"Past Tense" Graphic Novel Review

Written by Joel Harley

Published by Dark Horse Comics


Written by Jason McNamara
Illustrated by Alberto Massaggia
Colored by Paul Little
Lettered by Jason McNamara
2023, 112 pages
Graphic Novel released on 12th July 2023


In the near future, a corporation has found a way to automatise and monetise time travel, sending invisible drones back to the past to record history's most shocking moments. Its applications don't end at spying on US Presidents either; allowing users to look in on anyone, anytime (terms and conditions apply). Spotting an opportunity, tour guide Ashley tries to make some extra cash by privately selling the footage of a hitherto anonymous serial killer on the side.

Click images to enlarge.

The hitch? Ashley's killer is still very much alive, dangerous, and not best pleased at the prospect of having his antics exposed. Ashley may think that she's one step ahead of her monster, but is she truly prepared for how far he's willing to go to ensure her silence?

Ashley and her corporate bosses aren't the only one trading in voyeuristic thrills either, nor are they alone in selling images of brutalised women to the curious and the ghoulish. Audience complicity is part and parcel of the point of Past Tense, with the killer's crimes depicted in often unsettling detail. Talking of complicity and consent, the book's opening sequence adds an extra layer of skeevishness - depicting a fairly explicit sexual encounter between JFK and Marilyn Monroe, as though the poor woman hasn't suffered enough.

Click images to enlarge.

For its Black Mirror-esque sci-fi trappings, this is a grimly tense (heh) and effective neo-noir; an unpredictable game of cat-and-mouse between enjoyably flawed protagonist and suitably slimy villain. Massaggia's art is stark but effective, his characters distinct and expressive, the futuristic cityscape plausibly blocky and lived-in. Paul Little's colours do much to enhance the mood, balancing brightly-lit office rooms with moody alleyways and grimy apartment buildings. When it's time to head to the past for one of Silas Green's awful crimes, the book goes appropriately dark, taking on the look and feel of a true crime biopic or something equally grotesque.

Past Tense doesn't make for pleasant reading, but it is an impressively bleak future shock. Spinning a gripping tale amidst the queasy unpleasantries, it's a challenging, deliberately provocative work with no easy answers. Did you enjoy the show?


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Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
Other articles by this writer


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