Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!“
Since man first became self-aware (I don’t care if we’re talking about the first ape to put on a loin cloth or Eve’s bite of an apple), the sense of regret has existed. Whether it’s that monkey wishing he’d stayed in his tree, or Eve wishing she’d had an orange instead, one of the first thoughts humanity ever pondered was “If I could just go back and change things…” No wonder, then, that the concept of time travel has been so embraced by philosopher and scientist, author and auteur alike. And to great success! Well, maybe not so much for the scientist…
Two of the most beloved properties of cinema find their stories rooted firmly in the concept of time travel. The Back to the Future series takes us on a journey backwards, then forwards, then backwards again tripping merrily through the time stream. On a much more serious note, the Terminator films feature agents of a dystopian future waging war in the present day, all to effect some sort of change in the world to come. The movies deal with the concepts of causality and the temporal paradox while still successfully weaving an intricate story of human nature – love, loss, ambition, and courage. And I have no problem with them. At all.
Even in comics, time travel has been at the heart of many a successful story, few so loved as Days of Future Past. This decade-spanning story of the X-Men gave us our first view of just how bad the world could one day be for mutants. This was a story of life and innocence lost, a grim portent of things to come and encouragement to stem the tides of anti-mutant hatred. The story’s a modern day classic, and for a reason.
The problem – and the point of this BLAARGH! – is that once you’ve introduced the concept of time travel to a serial universe, it’s there. The genie’s out of the bottle. In the movies, the idea worked because those universes were (at least somewhat) finite. Comic publishers work hard, however, to create intricate, interactive, ongoing realities in which their characters live and grow. When time travel becomes a part of those realities, it runs two great risks.
The lesser of two evils here is the bad time travel story. Any plot device can be shackles to a poorly written story, and that’s what takes some of the sting out of this. Still, it seems time travel opens itself up to this especially well. I can’t help but think of Booster Gold’s ongoing series, where the entire premise was temporal one ups-manship. The villains traveled backwards in time to prevent the birth of the future members of the Justice League, so Booster traveled back to stop them. In the end, what’s changed? Sure, there’s been character growth, but using time travel as a MacGuffin just seems weak. MacGuffins in general are weak, true, but time travel can have such resounding ramifications that it shouldn’t be thrown into the mix with “theft of important artifact” and “revenge for past wrongs.” Can someone honestly tell me what’s prevented Kang the Conqueror from, y’know, conquering the entire world? If you can travel backwards through time, how is it you can’t prevent your own ass from getting kicked? It’s just silly.
The greater offense of time travel, however, is its use as a miracle drug that can cure even the most untenable of plots. Want to resurrect a fallen character? Pull them out of the time stream moments before they died! Got a new baby you don’t want to have to raise? Ship them off to the future so they can come back fully grown! And my favorite and most recent addition to the list – being pursued by a dangerously powerful being? Run into the future! Think about THAT one for a minute. Run. Into. The future. You know what, I’m pretty sure every time I run, I run into the future, and I still can’t escape shit!
I don’t want time travel to be banished from the annals of science fiction, but editors need to put some heavy restrictions on it and ask their writers “Is there a better way?” And writers, if you get stuck on an idea… don’t just throw in a temporal wormhole as a quick fix. Shelve your story until you can write an actual resolution to the plot. Let’s save time travel for the stories that really do it justice.
Filed Under: BLAARGH!