REVIEW: ‘RetroActive’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

RetroActive - But Why Tho

RetroActive is an original graphic novel written and illustrated by Ibrahim Moustafa, with color art by Brad Simpson and lettering by Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou. It’s published by Humanoids. In the year 2057, time travel has become a reality – but the technology is only accessible to the world’s intelligence agencies. One such agency is the Bureau of Temporal Affairs, which dispatches its agents to protect the timeline from any potential aberrations. BTA agent Tarik Abdelnasser is dispatched to take care of an anomaly in 1963, but soon encounters a mysterious figure wielding highly advanced technology from the future. When Tarik attempts to track down the saboteur, he ends up trapped in a time loop. While attempting to escape the loop and prevent a terrorist attack, Tarik uncovers a plot that not only threatens the very existence of the BTA but his own future.

This marks the second of three graphic novels that Moustafa is producing under Humanoids’ banner, following the sci-fi revenge thriller Count. And while Count was Moustafa’s own science-fiction influenced take on The Count of Monte CristoRetroActive feels like the spiritual successor to Minority Report. Moustafa has clearly thought out the rules of how time travel works in this story. He peppers the exposition throughout key points in the narrative so that readers aren’t too overwhelmed with the mechanics. It’s also well thought out: instead of jumping forward to the future, time travel is only used to travel to the past. And there’s also a mental cost to the procedure that adds stakes to the narrative.

Moustafa crafts a compelling protagonist in Tarik, who struggles with his duties and his family. He’s taking care of his mother, who is suffering from dementia, and time travel is starting to take a mental toll on him. In the prologue, Tarik and his partner have to stop a rogue BTA agent from killing Hitler, which not only addresses an age-old question when it comes to time travel but also serves as the first crack in Tarik’s resolve when it comes to his BTA duties.

A recurring motif has him reciting a numerical sequence in order to keep his mind stable, which plays into the fluid nature of time. And Moustafa even finds a way to add emotional heft to the well-worn “time loop” subgenre, as Tarik finds himself having to break the rules that he’s lived by in order to protect countless lives.

Moustafa also illustrates the entirety of RetroActive, and like any good spy thriller, he packs it full of action. From the opening sequence which features Tarik and his partner chasing after the rogue agent, to the final battle at BTA headquarters, entire sequences feature characters firing weapons or engaging in hand-to-hand combat with deadly results. Due to the time loop aspect, Moustafa also gets the chance to present multiple outcomes for Tarik’s encounter with a would-be terrorist cell. Sometimes things go badly for him, sometimes they go extremely well. All of it is presented in stunning color by Simpson, who brings a cool blue aura to the future sequences and manages to give every character a distinct skin tone – which is important as the majority of the characters are people of color. And Ostmane-Elhaou continues to be one of the most distinct letterers in comics, as they give the word balloons a rectangular look that feels very futuristic.

RetroActive presents a fresh take on the time travel genre, with Ibrahim Moustafa delivering a story and artwork that’s laced with plenty of hard-hitting action and emotional weight. I highly suggest adding this comic to your pull list, whether you’re a fan of time travel tales or supercharged spy affairs. Hopefully, Moustafa’s third Humanoids graphic novel continues to push the boundaries of science fiction.

RetroActive is available wherever comics are sold.


RetroActive
4.5

TL;DR

RetroActive presents a fresh take on the time travel genre, with Ibrahim Moustafa delivering a story and artwork that’s laced with plenty of hard-hitting action and emotional weight. I highly suggest adding this comic to your pull list, whether you’re a fan of time travel tales or supercharged spy affairs. Hopefully, Moustafa’s third Humanoids graphic novel continues to push the boundaries of science fiction.