Off My Mind: Time Travel in the Marvel Universe (And How Spider-Man Does It Right)

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Posted by G-Man (18919 posts) - - Show Bio

Time travel is a concept that has been depicted in various types of media. In comic books, there are some series that center stories around the idea on a constant basis. Being able to change the past or future is something superheroes could use to their advantage. It could make saving the world an easier task.

Unfortunately in the Marvel Universe, time travel doesn't quite work the way the travelers might like. It was discovered or theorized that actual time travel wasn't possible. Traveling back in time actually resulted in the creation of an alternate reality. Going back and suddenly appearing would cause a divergence and there would be a butterfly affect. Each tiny change would lead to a another and another which would often result in catastrophic results.

Traveling into the future could have the same affect. The person traveling is making a change by simply being there. The simple act of drinking a cup of coffee means one less cup for someone else. That could result in the person seeking coffee elsewhere and that journey could lead to other things. And so on and so on. In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #678, we do see a little trip to the future in a way that hasn't really been shown before. How much change could traveling 24 hours into the future have? (Minor spoilers below).

== TEASER ==

In the issue, a colleague of Peter Parker's at Horizon Labs manages to construct the Break Room of Tomorrow. You walk in and are transported 24 hours into the future. For example, when Grady Scraps demonstrates to Peter, he emerges with the next day's copy of the Daily Bugle. When Peter gives it a try, the instant he steps foot in the room, everything changes. New York City has been destroyed. Countless lives have been lost. All of this is because Peter traveled 24 hours into the future.

Returning to the present didn't change anything. They could still see the destruction through the open doorway. The reason the change and destruction occurred is a simple one that is pretty much always ignored in time travel stories. The moment Peter stepped through and traveled 24 hours into the future, he was no longer part of the current timestream. He basically disappeared. He no longer existed in the timestream until the time in the future in which he arrived. The world around them would continue on its path but Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) would not be around in that 24 hours.

The issue goes on to deal with Spider-Man trying to figure out what changed. What small event failed to occur with him not existing during the next 24 hours?

How can they visit their kids in the future?

This is where the different theories come along. What we have here is one timeline and no alternate realities. If a person traveled into the future, they are jumping out of the present timestream. The lives of those around would continue but suddenly the time traveller would be missing.

This is what bothered me about the movie Back to the Future II (which I still love). Marty McFly and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, go into the future with Doc Brown to deal with an issue with their kids. By making the journey, they no longer will be around to actually have kids. Biff was seen outside the house and witnesses the DeLorean time machine make its departure. Time goes on without them. As soon as they arrive in the future, their kids wouldn't exist because they had been missing and out of the timestream for those 30 years.

Of course it could be argued that because they would eventually return to their present, everything would be righted and they would go on to have their kids, etc, etc. That's too easy of an explanation and time travel is anything but easy.

Time travel stories shouldn't be taken lightly. Going back in time will change things even if no major action is taken. It all goes back to the butterfly affect. Once a person went back, their present would immediately change around them, unless, as in the Marvel Universe, going back in time creates an alternate reality. Traveling into the future could be possible but the traveler would witness the intended future since whatever role they were meant to take is no longer possible with them disappearing from the timestream.

It's all a confusing mess. It could easily give one a headache trying to sort it out. It takes clever writing (and Dan Slott deservers praise for focusing on this often ignored angle of time travel). The only way one should travel through time is by living life normally. We're all traveling into the future one second at a time. Only when that second comes, the future immediately is transformed into the present. Time travel stories shouldn't be overused. There should be certain rules set in place in each comic universe. Creating an alternate reality by going into the past makes sense. Visiting your future shouldn't be possible since it's always changing and by going to the future, it changes even more.

After the experience Spider-Man goes through, it'll probably be a long time until he tries messing with time travel again.

#1 Edited by TheWitchingHour (1340 posts) - - Show Bio

I seriously love everything going on in Amazing Spider-Man right now. But I do have a little issue with G-Man and Dan Slott's theory. Just because you travel forward in time 24 hours doesn't mean you can't travel back in time the instant after you left in the first place. In theory Peter or Marty Mcfly could travel as far in the future as they wanted to go and as long as they returned the instant after they left nothing would change right?

