get-out, but it certainly feels justified within the confines of this particular time travel story.
Finally I wanted to touch on the way that Bertwald defeats Cyril. The time ship is trapped in the middle of a volcano and lava is quickly pouring in. Bert realizes that he is being pulled back to his proper timeline and tells Cyril that the only way to save himself is by “disinvesting himself” — un-anchoring himself from the ship.
I found this to be a neat physical metaphor for the inner conflict that has been going on inside of Bert: In order to go on living both Cyril and Bert need to stop living in the past and embrace their futures. For Bert this means letting go of his pain and remorse, for Cyril it means unsticking himself in time so he can return to the present. Of course, this might all be undercut by that ending I mentioned but hey, still powerful imagery.
As for the glimpse of the historical exploits of The Knights of Kelodia, Drew has got me beat on the references. I do like the idea of the knights being a part of “the first comic” though. That feels like a perfect ending for a mythic tale of time travel written by the talented — if not self-important — Max Landis.
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So, hey, the Bayeux Tapestry: it’s an important work of art/historical document to British (but let’s be honest: English) identity, but for that reason, we’re basically unaware of it in the US. I touched on it a lot in my comics studies program (both because I was in the UK and because comics scholars fucking love tracing the history of the medium back hundreds, even thousands of years and/or chiding other scholars for doing so), so I recognized its weird kind of hieroglyph style on that page of the Knights’ wiki. It’s kind of the only historical element in this series, and isn’t exactly emphasized, so it’s not exactly important, but that maybe makes it weirder — like if Forrest Gump only met one historical figure or something. Anyway, I couldn’t not mention it — it’s (kind of) the first comic!
The other fun fact I know about the Bayeux Tapestry is that it wasn’t made in Bayeux and it isn’t a tapestry (its images are stitched, not woven, so it’s technically an embroidery). Also: Brits like silly little trivia like that.
It’s worth noting that the memories shown when Bert is riding back to Kelodia is of the rewritten timeline – see the guard, and Ingrid being helped up after getting an arrow to the leg (I foresee a long career as a city guard) (and Amalia in the background being helped by the other knight) and the attack being repulsed. Perhaps the closer he gets to the city the more the new timeline imposes on him to make things right.
Either way, it was a neat way to tie it up.