By fodigg 22 Comments
Eva Bell, aka Tempus, is an Australian mutant time traveler with a seemingly unique problem, she suffers the full brunt of the so-called "Butterfly Effect". Defined as:
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. (wikipedia)
In Eva Bell's case, this means that every time she travels into her past, she risks changing something that is normally inconsequential but drastically alters the future from that point forward. Accidentally changing the past is fairly common as a time travel trope, but rarely is it portrayed in such an extreme and uncompromising way.
Consequently, every time she travels to the future, if she returns to the past she risks a seemingly meaningless change that will destroy the future she just came from. This is one theory of time travel, but there are many others. Marvel has used pretty much all of them from time to time (pun intended) whenever one or another best serves the story they're telling. This is great for individual narratives, but makes it harder in a shared universe to hash out some semblance of consistency. This kind of irks me, so I just wanna put some thoughts into the keyboard and see if I can nail down what's happening with her character.
First, some other pop-culture takes on the mechanics time travel for reference:
- Whatever you would go back in time to do, you've already done it, so it's already accounted for and time is immutable. Paradoxes are, perhaps not impossible, but we know they have never happened because reality still exists. (Twelve Monkeys, The Time Traveler's Wife)
- Time travel is actually travel between two identical realities on different clocks, so you can go to the past and change it, but it won't affect your future, and if you return to "the future", it's just another reality jump. (Timeline)
- Time travel is one way, and you can change the future, but once you're in the past you're part of the past. (The Terminator)
- Changes to your past change the future—and may have an immediate or slow effect on future persons in the present—but any major paradox is overlooked. (Back to the Future, Looper, Hot Tub Time Machine)
- Any change or an accumulation of changes to the timeline risks dooming us all via paradox that destroys the fabric of reality. (Millenium)
- You can change the future or past, but certain things in both are "fixed" and immutable (including anything that's in your personal history). (Doctor Who)
- Time can be "reset" within a certain timeframe but an individual recalls (in part or in full) previous timelines until the final timeline is established as the official timeline. (Groundhog Day, Donnie Darko, Edge of Tomorrow)
- Time travel kind of isn't a big deal and you can change some things but don't worry about it too much. (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Time Bandits, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
- There is no logic to time travel. Nothing is sacred. Turn off your brain and just let the narrative roll over you. (Timecop)
With so many reality crossing and time traveling events happening lately (really from Age of Ultron forward), the differences between these approaches are quite apparent. We see this inconsistency even with how individual characters are handled. For example, Miguel O'Hara (Spidey 2099) apparently suffered a "Timestorm" where all of 2099 was rewritten, but later we get a book starring pre-timestorm Miguel back in time dealing with another "time under attack" threat where we're supposed to believe these huge stakes but really we've heard this song before. And (in All New X-Men) evil future X-Men can apparently attack present day X-Men over and over again with only subtle changes and can even tell themselves how they've failed previously without risk to their timeline, but we're supposed to believe that the O5 being time-displaced is this huge dangerous deal. It doesn't make sense even within the same title.
All that said, Marvel does seem to consistently fall under the "paradox that can destroy all reality" or "timeline wiped out forever" theories of time travel in individual stories because those are more dramatic within a narrative. But as certain alternate/future timelines became more popular, they tend to get established as separate realities that remain relatively static, and characters can travel back and forth freely. Days of Future Past is a great example of this. So is Age of Apocalypse. So while writers tend to act like all of reality is at stake, Marvel generally has an "all futures exist anyway, you're just jumping between them" attitude to smooth things out between books.
And of course, certain events are treated as static within the 616 simply because they're major past or future storylines, such as the pending Secret Wars event. The best way to detail these is always apparently a dizzying chalkboard diagram.
Back to Eva Bell. So she (spoilers) went to the future—the 2099 future or at least a version of it—and spent some time there (seven years!) training up, getting married, and having a baby girl. Then she was forced to use her powers, went back in time, went forward again to 2099 and was told that due to the butterfly effect her baby never existed.
This works for a dramatic story but it's not consistent with the larger MCU handling of time travel.
How can we have Rachel Summers-Grey, and Cable, and X-Man, and Bishop, and Kymera, the O5 X-Men, and Miguel O'Hara, and so many other time-displaced characters romping around with no issues and yet for Eva Bell, even the slightest change has risk? How can she be told her child never existed when its birth was clearly part of her personal timeline? Are we to believe that the effects of that pregnancy have been wiped away from Eva but her memories remain? Are certain timelines given more "weight" (i.e., sales numbers) that makes them a reality while others are just passing variations that fade away? How did none of her teammates realize she was 7 years older?? That's a long time!
Oh. Well okay then. That makes one of us.
We can either accept that time travel just works differently for some characters than other characters—and yes, this absolutely makes sense from a writing/sales/marketing perspective because what works in one story may not work in another and a best selling crossover means more to Marvel than a throwaway universe in an Exiles-style book, but it's not satisfying to accept that as an in-universe explanation—or we can look at Eva Bell specifically and try to find something different about her that accounts for the change.
Cable was different because he was born in the past. Bishop was different because he had some sort of technological doohicky that protected him from paradoxes. Maybe there's some macguffin or in-universe exception for Eva.
The simplest theory I can think of is that her powers allow her to travel through time but never between realities. So while Miguel O'Hara might build a time machine that transports him specificially to his version of 2099 (when it's not in dramatic peril) without it ever being explicitly stated that this machine is correcting for, I dunno, "reality shift" to ensure he's not headed for another of the infinite 2099 realities, Eva just moves forward or back on whatever branch she's on. So everytime she moves forward, she's creating a new reality she will never be able to find again if she returns to the past. From a practical perspective this would be as problematic as a time machine that moves without auto-correcting for movement in space, so if you travel to tomorrow you're floating in the vacuum because Earth has moved around the sun and the sun has moved around the galactic core. It's an element of time travel that might go assumed by anyone who designs their mode of travel, but for the untrained individual whose abilities are the result of random mutation, such are the catastrophic results.
It's inaccurate from an outside (reader) perspective that her child was never born, because we know that the difference between one 2099 and another 2099 is just another Earth-[NUM] designation, like the three different versions of Miguel O'Hara (928, 6375, 96099), but from Eva's perspective, it's unreachable. Because in the timeline/reality she currently inhabits, it never happened.
That maintains the stakes for her, but allows that her kid is alive in some other reality. Of course, we're left wishing she'd just ask Reed Richards or the Timekeepers or whoever has the right technology in order to get her back to her kid, but the likelihood of that happening before the upcoming line-wide reboot, unfortunately, is low.