#2 Posted by DXmagma (91 posts) - - Show Bio

Man if it wasn't for Batman ASM would've been the best comic out this week.

#3 Posted by jaredbright (204 posts) - - Show Bio

Looks like a bad cartoon.

#4 Posted by BatClaw89 (144 posts) - - Show Bio

DCU has set rules for time travel. but it could change in the new 52 since no one can travel through time right now since flashpont.

#5 Posted by Fantasgasmic (1033 posts) - - Show Bio
In the issue, a college of Peter Parker's at Horizon Labs manages to construct the Break Room of Tomorrow.

I think you mean "colleague" there G-Man. Late night writing leads to typos. Get some rest and proofread in the morning.

#6 Posted by tonis (6183 posts) - - Show Bio

I love time travel stories and the whole concept (Quantum Leap is one of my all time fav shows)

I think it's tough for a sequential medium (like comics, tv, etc) to properly portray this, because the concept itself takes those sequential element and poses it in a linear thought process with the attempt to rationalize it.

Alternate realities allow an excuse to write off anything you want but what I'd really like to see is a writer address it for what we perceive time as, a measurement.

It's like being fitted with a coat for life, if you only measure one stiff pose and don't account for the bending or growing that will naturally happen, your stuck with something that is not going to totally fit eventually.

That in itself poses the real conundrum with time travel...

what your really messing with is the size of things ;)

#7 Posted by Or35ti (1101 posts) - - Show Bio

@BatClaw89 said:

DCU has set rules for time travel. but it could change in the new 52 since no one can travel through time right now since flashpont.

Does that mean precognition is also impossible since time travel is? Or are the two unrelated?

#8 Posted by NXH (1030 posts) - - Show Bio

Dan Slott has been knocking ASM out of the park.

#9 Posted by Eyz (3042 posts) - - Show Bio

Sounds like a pretty fun issue all around^^

Yeah, comics do seem to love Time travel, it's easily one of the concept most used accross so various genre of comics and titles..

#10 Posted by ltbrd (562 posts) - - Show Bio

: So you were bothered by how the kids could actually exist in the future if they time traveled there but you weren't bothered by the fact that outside the cafe scene ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THE MOVIE HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE KIDS? (the big caps were not directed at you so much as the point of the movie) That's what's always bothered me about Part II is that they had this great set-up about saving their family in the future and yet not a single part of the movie was about them saving their family but instead how dull their lives had become. At least Part I and III held to the premise of the plot. Rant over.

#11 Posted by BlackArmor (6138 posts) - - Show Bio

@Or35ti said:

@BatClaw89 said:

DCU has set rules for time travel. but it could change in the new 52 since no one can travel through time right now since flashpont.

Does that mean precognition is also impossible since time travel is? Or are the two unrelated?

Interesting question, seeing the future vs. going there. I think they're relatively unrelated but no way to know for sure until DC dresses it

#12 Posted by pspin (894 posts) - - Show Bio

I thought the dialogue between Madame Web and her kid was funny. In general this is one of the best series Marvel is putting out right now.

#13 Posted by LordRequiem (1323 posts) - - Show Bio

Paradoxes galore.

#14 Posted by Guardiandevil83 (6109 posts) - - Show Bio

I've wondered about Time Travel and the way it works myself. I've been convinced that there is noway I should exist in the future had I dissapeared in the past/present. That is, until the exact time I returned in the future which would then become the present. Lol confusing..But great article keep em up G!

#15 Posted by Watcherg6 (263 posts) - - Show Bio

@ltbrd: : So you were bothered by how the kids could actually exist in the future if they time traveled there but you weren't bothered by the fact that outside the cafe scene ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THE MOVIE HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE KIDS? (the big caps were not directed at you so much as the point of the movie) That's what's always bothered me about Part II is that they had this great set-up about saving their family in the future and yet not a single part of the movie was about them saving their family but instead how dull their lives had become. At least Part I and III held to the premise of the plot. Rant over.

The Movie had Little to do with thier kids, The Director, had not planned on making a second movie, if they were, they wouldn't have ended the first one the way they did. they put up to be contiunded up has a joke. And a few years later they were stuck with it.

but what about Gargoyles? they time traveled alot.

what about the Movie time Mechine?

