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  1. #1
    Member Since Jun 2009 thecrimson's Avatar
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    Default Understanding the nature of time travel in the Marvel universe

    I started thinking about time travel (thanks 12 Monkeys) and how it is used in Marvel comics, but I'm really confused on the mechanics. I looked it up on the Marvel wiki and I'm even more confused. The way it explained it is that a time traveler is actually travelling through dimensions and not really to their true past or future; they're travelling to an alternate timeline that is identical to the one they originate from up to the point they arrive. Which explains why Bishop can be from one designated universe, but when he travels backwards he ends up in the 616 universe. However, if this is the case what's the point of any character travelling back in time to 'fix' something or even forward in time? Wouldn't that change nothing in their own native timeline? It certainly seems to make the comic All-New X-Men sorta pointless since the characters Beast has brought to the present are just from some alternate past and not 616's past.

    If someone really knowledgeable can explain this to me, I'd appreciate it. Feel free to use diagrams.

  2. #2
    Incredible Member Bafflement's Avatar
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    That view of time-travel is one of the more logically-consistent ones, and it's close to the informal guide-lines for time-travel that Marvel allegedly had formulated internally. However, not all writers stick to these rules of time-travel, so it ends up working in a huge variety of different ways depending on the story arc. Unfortunately, this means you're sometimes at the mercy of writers like Bendis, who thinks that 'Back to the Future' is a good model for writing about time-travel.

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    Member Since Jun 2009 thecrimson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bafflement View Post
    That view of time-travel is one of the more logically-consistent ones, and it's close to the informal guide-lines for time-travel that Marvel allegedly had formulated internally. However, not all writers stick to these rules of time-travel, so it ends up working in a huge variety of different ways depending on the story arc. Unfortunately, this means you're sometimes at the mercy of writers like Bendis, who thinks that 'Back to the Future' is a good model for writing about time-travel.
    So wouldn't that make using time travel as a plot pointless? If they're actually travelling to a parallel timeline, the changes they make don't actually carry over to their native timeline when they return, right? So if Spider-Man goes back and saves Gwen, when he returns to the present nothing has changed but now there's either a new timeline where he saved Gwen. Or am I understanding it wrong?

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    Incredible Member Bafflement's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thecrimson View Post
    So wouldn't that make using time travel as a plot pointless? If they're actually travelling to a parallel timeline, the changes they make don't actually carry over to their native timeline when they return, right? So if Spider-Man goes back and saves Gwen, when he returns to the present nothing has changed but now there's either a new timeline where he saved Gwen. Or am I understanding it wrong?
    Well, you can still have a situation where he returns to a slightly different timeline than the one he left, even if the original still exists.

    Say Spidey tries to go back in time 5 years or so and make a change. He travels to a universe that's identical to his except for being displaced by 5 years, and changes something. Then he attempts to return to his original timeline, but his method of travel actually means he ends up in a slightly different one. This new timeline is identical to his original one except that 5 years ago a version of Spidey from yet another timeline arrived in it briefly and made the same change to history that Spidey just made in his travels.

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    Member Since Jun 2009 thecrimson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bafflement View Post
    Well, you can still have a situation where he returns to a slightly different timeline than the one he left, even if the original still exists.

    Say Spidey tries to go back in time 5 years or so and make a change. He travels to a universe that's identical to his except for being displaced by 5 years, and changes something. Then he attempts to return to his original timeline, but his method of travel actually means he ends up in a slightly different one. This new timeline is identical to his original one except that 5 years ago a version of Spidey from yet another timeline arrived in it briefly and made the same change to history that Spidey just made in his travels.
    So would he not be in 616 anymore?

  6. #6
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    The divergent timelines concept has been how time travel has traditionally worked, but since "Age of Ultron," when "time is broken" became a thing -- and since the Incursions in "Avengers"/"New Avengers" started wiping out universes -- new timelines are no longer being created and it is actually possible to disrupt the flow of time within one's native universe.

    So, the original five X-Men that Beast brought to the present are supposed to be authentically 616.

  7. #7
    Incredible Member Bafflement's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thecrimson View Post
    So would he not be in 616 anymore?
    That depends on which of the timelines was actually 616.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator Expletive Deleted's Avatar
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    The classic MU time travel approach is that any time travel creates an alternate timeline and you can't really change the past. As for why characters would go back, if they can't change anything . . . they don't know that. That said, while it was the "official" explanation, there were a lot of cases of writers going in different directions. When you read the stuff on the wikis or in the Handbook, quite a bit that is after-the-fact rationalization.

    Currently, all rules are out the window, after the end of Age of Ultron. We won't really get a clear picture of how the All New X-Men's trip is going to affect anything until the storyline wraps up, at some point.

    Quote Originally Posted by thecrimson View Post
    So would he not be in 616 anymore?
    Strictly speaking, yes. Except it's not.

    This is one of those situations where the creation of all of these rules and structures and systems runs up against the fact that the MU is fictional. The MU we read about each week is going to be 616, regardless of whatever time travel shenanigans take place.
    Last edited by Expletive Deleted; 01-20-2015 at 06:30 AM.

  9. #9
    Boisterously Confused
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    Quote Originally Posted by Expletive Deleted View Post
    The classic MU time travel approach is that any time travel creates an alternate timeline and you can't really change the past. ... Currently, all rules are out the window, after the end of Age of Ultron. We won't really get a clear picture of how the All New X-Men's trip is going to affect anything until the storyline wraps up, at some point.
    That was one of the cleverer dodges built into time travel stories. As long as they don't irreparably damage or disfigure any of the original five X-Men, they can always eventually claim that Prof. X mind-wiped them. Which is not to say that I agree with the treatments or characterizations, but it was clever.

