In some other recent “Time and…” columns, I examined how time travel has manifested in the form of a vessel outside of the physical body. These devices have ranged from the classic idea of a transport or fighter plane (e.g., The Red Wing), to a variation on stasis hibernation chambers (e.g., Prophet). There are not a lot of ways to meddle with the formula, and comics have probably worked just as hard as any of the other mediums to come up with new and inventive ways of vessels that support time travel. There is a series, however, that is intriguing to me as I believe it challenges some of those conventions. Expansion by creators Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward is a series attempting to spin the idea of the time travel vessel by combining the two major ideas of a ship and stasis, or some type of suspended animation, in a way that feels fresh. The idea of time travel in Expansion also attempts to challenge the reader by laying the foundation for some greater moral and ethical questions within the narrative, questions that I will lay out here that I have no answers for, but I challenge the readers of this piece to investigate further not only in reading Expansion, but in conversations generally.
Sheean and Ward propose that in space pockets of time exist. These pockets are visible and travelers may interact with them if they choose to do so. These pockets are described at first as ATR’s, or abnormal temporal regions. That description itself allows for a great creative license around how time travel can be used, as time distorts in specific areas. The ATR is visually represented as a black inky ball protected by a honey-combed shaped exterior in which ships can pass through at will. Will is the most important part here I think, as one can choose to go in or not ( although the intrepid crew on the run in battle we are introduced to in part one really has no other option). Thus the question pushed to the forefront for the reader is “If you could consciously choose to tamper with time, had it available to you, would you?” Think about that momentarily: time travel could be available and known—it could be charted no different than any other celestial body. Does not such an offer dare one to push the envelope because it satisfies a want, a desire, much like H.G. Wells described in his search for utopia in The Time Machine, or like Ray Bradbury once discussed in his short story masterpiece “A Sound of Thunder”?
The ATR is the ship, the vessel, in Expansion. Travelers enter the ship via their own vessel to get there, but once inside the inky blackness, one is inside the space that allows time to be distorted. The distortion does not require the traveler to “sleep” or hibernate. Rather, time feels as linear and normal as always inside the bubble. The distortion though, even in allowing travel to occur in such normal perceptions, is part of the problem in the narrative as a character describes the ATR in part one warning “ the magnitude of the temporal distortion is severe”. The exposition that follows reveals that severe distortion equates to say forty minutes within the ATR is seven thousand years outside of the distortion. Such calculations are justified by the characters (and the creators), as following the rules of astro-physics and laws established by many scientific theories that believe that since the big bang, the universe is constantly expanding and expanding (and yes, feel free to insert the Monty Python song here), thus the universe speeds up as it gains momentum to continually expand. Would you sacrifice such time to supposedly gain time, to bank upon the world or universe being in better shape ( or in a completely different shape, as one group wishes to see in Expansion), than when you entered the bubble?
Expansion challenges the time travel narrative in comics by folding in some of the more established ideas about how one can physically travel in time but somehow is able to twist the reader in turning the fantastic into legitimate questions of “what would you do”, challenging the wish fulfillment that often drives the fantastical elements of such stories.