#16 Posted by InnerVenom123 (29510 posts) - - Show Bio

Dan Slott's ASM is freaking awesome.

#17 Posted by ComicMan24 (147055 posts) - - Show Bio

It was a nice issue and ASM is a very nice book. As for time travel, I am not really a fan but I liked it here.

#18 Posted by nonfiction91 (1704 posts) - - Show Bio

time travel is a million variables, I dont know how writers keep it straight AND logical in a months time. I'll only read ones like this though, where the traveler only has half an idea of how it all works, like the rest of us lol

#19 Posted by Jonny_Anonymous (35153 posts) - - Show Bio
@BatClaw89 said:
DCU has set rules for time travel. but it could change in the new 52 since no one can travel through time right now since flashpont.
Yea so they said yet in Action Comics future versions of the LoSH (with better costumes than the ones in there own book) and Superman traveld back in time to the Fortress of Solitude
#20 Posted by Wowlock (257 posts) - - Show Bio

I seemed to never get used to these Timetravel stories, as you said, being too open-ended. The ''logical'' thing is when you change ANYTHING in the past ( example , you drink a coffee that someone else going to drink ) , even your presence, WILL alter the future timeline. So far, this presentation of Time Travel seems to be the closest one to being '' logical''

I know you gotta enjoy the stories without thinking too much about it but I am just worried that sometimes these Time Travel stories only Spin-off to more ''weirder'' places :D

So basicly what I am saying, I like a good time travel aspect as much as the next guy... until the writers mess things up and creating un-explainable moves on the story that would ultimately put you off...

#21 Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus (6836 posts) - - Show Bio

Gotta love time travel in comics and all the inevitable messes it causes. But I truly had not thought of the possibility of absence in time travel until I had read this particular article, and now that I have, it really makes me look at the very idea in a new light and its implications were it actually to be real. Now I will for certain have to go back and watch the Back to the Future movies to gain a more fuller understanding. This was a very thought provoking piece today!

#22 Posted by AlKusanagi (652 posts) - - Show Bio

The first time they ever traveled to the future the kids may not be there, but they obviously returned to their own time and proceeded to have kids which means when they travel to the future the kids they are seeing belong to their future selves that have already traveled to the future and returned to their own time. So the kids of their current selves are the kids of their future selves which has already traveled to and returned to the future making them their past selves as well?

PS. A wizard did it.

#23 Edited by sesquipedalophobe (4766 posts) - - Show Bio

Changing history, journeying into the future, alternate realities, the multiverse... none of these theories are possible. Scientists who back these ideas are con artists. The writers who sell these stories are fictional themselves.

#24 Posted by EdBlank (574 posts) - - Show Bio

Cool story Breh, but........ time travel is bulls***. 1) if it were possible the Universe would keep resetting like a CD with a scratch on it until a scenario where time travel was never invented occurs. The only Univere that can play out from start to finish is one without time travel. Those with time travel are stuc in a infinite loop of people going back and undoing things. How is the f*** can one person going back in time create another UNIVERSE? Do you know how much evergy it takes to create a Universe? A whole Universe worth, that's how much. If every subatomic particle in the one guy was converted to it's constituent energy and he exploded like a nuke, it wouldn't be enough energy to even destroy our moon let alone create a Universe. That's just stupid. Lastly: the atoms you are made of are connected to each other in the fourth dimension: time. If you shift this atom right here >>> by a day, it's "past" and "future" selves (in quotes becuase it's really just one 4D object not infinte "moments")would also shift by a day. This isn't a problem until you realize that you are made up of entirely different particles now than you were when you were six. So - ignoring the above reasons why this wouldn't even work - the "present" you might be fine but the you from 2016 would be torn in half becuase he stil has some of the particles you have now and some new ones. Once the common ones shift and the new ones are left behind that "future" self is toast. I will keep beating this drum becuase it makes me mad. After saying all that, the premise of this issue is very clever.

#25 Posted by EdBlank (574 posts) - - Show Bio

Oh and another thing: if time travel were ever possible humans would travel to every possible time. We would know about it becuase we would have always known about time travel. Humans would have existed since the very first day that it was possible to exist on the face of Earth becuase we would have traveled there and colonized it. We would have overrun the Earth long ago, before we were said to have even existed.

