The Time Museum, by Matthew Loux, is a graphic story with a nice premise, but neither the text nor the graphics fully exploited that premise, leaving me more than a little cold toward the final result.
The premise is relatively simple. Sometime in the far future, the Earth Time Museum was founded as “the most complete collection of the planet Earth’s geology, biology, art, culture, and history all under one big roof . . . To chronicle and preserve all the important things about this great planet.” That’s in the words of the museum’s founder and creator Lyndon Beckenbauer, “Uncle Lyndon” to the story’s main character, a bright, inquisitive young girl named Delia Bean.
When Delia goes to visit her Uncle Lyndon for summer vacation, it doesn’t take long for her to discover the museum (with her parents and Uncle’s full blessing) and find out that she’s being tapped to be part of the competition to become one of the institution’s interns. Better yet, that role could lead to her becoming a regular time traveling employee collecting items for the museum. Soon she’s being outfitted and sent out into various time periods along with her competitors:
- Michiko Oda from Tokyo 200 years in the future
- Reggie Palmer from 51st Century Toronto
- Titus Valerius Marianus from Ancient Rome
- Dex the Neanderthal
- Greer Wedderburns from old-time Scotland and resident “mean girl”
Besides the competition action, which has the gang running from dinosaurs, finding important scrolls in the Library of Alexandria, and trying to expel unauthorized time travelers from London in the year 3029. Meanwhile, a plot twist is thrown in via the appearance of a mysterious time traveler who seems to know both more and less than he should, but that’s all I’ll say about that so as to avoid spoilers.
To start with a positive, as noted it’s a neat premise. Basically along the lines of Dr. Who, it allows an author the greatest freedom. Characters can go anywhere in the world and anywhen in the world. And it turns out that there’s a whole universe of intelligent life out there (when a planetary society reaches the point of inventing time travel they’re invited by the “Galactic Historical Society . . . A collective of alien races with vast resources [whose] purpose is to seek out unique planets and then document their history”).
Loux makes some good use of the benefits of the premise; how many young readers after all don’t like dinosaurs? And throwing together a disparate group of young people from all parts and times also offers up some rich potential. But here’s where we run into one of the major problems. None of the characters really feel like they are from disparate eras/places. They all seem to mostly speak the same way and react the same to pretty much everything. Oh, there are small differences here and there, but for the most part all the many creative ways in which their differing backgrounds could have been used—for humor, for creative tension, for commentary on society, etc.—go unmined. Similarly, the characters don’t have much depth to them and much of the plotting is a bit predictable, such as the mean girl with a heart of gold or the competing rivals that end up, well, I’ll let you guess. To be fair though, charges of predictable plotting do lose some of the bite in YA/MG, whose readers are less aware of some of these tropes/typical plot lines.
As for the art, I’m always a bit loath to make too many points about the illustrations as one’s appreciation of drawing style is so subjective. I’ll just say this one wasn’t for me— it’s a bit too cartoony, I’m not generally a fan of wide eyes and big mouths, and the dinosaurs are a bit too cutesy for me. On the other hand, the artwork is always clear, and there’s never any confusion about who is doing what or who is speaking, which can sometimes be an issue. In any case, I’ll just let you be the own judge based on the few examples presented.
The Time Museum does resolve the competition, as well as the inner tension among the rivals, as well as leaving room for an obvious second (and one would assume a third and so on) book. For young readers (I’d place this in MG rather than YA), the clear, simple and somewhat exaggerated artwork, along with a few action scenes that offer more idea of danger than actual danger might be enough to win them over. But I’d probably send them elsewhere first.