Trail of Time – Book Review

Trail of TimeDC Universe: Trail of Time
by Jeff Mariotte
Published by Warner Books

Reviewed by Eugene Myers for Senses Five Press.

Trail of Time is the final novel in the DC Universe series of original stories. It features ensembles of superhero characters from the expansive DC history. Superman (who previously appeared in the first installment, Last Sons) returns for a new adventure that spans two universes and hundreds of years. Completing the cast are heroes that may be unfamiliar to even the most faithful comic book readers, including the Phantom Stranger, Jason Blood/Etrigan the Demon, Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, and El Diablo. These unlikely allies join forces to combat a trio of magical supervillains–Vandal Savage, the Dark Lord Mordru, and Felix Faust–who are bent on nothing less than world domination, naturally.

This is likely the most ambitious entry in the DC Universe series, a story that could easily demand a multi-title comic book event, akin to the ongoing 52 Weeks. Trail of Time begins in an eerie alternate universe: Earth revolves around a red sun, America is locked under strict military control to guard against foreign terrorists, and there is no Superman. Most of this book’s target readers will realize that red suns rob Superman of his powers, which leaves Clark Kent as simply a mild-mannered reporter, turning out government-approved stories that downplay the people’s lack of freedom in favor of their safety. Readers might also suspect that in a world without a Superman, Lois Lane has a much-shortened life expectancy. After Clark’s wife is killed while investigating a man named Vandal Savage, the Phantom Stranger and Jason Blood tell him of his heroic destiny in another reality and the role he must play to save it.

Still grieving Lois’s death, Clark joins them on a journey through hell to the proper DC Universe, where he merges with Superman (regaining his powers but retaining some memories of the other world’s Clark) and learns what is at stake. Vandal Savage and his cohorts have spawned a parallel universe which threatens to wipe out the original, leaving them in control. The heroes must locate the branching point in history and attempt to stop the magicians before they can put their plan into motion. Meanwhile, in the Old West, Jonah Hex and the others of his time find themselves inexplicably drawn together to fight some unknown force. Trail of Time follows a large number of characters in multiple parallel plotlines, most of which tie together satisfactorily in the final conflict. The novel is filled with time-hopping from one period to another, from a Camelot under siege to ancient China, with demons and magical menaces waiting at each stop. Aside from Kryptonite, Superman has always been susceptible to magic, which puts him in as much jeopardy as his companions.

The plot is heavy on action, but fortunately Mariotte is up to the task of describing it all as vividly as if it were drawn in comic book panels. Mariotte’s dialogue and prose truly shine with the characters from 1872—no surprise given his experience with his “Weird West” comic series, Desperadoes. The story skirts some sobering political and moral issues that would add some depth and resonance to the plot, and there’s little character development beyond a cursory summary of their origins, but the pace is quick and consistent with what you might find in the pages of your favorite superhero comics. Trail of Time is a grand and bold adventure that would be a challenge to present in any other medium, and it easily delivers more of what fans want in their favorite monthlies.

4 Replies to “Trail of Time – Book Review”

  1. Excellent review, Eugene. In the alternate earth you describe, “Earth revolves around a red sun, America is locked under strict military control to guard against foreign terrorists, and there is no Superman.” Except for the red sun, it sounds awfully familiar….

    I was especially intrigued at the inclusion of Bat-Lash, who’s an impish bat-version of Mr. Mxyzptlk and a truly obscure character. I can’t imagine him interacting with a gritty character like, say, Jonah Hex.

    The plot sounds great, and more importantly the characterization sounds well done, so I may pick it up and give it a try.

  2. Thanks, Mercurio! Bat Lash is actually an Old West character, who has had at least one appearance in the animated Justice League Unlimited–which happens to be the only episode I haven’t seen. You’re thinking of Bat-Mite, who is a terrific character. There was a graphic novel a while back called “World’s Funnest” that teamed up Bat-Mite and Mxyzptlk in the way Batman and Superman have joined forces in the World’s Finest books.

  3. I’m red-faced over my faux pax. Big difference between Bat-Lash and Bat-Mite. (I was imagining the Phantom Stranger as the brooding magical guy and Bat-Mite as his comic sidekick…)

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