Mark Millar throws a lot of surprises at readers in the time-hopping “Chrononauts” #4, the final issue of the miniseries co-created with artist Sean Gordon Murphy, but whether or not the conclusion of their story is enhanced by these twists will be up to readers to decide. Overall, Millar and Murphy’s tale of two friends who invented time travel — and become adventurers and modern-day celebrities because of it — succeeds because of Millar’s strong characterization of these protagonists and is punctuated by the whirlwind tour back and forth through the timestream that is so wonderfully random and chaotic that its side effects become an attraction on their own. However, some of the left-field twists in this issue are so unexpected and unwelcome that they cross the line between attraction and detraction, somewhat softening the overall impact of the story.
The most nagging detraction is the notable and seeming lack of impact that the pair’s high-profile shenanigans throughout history have left on the present day. Millar puts forth a couple of plausible explanations for this: one directly (that Corbin and Danny fixed everything they changed before returning to the present) and one less so (that no one in the present would ever know if anything changed anyway). The former is a little too convenient and all of these corrective actions happen off-panel and the latter makes sense but doesn’t really convincingly explain how such major time paradoxes could be corrected while smaller ones slip through.
Millar engages in a genuinely funny moment of hilarity near the start of the issue, but it comes at the expense of a potentially exciting plot wrinkle that gets truncated without warning. Later on, Corbin’s extraordinarily heroic effort to save Danny goes a long way towards showcasing his genuinely altruistic side, though his selfish and power hungry motives dominated his character throughout the series. The issue’s lengthy epilogue, however, completely undermines that side of Corbin’s character, as ultimately Danny falls victim to Corbin’s self-indulgent machinations. The early and latter parts of the issue read like a last-minute rewrite more than a planned-out wrap up.
In between, though, both Millar and Murphy deliver dizzying thrills that help offset what comes before and after. Samurais and vikings ride jeeps and tanks into battle in a time and place where none of these things belong, and the delightfully pulpy, over-the-top feel that dominated the past issues is still present in this one. Murphy excels at this time-pureed mashup, and this culmination of Corbin’s rescue plan is as exciting as the buildup to it, with all of these disparate time periods unified by a single and common indicator of Corbin’s presence in all of these eras. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors convey these different settings as distinctly as Chris Eliopolous’ unassuming but effective block-lettered labels.
Murphy’s gritty, textured style is a fitting look for all of these historical and more primitive time periods, and it also works well for the deadly battles and conflicts that take place throughout these times. Nearly all of Murphy’s characters have a grizzled, battle-worn appearance; even Corbin and Danny look a little weathered from their presumed GQ looks. All of the various locales look convincing for their intended timeframes, a challenge for any artist to pull off successfully, but Murphy does just that.
The art is consistently strong, but “Chrononauts” #4 is still a bit of a misfire, making for a mostly enjoyable but also uneven conclusion to an otherwise thrilling and gripping time-twisting rollercoaster ride.