#26 Posted by EpicMeltDown (79 posts) - - Show Bio

I don't see a problem with Back to the Future 2's showing of Marty visiting his children in the future. In a linear non time travel existence you can say: I can't be in two places at once. If I am at work I am not at home. But to try to impose those same rules on time travel is a bit short sighted. If I travel 24 hours into the future then I didn't exist during those 24 hours? Why? Without time traveling I can be said to exist in multiple times at once. If you want to break it down to years without looking at the future then I exist in 30 different years. So for me to exist now doesn't diminish my existence 20 years ago 10 years ago or 5 minutes ago. So it's perfectly possible for Peter Parker to exist now and 24 hours from now and 10 hours from now. Now if you're going with a present centric version of time (IE: the most important moment is always the present) then the implication is that different rules apply to right now versus any time in the future or in the past. But what is 'present' is too subjective to adequately define. When Peter steps through the portal is 24 hours later the present or is the moment he came from the present? The point with this is that Peter is moving through time and will continue to do so. His actions in what we think of as the present are no more important then his actions in the past or in the future. So 'present' (by our reckoning) Peter Parker may be 24 hours in the future but future Peter Parker will be stepping back through the portal and continue to exist during those 24 hours in Peter's personal future. So there is no good reason to assume that he wouldn't exist during the 24 hours that present Peter seems to have "skipped over".

All that having been said, I think that the notion of changing time is ridiculous and prefer time travel stories that employ the Novikov self-consistency principle. And also, while time travel to the past is still the stuff of fiction, time travel to the future is absolutely real. Our space program has shown that gravity and one's speed can serve to warp space time enough for a person to skip over moments in time relative to another point in space time. The closer you get to the speed of light the more space time is warped. You would experience time normally but upon finishing your journey you would discover that time had passed more slowly for you relative to those who had not been traveling. That is what astronauts experience while traveling in fast moving rockets into space. The effect only allows them to travel into the future by a few fractions of a second but it's measurable. Traveling further into the future is just a matter of speed and energy to maintain that speed.

#27 Posted by Inverno (13292 posts) - - Show Bio

Why do I have the remote, slight feeling that if Marvel regret One More Day they will...? I may be wrong but just saying...

#28 Posted by benhoot (18 posts) - - Show Bio

@EpicMeltDown: I think you missed the point. Once Peter Parker goes through the portal, he is seeing the future as if he wasn't there. Him going through the portal back to the "present" has not happened yet which is why he see's New York destroyed. Only once he makes and acts on the decision to go back through the portal will he be put back into the timeline resulting in a future that he is apart of.

This, however, all boils down to whether our actions are preordained or if we have free-will. If we're puppets or our own puppeteers.

#29 Posted by EpicMeltDown (79 posts) - - Show Bio

@benhoot: I see the point as you and the article described. My intention was to refute the logic behind it. If the future world exists for Peter to see it then why wouldn't Peter's future self and actions also exist. He may be looking at the future then but certainly he will continue to exist in the future and make decisions. The entire future world 24 hours later is full of numerous people who've made numerous decisions. Why not Peter's future decision also? IE: Going back in time and existing during the previous 24 hours. I think ultimately it comes down to how you view time and travel with in it. I think that's where we're really in disagreement.

#30 Posted by HackedLife (6 posts) - - Show Bio

The author (as well as some commenters) is trying to apply logic to a concept that is pure fantasy. It would be like trying to argue what is the most realistic way to kill Vampires . . . silver bullets or wooden stakes? The "rules" of time travel (or killing Vampires) are specific to whatever story they exist in. You can not apply logic to it.

#31 Posted by feargalr (1157 posts) - - Show Bio

In back to the future, the kids existed because at some point marty went back to his time, and had those kids, that always happened, therefore it doesn't matter that he wasn't in the present cos he eventually was going to be. That makes much more sense than the spiderman time travel, though it does set up a good story so Id be willing to forgive the writers

#32 Posted by EpicMeltDown (79 posts) - - Show Bio

@HackedLife: If you can't apply some degree of logic to fictional stories then what are we all doing here? :)

#33 Posted by Mutant4life (20 posts) - - Show Bio

I wish my job had a breakroom of tomorrow morrow morrow

#34 Posted by SickNarsh (2 posts) - - Show Bio
Of course it could be argued that because they would eventually return to their present, everything would be righted and they would go on to have their kids, etc, etc. That's too easy of an explanation and time travel is anything but easy.

