‘Ivar, Timewalker’ Is the Violent, Manipulative Version Of ‘Doctor Who’ That I’ve Always Wanted
A few years ago, around the time that Matt Smith was gearing up to replace David Tennant, I briefly made an attempt to get into Doctor Who. Sadly, it didn't really take -- as much as I liked reading stuff about the show, and as much fun as I had with bits and pieces of it, the show never really hooked me the way that it did my friends, and I ended up being quite possibly the only person in the world who liked Doctor Who Magazine more than Doctor Who.
Last week, though, it all clicked into place with the release of Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, and Brian Reber's Ivar, Timewalker #1 and its story of time-spanning action and underlying mystery. Basically, this was the version of Doctor Who that I actually wanted.
In a lot of ways, that's as unfair a comparison as it is a fair one -- if you're a big fan of Doctor Who, there's as good a chance that the familiar elements of Timewalker are going to hit some kind of uncanny valley of pop culture appeal, where it's close enough that you'll just end up frustrated by what it's not. And that, I think, is by design.
Van Lente and Henry are, after all, clearly doing a riff on Doctor Who in this first issue. It's got the same imagery, and it doesn't just stop at time-travel in a tailored suit. The entire first issue is built around the same sense that you get from those episodes where the Doctor shanghais one of his companions, with some poor human being dragged off on an adventure through time against a background of explosions and cybernetic hitmen. She -- Dr. Neela Sethi -- is our viewpoint character, the subject of a rescue at the literal last minute by some weirdo and his rapid-fire sci-fi patter.
And speaking of patter, there's even a bit that feels like it could have come straight from Who, where Ivar explains that pens and sunglasses always go missing because we're constantly surrounded by wormholes through time that suck them in when we're not looking.
What I'm getting at here is that there's a familiarity to it, and it's a self-aware familiarity. Heck, the blurb for the next issue at the end of the story even identifies #2 as "Let's (Not) Kill Hitler," just in case you missed what they were riffing on in the previous 20 pages. It's not exactly subtle.
The thing is, while Van Lente and Henry are very clearly, very purposefully speaking the language of that particular show, they end up defining their main character in opposition to it. The thing that I gravitated towards more than anything else in my couple years of watching Doctor Who was that it was the story of a hero who generally abhorred violence, who always thought his way out of problems, and who was defined by carrying a tool, something used to build things, rather than a weapon, something used for destroying them.
Ivar has no such compunctions against violence.
Halfway through the issue, we (and Neela) see Ivar casually and remorselessly shoot Horatio Nelson dead, during a brief stopover at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It's one of the first things that he does after their big escape from the present, and it's a turning point for both the issue and the character. While there's still a trace of that whimsical Doctor Who-inspired friendliness to the character, he suddenly becomes something a little more unknowable and a little more terrifying, a little harder to relate to.
The end result is that we end up being pushed closer to identifying with Neela, who's caught up in all this, rather than Ivar, who's directing the whole situation for his own reasons, but the great part of it is that it's contrasted with how Neela herself treats her own first trip through time. While Ivar is casually blowing a hole in one of the more well-known figures in the history of British naval warfare, she's freaking out over the potential for destroying the time stream by stepping on a bug.
The obvious trick here is that Nelson actually did die during the Battle of Trafalgar, and while Ivar is definitely the one to pull the trigger (and subsequently throw the blame onto a French sniper, which is the story as history has it), it's hard to really think of him as a murderer when he's just allowing history to play out as we understand it. But that has its own little snag, too: Later on, in one of the book's best moments, it's revealed that this is an Ivar who's already been to the far future, to the point where he casually runs into a younger version of himself cruising around the 41st century:
If this Ivar has been walking around time for that long, then we're all historical figures from his point of view, all people that are already dead in his history books and therefore expendable in his quest to accomplish whatever it is he's set out to do -- all of us, including, ultimately, Neela. It's a setup where the more you think about it, the more sinister it gets, and it underscores the idea that he's a lot less friendly and a lot more frightening than the friendly time-traveler he appears to be at first.
Of course, he does have a goal that seems reasonable enough, what with the fact that he's trying to prevent the wholesale destruction of the universe as we know it. But in this first issue, it's set up in such a way that it's going to be equally as exciting if Ivar's the hero he appears to be or the villain that's hinted at below the surface, or some mix of the two, and that's an incredible trick to pull off.
Here, Van Lente, Henry and Reber do what they've been doing since Valiant returned: They make it look easy, and end up with one of the most exciting first issues of the year.