Jason McNamara, Alberto Massaggia, & Paul Little | Past Tense (Dark Horse)

112 pgs. full color | $19.99 trade paperback

In the not-too-distant future, a company called Past Tense has developed the technology to send camera drones into the past. For a hefty fee, you can see six minutes of any moment in history, from the death of Jimmy Hoffa to a liaison between JFK and Marilyn Monroe. Ashley is a cynical tour guide for Past Tense whose job is to locate crazy new moments in time no one has witnessed before, stuff so wild that clients are willing to drop piles of cash to see it. When retired detective Silas Green starts coming in, Ashley figures he’s just another in a long line of cops searching for answers in the cases that got away, even if the events you see via Past Tense are considered “hearsay” and aren’t admissible in court. It all seems sweet (if a little morbid) until Ashley senses something is off and figures out the terrifying truth: Silas was a serial killer who used his job as a cop to cover up his crimes, and he’s getting off on rewatching his greatest hits. At first, Ashley uses this info to make extra cash off other clients—people will pay to see a serial killer in action no one has ever heard of. But when Silas discovers Ashley’s new side hustle, it’s a sure bet that fresh blood will be spilled.

Writer Jason McNamara is a writer with a lengthy résumé of self-published works, but Past Tense is his first widely published book since 2016’s The Rattler (with artist Greg Hinkle, published by Image Comics). He more than rises to the occasion with this taut, crowd-pleasing thriller. The story opens with the requisite sci-fi worldbuilding, setting up not only the degenerate result of Past Tense’s technology but also the way it has desensitized Ashley to the worst humanity has to offer. While the conceit of viewing past crimes being hearsay feels a bit rickety, let it ride and this story is more than ready to carry you off with it. “Tense” is the operative word in the book’s title—the tension starts early yet McNamara keeps finding ways to ratchet it up, page after page.

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Alberto Massaggia artwork ably performs the task of maintaining that tense atmosphere. His page layouts are richly varied without ever sacrificing storytelling clarity, and feel cinematic even while deploying techniques that strictly work in comics like inset panels to speed up the reading pace or to slip in additional detail. Despite its near future setting, Massaggia keeps things relatable by keeping his character designs fairly current rather than tweaking their costumes and fashion for the futuristic setting. (He includes some of his more spaceman-like costume ideas in the sketchbook section at the back of the book, and he absolutely made the right call in putting them aside.) Though the book is noir, Massaggia doesn’t overplay his hand, deploying thick blacks only sparingly but otherwise giving the book a realistic look—the characters aren’t photo-realistic, they’re mildly cartooned but not at all exaggerated. The result reads like Morning Glories’ Joe Eisma as inked by Criminal’s Sean Phillips. (One exception is our villain, Silas, who when he’s at his most malevolent gets thick black lines and a creepy grin that gives him the air of Frank Miller’s most despicable baddies from Sin City.) Colorist Paul Little (full disclosure: he’s a longtime friend of mine) similarly plays into the book’s heightened realism, eschewing cyberpunk neons for lots of earthy browns and muted blues and reds.

In the way McNamara and Massaggia dole out the sci-fi premise, make the hero a victim of it, and then leave her off her balance and on the run for the remainder of the story, Past Tense really brings to mind the intensity of Steven Spielberg’s film Minority Report. If you like your noir crime thrillers with a sci-fi twist, you’ll find a lot to like in Past Tense—emphasis on the “tense.” | Jason Green

Click here for a 6-page preview, courtesy of Dark Horse!

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