You know what really is easy? Disregarding an argument as being too easy. If it were so easy an argument, it would also be easily refutable, right? Your premises are that the smallest of action has tremendous consequences on the future an that we live on a unique timeline. Let's roll with this.

The problem here, I think, is that time travel should not be considered differently whether it's toward the past of the future, because it has the same implication. If one goes in the past, is he not also absent from his time-stream? For how long? It depends when exactly he returns from the past. As you said, what is really important to understand is that (assuming we adhere to a high entropy conception of the universe) any act on the past has tremendous consequences on what is to happen in the time-steam. Maybe these consequences can even prevent him to travel in the future as well. Following the idea of a single timeline, traveling to the past would create more often than not a paradox that would kill the conditions in which the travel happened or the means to time-travel themselves. That would cancel any modification made to the past, restore everything and put back the conditions for time travel and messing with history. And that's completely boring. We do want to know what would happen if we changed the future, hence the alternate universe and the separate time-line.

The same goes for the future: the problem of traveling in the future is not the absence of the time traveler in the time stream since, as you said, he could always come back two seconds after departing. Hell two seconds before departing. What would change things though is the knowledge brought from the future in his own time-stream. If you travel from ta (present) to tb (futur) and see an horrible, horrible future, you probably will try to prevent it. In the same mechanic as before, a little change in ta will mess things in tb and will keep it from ever happening. If tb never happened (because of you) what did you see in the future that made you want to mess things up in ta? You destroyed the conditions of you own time travel. It makes it absolutely impossible to see the future via time-travel. That leads to the very same boring paradox as with traveling to the past and why future should also have alternative universes.

By this logic, if we stick to the premises that there is only one timeline and that the butterfly effect is at work, it is not the absence of Spider-man in this 24 hours that destroyed New-York, because if he really had a say in that accident he could not see a stable future through the door as whatever he would do would change the future itself. But, for narrative means, I do not think that New-York will actually be destroyed. Spider-Man has to save the day or start packing boxes. We have to conclude that the future in which New-York is destroyed cannot be anything else than an alternate universe. So if the Back to the Future conception of time travel is clingy, it's because a more chaotic point of view would not have been fun. At all.

#35 Edited by onyxwave (55 posts) - - Show Bio

@TheWitchingHour said:

I seriously love everything going on in Amazing Spider-Man right now. But I do have a little issue with G-Man and Dan Slott's theory. Just because you travel forward in time 24 hours doesn't mean you can't travel back in time the instant after you left in the first place. In theory Peter or Marty Mcfly could travel as far in the future as they wanted to go and as long as they returned the instant after they left nothing would change right?

Not necessarily...going along with the whole Back to the Future movie concept, which contradicts itself, remember in part 1 of the trilogy, before Marty took the machine to the past, first Doc sent the dog 1 minute into the future with the machine. Now remember, for that 1 minute, the dog didn't exist in the present because he was traveling through time and didn't reappear until that 1 minute had gone by. Also, Doc checked the watch he had and compared it to the watch the dog had around his neck and his watch was 1 minute faster than the dog's watch proving that the dog traveled through time instantaneous. So, anything could have happened while the dog was out of the regular time stream. So, the original poster has a point here that once you step out of the time stream to travel to the future, you can no longer exist in the present because you left the present time stream. So, Back to the Future Part 2 totally contradicts the events that happened in back to the Future Part 1. Marty and Jennifer couldn't both take themselves out of the present time stream and still somehow exist in the present to have children and see these children in the future...that just wouldn't be possible.

#36 Posted by Guardiandevil83 (6109 posts) - - Show Bio

@EdBlank: But for all we know the government (in the future) have been meddling with the present (they'er past) to shape the world into what they wanted it to be. It would prove why everything we know is a lie.

