Comic Vine News


Off My Mind: How Should Time Travel Work In Comics?

There seems to be two different kinds.

Whenever time travel is involved in a comic book story, you have to prepare yourself for anything. First of all, it could be asked whether or not time travel should be possible in comics. I say that if characters have the ability to fly or teleport, the idea of time traveling should exist as well.
With the time traveling we've seen, there's basically two things that can happen when traveling into the past. I'm still not sure which I would support over the other. It seems in the DC Universe that traveling through time doesn't have too much of an affect on things. The Legion of Super-Heroes traveled back from the future into their past time and time again. We are also currently seeing some of the affects of Bruce Wayne being in the past. In the latest issues of Batman And Robin, Dick is discovering clues and secret rooms that he didn't know existed before. The question we raised was were those rooms and clues always there or did they happen because Bruce is now in the past making them happen?

In the Marvel Universe it seems that going into the past creates an alternate timeline. Whenever the Fantastic Four or others travel back, they don't affect their past but create a divergence in time. This also happened when Rachel Summers tried going back to change her past.
Going into the future is another issue. I think that if you go into the future, you should not be able to see your future self. I always use Back To The Future for this argument. When Marty McFly left 1985 to deal with the problems of his future kids, time kept going. Biff Tannen was able to see the Delorean go into the future. I say that if Marty (and his girlfriend) left 1985, they left the timeline and so couldn't have kids that would be in the future. The response I usually get is the fact that Marty does return to 1985 so he will be there to have kids eventually.
But then what does that say about the timeline? Do things happen as they are meant to happen? If someone traveled into the past, perhaps they were always meant to. If they seemingly change things, it could be they were supposed to change things and push events into occurring. I think that if Bruce Wayne travels back in time and puts an image of a bat on a family painting, it was probably always there and meant to be there. On the other hand, if Bruce went back and tried to prevent the murder of his parents, something would prevent that from happening since it already has happened.
I suppose we could sit here all day and try to debate how time travel should work. Instead, let me just ask what your thoughts are on time travel. Do you think it's possible to change what happens in the past or would it simply create an alternate timeline?
Posted by Giovanni The Minuteman

There are more than one theory on time travel and until a definate one is determined (maybe theres more) then the variety should be kept.

Posted by Queen's Halo

As long as there are consequences, it'll work for me.

Posted by elevatorparty

I think the Grandfather paradox makes DC time travel too complicated to ever work. (go back in time and remove your reason for ever coming back in time so in the future you dont go back in time...MIND EXPLOSION) 
I think the Marvel method of alternative worlds is the best. In fact i think they should use it more so that writers dont have to worry about continuity, just explain that this is set in an alternative world (eg: where Uncle ben and Aunt may were both killed so Peter Parker grew up to be deadpool)

Posted by Gylan Thomas

Any body seen a Spanish time travel movie called Time Crimes?
Put's a cross that there's only one time line and you can't change it. 
Showed that if you did try to change any thing it turned out you'd already done it and the consequences basicly resulted in what you already knew.
Did I explain that well? Makes sense to me but could also be argues it'd result in the MIND EXPLOSION elevator party mentioned.

Edited by defaultdefaultdefault
@G-Man said:

 Instead, let me just ask what your thoughts are on time travel. Do you think it's possible to change what happens in the past or would it simply create an alternate timeline?

i think no (change the past) and yes (create an alternate timeline, but as in could not necessarily will). whatever happened happened and already has happened regardless. so one change the past, but since they already did change the past they really cant. it was always meant to be. Age Of Apocalypse is a good measuring stick of this. after all was said and done, two character, being Dark Beast and Sugar Man (i went there) where stranded in the past some twenty years. but the fact was they were always there, as this had already happened,
even if the characters only had arrived at its beginning which was at some point in their future. later, and not much, light is shredded as to what events those characters had actually had a hand in in the first place. like the fact that Dark Beast had a hand in both the Morlocks and was inadvertently responsible for the Mutant massacre happening. this had actually always been, not been changed to be this, we we're just unaware of that factor involved for some time. I suppose one could attribute much of how time works in the mainstream comic universes to the fact that they seem to be watched over by various cosmic overlords and deities and what not, who smooth things out and keep everything neat and in order. 
Posted by Buckshot

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect... but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly.... timey-wimey.... stuff.
-The Doctor, Doctor Who 

Posted by GraveSp

I just try not to think about it.  Its better that way.