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    Astonishing Member Derek Metaltron's Avatar
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    Interesting to think how many stories have ties to time travel... Days of Future Past, Age of Apocalypse, that Thing story in Marvel Team Up, the whole O5 thing... but like people said, Age of Ultron (and probably eventually Secret Wars) are shifting the rules as far as time travel and parallel dimensions/possible futures are concerned.

  11. #11
    Astonishing Member Habis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thecrimson View Post
    So wouldn't that make using time travel as a plot pointless? If they're actually travelling to a parallel timeline, the changes they make don't actually carry over to their native timeline when they return, right? So if Spider-Man goes back and saves Gwen, when he returns to the present nothing has changed but now there's either a new timeline where he saved Gwen. Or am I understanding it wrong?
    Yes, and that's why it's a good idea. If time travel changes your own past and present, then everything you do loses relevance: You kill somebody? Travel back in time and stop yourself. You fail to save somebody? Travel back in time and try again. You forgot your wife's birthday too many times and she divorces you? Travel back in time and buy yourself a notebook. You fall in love and marry with a person who is in fact a skrull spy? Travel back in time and warn yourself. Aliens have infiltrating human society and are preparing a coup? Travel back in time and warm yourself. Ultron destroys Humanity? Travel back in time and tell Hank Pym...etc.

    The only way to prevent that, other than using divergent parallel realities, is to make time travel very dangerous due to the butterfly effect, but if the situation is bad enough, people would still take their chances with time travel.
    Last edited by Habis; 01-20-2015 at 12:56 PM.

  12. #12
    Mighty Member Baron of Faltine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Habis View Post
    Yes, and that's why it's a good idea. If time travel changes your own past and present, then everything you do loses relevance: You kill somebody? Travel back in time and stop yourself. You fail to save somebody? Travel back in time and try again. You forgot your wife's birthday too many times and she divorces you? Travel back in time and buy yourself a notebook. You fall in love and marry with a person who is in fact a skrull spy? Travel back in time and warn yourself. Aliens have infiltrating human society and are preparing a coup? Travel back in time and warm yourself. Ultron destroys Humanity? Travel back in time and tell Hank Pym...etc.

    The only way to prevent that, other than using divergent parallel realities, is to make time travel very dangerous due to the butterfly effect, but if the situation is bad enough, people would still take their chances with time travel.
    And this is actually become a problem with Time travle in Marvel U, as it become more and more abused, to the point that the heroes don't even take in consideration other options. No. Straight to the time travel. Not helping that everyone from the future, even a near future, seem to always have edges in everything! (everybody is a kick-ass engineer and astrophysisc with the whole wiki of history of 20-21th century in detail Memorized in the future!! I was going to add ripped martial artist too...but the pear shaped Zarrko seem to deny this theory) and yet they come to the past for...what exactly? At least in Dofp(one of the best usage of time travel in Marvel Comics), the whole point was indeed a suicide mission to completely ERASE an awful abysmal future, that instead seem to be stuck in existance no matter what (we should add the "self fullfilling prophecy" to the flaws of Time Travel apparently) but other iteraction had left some dubious reasons.

  13. #13
    Astonishing Member vitruvian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Expletive Deleted View Post
    The classic MU time travel approach is that any time travel creates an alternate timeline and you can't really change the past. As for why characters would go back, if they can't change anything . . . they don't know that.
    Except the Marvel Two-In-One story that introduced this concept most concretely established not only that that's how it works, but that Reed Richards did know very well that that was how it works, and that he told Ben Grimm. So, unless those two characters alone know it and have been keeping it secret all along, the characters most likely to go time traveling do know it.

  14. #14
    Astonishing Member Powerboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thecrimson View Post
    I started thinking about time travel (thanks 12 Monkeys) and how it is used in Marvel comics, but I'm really confused on the mechanics. I looked it up on the Marvel wiki and I'm even more confused. The way it explained it is that a time traveler is actually travelling through dimensions and not really to their true past or future; they're travelling to an alternate timeline that is identical to the one they originate from up to the point they arrive. Which explains why Bishop can be from one designated universe, but when he travels backwards he ends up in the 616 universe. However, if this is the case what's the point of any character travelling back in time to 'fix' something or even forward in time? Wouldn't that change nothing in their own native timeline? It certainly seems to make the comic All-New X-Men sorta pointless since the characters Beast has brought to the present are just from some alternate past and not 616's past.

    If someone really knowledgeable can explain this to me, I'd appreciate it. Feel free to use diagrams.
    It's the same as the Star Trek syndrome. How time travel works just is not consistent.

    When a person travels back in time and changes something, he should then travel forward to his own time and find his changes are in effect. But he's really in the divergent reality he caused himself and has vanished from his original reality. But it's not presented that way in many stories though it is in some.

    One of the best stories I saw for illustration was Ben Grimm going back and curing himself shortly after he became the Thing only to return to the present and still be the Thing and realize all he did was cause a divergent reality. Although even that alters how time travel works as he returned to his own time in his original timeline rather than the divergent one he caused.

  15. #15
    Astonishing Member cranger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vitruvian View Post
    Except the Marvel Two-In-One story that introduced this concept most concretely established not only that that's how it works, but that Reed Richards did know very well that that was how it works, and that he told Ben Grimm. So, unless those two characters alone know it and have been keeping it secret all along, the characters most likely to go time traveling do know it.
    There is a difference in what Reed Richards believes and what everyone else believes, though. Whether the understanding of time travel ever becomes widespread or not in the MU there will always be someone desperate enough to gamble that the Reed Richards' of the world are wrong.

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