#37 Posted by WizardofSmiles (37 posts) - - Show Bio

My back to the future problem is with 3. When the car gets shot by the arrow and the gas pours out.. all they had to do was go to the cave where the car was wrapped up and ready for Marty in the 50's.. Problem fixed.

#38 Posted by The Impersonator (5620 posts) - - Show Bio

Fascinating!

#39 Posted by Jackson_Hartley (161 posts) - - Show Bio

Never approach a subject like Time-travel like you know the ins and outs of it. Its nothing more than theories and sci-fi fancy.

#40 Posted by Mega_spidey01 (3078 posts) - - Show Bio

interesting can't wait to read thin in trades. i think groundhog day does a good job using time travel. of course he gets stuck in a time loop. which mean you have to to do something different everyday otherwise everyday is the same.

#41 Posted by dcfox (164 posts) - - Show Bio

Didn't Dr. Doom have a device that allowed you to travel through time without that divergence, doom locks? It was in that issue of X-Factor when Layla brought Jamie to the future. I could totally be misremembering it, though.

#42 Posted by Swiffer (54 posts) - - Show Bio

Like the article G-man. How time travel is explained has always intrigued me. Best time travel story/explanation IMO is the movie "Primer"

#43 Posted by Watcherg6 (263 posts) - - Show Bio

So if there was time travel, the world would blow up?

#44 Posted by thecomicscove (164 posts) - - Show Bio

I'll admit, I like this particular take on time travel, and will likely look into this issue for it. On the other hand, the various schools of thought with regard to how time travel *actually* works all have one thing in common: they're un-provable until time travel actually occurs. In the mean time, I'm happy to look at all the possible types and consequences of time travel as they're told in so many versions.

Time travel, like so many other devices, is common plot device. I think we should treat it and all its permutations as such. Should it be abused? Of course not (unless you have a title specifically dedicated to time traveling). But I see nothing wrong with the Back to the Future explanation of time travel any more than I do with the Days of Future Past time travel, or the myriad forms of time travel explored in Star Trek shows.

In short, let's enjoy it for what it is: good storytelling. Well, at least, in the hands of a good writer, it is. :)

#45 Posted by Ugbug (23 posts) - - Show Bio

Back to the Future's version of time travel was flawed, but in the end who cares? They were great popcorn movies. If a serious Sci Fi movie has similar flaws then it deserves our derision, but a family comedy I can give a pass to.

This was an excellent article about an excellent comic, no doubt up there in the top few of the week.

for my favorite perspective on time travel, refer to Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Campaign for Real Time:

" ... not only had the great Cathedral of Chalesm been pulled down in order to build a new ion refinery, but that the construction of the refinery had taken so long, and had had to extend so far into the past in order to allow production to start on time, that the Cathedral of Chalesm had now never been built in the first place. Picture postcards of the Cathedral now became immensely valuable."

full extract here: http://www.realhhg.com/hhgpage.php?page=time

:P

#46 Posted by SkybornLord (850 posts) - - Show Bio

I have to read that Spider-man

#47 Posted by JJonahJameson (3 posts) - - Show Bio

Ha! A future without that costumed menace. There's food for thought!

#48 Posted by greencrapweasel (136 posts) - - Show Bio

i really like all the ideas about going into the future no matter what the specifications to it

then again i'm just a fan of time travel so that's no surprise

#49 Edited by master_wright (59 posts) - - Show Bio

As far as time travel in comics goes I love those stories, I mean Days of Future Past, c'mon. I love that there are is not set absolute future fro the Marvel Universe. They even covered this in the first issue of Avengers 2010 Volume. They literally illustrate that is no certain future anywhere in Marvel, thank God too. I mean there just aren't too many good futures in Marvel anyway.

Yeah it's cool that someone did think well if you go into the futrue how can you at the same time be in the present, but to be honest they did the same thing in Superman The Animated Series. Losi Lane went into the future where Lex Luthor an Superman ruled a totalitarin state of Metropolsis together, so the idea isn't really hard to grasp at all. It's great to see in Spiderman though, It really illustrates his place as primre hero.

#50 Posted by RedR0bin (73 posts) - - Show Bio

Just spent 15min drawing out different timetravel theories after reading this article. Time well spent?

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