Posted by EisforExtinction

I like both versions
1- The Back to the Future version of time travel is really entertaining because small changes will cause ripple effects that change everything. The downside to this version is that it get really complicated to write.
2- The Star Trek version of time travel where "let's do whatever we want because this is probably how things turn out anyway" is also cool. It lends itself to more crazy adventure possibilities and that can be fun too if not kind of pointless.
I would say I like the first more but if you keep that going for too long you'll end up with terrible inaccuracies so it's a give and take certainly.

Posted by danhimself

thinking about time travel makes my head hurt so I just don't do it

Posted by Beast_in_the_Shadows

 I've never liked time travel stories too much.  I mean sometimes they're really fun, but they leave to many logic holes.  I mean even Back to the Future was messed up, because it implied that Marty changed his present where Biff became a loser and his family became better off than they were before. However that would logically mean that Marty would have grown up differently too, and wouldn't be the same guy who met Doc and went back in time in the first place.  He should have encountered another Marty who had never left when he finally got back.

As for the two results we're disscussing here. They both have their problems, if nothing else from a story telling standpoint.  As for the creation of tangental timelines, they always just seem to convinient.  Like the writer said, I want to write a time-travel story, but not have to deal with all the consequences or remnifacations. Also when it is a new (or parallel) universe, then the investment for the characters involved (and therefore the readers) isn't as heavy.  After such stories I'm always left feeling "what was the point?"

On the other hand, the stories where the actions of the time travelers have already occurred have their own set of paradoxies. This theory is based on the idea that time can't betampered with because the present from which the time travellers are from is in fact, a result of their time-meddling all along. The main paradox here is the old problem that is inherent in all self fullfilling prophecies: the chicken and the egg question.  For all intents and purposes, these stories usually subscribe to a linear concept of time, but for this to happen it would mean the the time travellers had to exists to have come to the original and only past before they ever left (and in most cases were even born) so this certainly adds a sort of loop to the other-wise linear theory of time.  However, this is the only way linear time travel can happen otherwise you end up undoing the future and the event of you leaving in the first place.  As a child I used to fantasizing about traveling back in time to save the dinosaurs, but even then I realized that I would then grow up in a world that needed no dino saviour and then would never leave and thus the dino's would die again.  Afterwhich the whole thing repeates...

Furthermore there are other problems that never even seem to come up.  For example, any form of timetravel would be pointless unless there was some form of spacial dissplacement as well.  To demonstrate: Say I had a garaunteed way to travel into my direct past (not an identical parallel or what have you) Well, without any form of dissplacement I may reach the past, but would retain the same point in space that I left from.  The problem with this is everything in space is in constant motion.  I mean, the earth is nowhere near the spacial coordinates that it was in 10 years ago, and even less so the furtherback you choose to go.  

Now lets assume that you are able to travel back in time and in the same relative point in space (as in the same building you were in whenyou went back)  The problem here is that there is already matter in the point in space.  I remeber a point in x-men were Nightcrawler explain that he needed to see where he was porting to so he wouldn't end up inside a wall or such.  Well this same principle applies here, but to a greater extent.  In this case even travelling back to a point where there is only air would reek havoc on your composition.  Kurt can travel to another point where ther is only air because when he leaves he leaves a vaccum in space (and nature aborhs a vaccum) so when he shows up in the other spot, there is room.  But, in this case there is no room, so you would be appearing instantly into the atmospheric pressure of the entire planet.  Imagine a tank of water, completely filled and sealed to the strength it needs to be to contain it's self.  Now, instantaneously a mass of new water appears somewhere inside the tank.  Well even if it were a miniscule amonut, there would be no room and either the new matter and some of the new matter would be pressurizied and compatced (like coal being crushed into diamond) or the tank it'self would rupture.

I guess i think to far into any of this, but that's why I'm never able to fully appreciate a story about time travel...
Posted by mimschkin

I only know one thing about time travel: 
It makes my brain hurt. So I just leave it alone.

Posted by DarkSyde79

Time travel should be used sparingly. The fact that every time it is used, it created an alternative reality also causes problems because the impact of it is lessened. In the end, I'd stay away from it 99% of the time... 

Posted by lastdrag0n89

This is sort of off topic but does anyone else think that Bruce Wayne Reborn is following the Captain America Reborn story line?

Posted by Theodore

If you go back in time to stop something you will end up being the cause of it, whatever happened happened.

Posted by the_fallen11

Time travel hurts my head. -.-

Posted by sora_thekey

I like that Marvel creates another universe whenever time is changed, that way everything doesn't need to go back and be changed in the canon story. 
Although I agree with DC's method... If Bruce drew a picture in the 1800s then the picture should've always been there... 
I like both, but if I'm going to choose one I would go with the one in Time Machine... There is no way you can change the past... If you tried and change it then the outcome woul end up being the same in the end... 
Also nobody mentioned the Days Missing time travel... He actually changes everything...

Posted by CATMANEXE_from_2hours_ago
@G-Man said:  

Instead, let me just ask what your thoughts are on time travel. Do you think it's possible to change what happens in the past or would it simply create an alternate timeline?

That's a good question and i have some things i would like to say about that. let me get back to you on this in about
2 hours.
Posted by TheHood

I like Marvel's way of doing it. I mean, what if you were reading a Spider-Man book, only to suddenly learn that Gwen Stacy never died because in Fantastic Four (which in this scenario, you are not reading) Reed Richards went back and prevented her death? The alternate timeline idea allows for time travel that will not affect other titles that take place in the same universe. It makes life a lot easier on the reader.

Posted by ~The Wanderer~

For all I care, time travel can work differently at different times, just as long it's consistent with the particular time travel technology used and what title/universe it takes place in, unless there are in-story justifications for a deviation of the usual system...if that made any sense? O_o

Posted by LT1085

with time travel, they more often than not, appear in the exact same place (relatively) that they left in, just a different time. This never really made sense to me because if they stay in the same space but travel through time would they not end up in the vacuum of space the majority of the time when they reach their designated time?  You could say that they went exactly 1 year to the nanosecond forward or back so they would appear in the same spot, but the earth doesn't move that way and even if it did why has nobody ever time traveled into the future and where they arrived someone had decided that place would look nice with a coffee table now you've got these time travelers fused into a coffee table. Also wouldn't there be a sonic boom or something explosive because of the displacement?

Posted by mebaz

I have to agree with Beast_in_the_Shadows . Time travel, at least backwards, makes no sense. You can't occupy a space you're already occupying. However, time travel forward is a bit more intriguing. Any of your space-time you travel to in the "future" would be unoccupied by you, thereby allowing you to now occupy it in the future. From here perhaps is the only place a limited form of time travel in the reverse would be possible, since you could return to any moment immediately after you left the first time. I presume it has something to do with potentiality/possibility - the lack of something exists with the possibility of being filled, but what has been has already been...?

Posted by jloneblackheart

I love time travel and all the ways you can do it are cool with me. 

  Oh, I wish, I wish I hadn't killed that fish. 
Posted by KRYPTON

Maybe we should just have one character in every comic company, that uses time travel. Booster gold is the protector of the time stream, his method of time travel is cool. We should have only one person that can travel back and forth through time.

Posted by Proverb

As a wise man once said, "wibbly wobbly, timey wimey."

Posted by thiagofonseca

I guess that in the DC Universe, time is like space. That's what i get from something like "Bruce Wayne is alive, but trapped in the past". How is that different from "Napoleon (or whoever) is alive, but trapped in the past"?
It's because Bruce is somehow presently in the past. Which means: The past eras have been brought from the past to happen side by side with the present. Side by side meaning: here (space) is the present, a little there (also space, but unreacheable) is the past. Like different layers: they affect each other, but they are not one with each other.
That's how Bruce can change stuff in the batcave and it start making changes now. It's all happening in the present tense.
That means that the present lies in the heroes counciousness. They make the present as they live, whether they are in the past or in the 30th century. The background (dinosaurs or futuristic landscapes) are spacial references only. All eras live simutaneosly. That's what i meant by time being like space.
If this is true, than Bruce can only have lived in the past as much as everyother hero has lived in the present. Which means: if there has passed 1 year since Bruce was hit by the Omega Beam, if there has passed 1 year since TIm began searching for him, if Damian has only gotten 1 year older (which i really doubt), then Bruce can only have lived 1 year through the different ages. Is it enough for him to grow that much hair and beard, and make the batpirateship and stuff?
Probably omega beams have other effects.

Posted by doordoor123

I dont care what theory is right and wrong, as long as the writers are still writing interesting stories.

Posted by thiagofonseca
@doordoor123:  yes. that's the most important, actually.
Posted by NightFang

If you think about this stuff to much you'll hurt you're head.

Posted by BrandonFima
@elevatorparty: That's a valid point in most mediums, but comics have characters who can reshape reality and alter the force of gravity. The universe of comics seems to operate by different rules of physics and logic. As well, they will just blow off any attempt to invoke the implications of time travel (usually made by a minor character) with a reason that is a longer replacement for "This isn't normal time travel."
Posted by Meteorite

Theoretically, if time travel (into the past) were possible, it would create an alternate timeline.