The Infinite Spider-Man Part 5.4: Time Travel

Posted by Mister Mets 27 October 2011

There have been some arguments regarding the rules of time travel within the Marvel Universe, and whether One More Day violated those principles. In some stories it had been suggested that any instance of time travel creates a parallel universe.

But in the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards explained that the Universe sometimes corrects itself. If it's not Marvel's official explanation, it should sufficiently muddy the waters so that a reader is unable to definitively state that time manipulation doesn't work the way it was presented in OMD.

In a post at CBR, Dan Slott elaborates regarding the "rules" of time travel in Marvel Comics.

There is no ONE official position for time travel.

Though some characters HAVE stated certain rules, we have seen time and again in comics from the FIRST Marvel time travel stories in the 60's up to present day where they do NOT adhere fast to ANY one rule.

The rules of Marvel time travel have even been broken IN stories where those rules have been clearly stated-- when you bother to take the time to work out those stories' own internal logic.

In response to the suggestion that time travel in fiction needs more explanations than OMD/ OMIT provided, he countered...

I'm sorry that something as wondrous as magic can't be a component of time travel in your view of fiction-- despite the number of times it HAS been used in the Marvel Universe... and going all the way back to one of the greatest time travel stories of all time, Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL where ghosts were the instruments of moving through time.

The Marvel Universe is a tapestry woven by many hands. Different writers will find comfort in some pre-established rules, others will find interesting wrinkles in other pre-established rules, and still others will want to travel down different paths and establish rules of their own.

Some argue that Marvel's trying to have it both ways, trying to suggest that the marriage was significant enough to limit the writers, but not significant enough to have actually affected previous stories. in a substantial way. This goes back to Quesada's point that for the most part, any story you could do with a married Spider-Man could be told just as easily with an unmarried Spider-Man, while the same is not true of any story you could do with an unmarried Spider-Man. So, the absence of the marriage made a difference in OMIT in a way that it would not have made a difference in any preceding story. And the rules presented in OMD also helped.

Since Mephisto explicitly said that he was manipulating things to remove the marriage while keeping almost everything else intact, there's an official explanation for why the changes were so minimal. This doesn't confirm that the marriage was unimportant, suggesting that it was difficult for Mephisto to change the universe to fit the requirements of the deal.

The "For want of a nail" proverb is often mentioned in any arguments about this, but it suggests a misunderstanding regarding causality. While an individual nail has the potential to make a difference, it doesn't always happen. Thanks to What If?, readers have been conditioned to think otherwise.

There are some semantics questions about whether time travel actually occurred in OMD/ OMIT, or whether it was something else entirely, such as a delivery from an alternate world. There were some suggestions that whatever was sent back in time would no longer exist once that timeline was altered, although sci-fi stories have conditioned us to discount that particular paradox. In the Marvel Universe, we've had storylines in which characters have have had consequential encounters with individuals or objects from possible futures. When those futures no longer exist, the ramifications on the "present" still remain.

There may be a concern that the multiple timelines would make the book prohibitively confusing for the readers. The books rarely reference the "real" timeline in which Peter and MJ were married, and it's readily explainable to anyone who could understand It’s a Wonderful Life, Back to the Future (maybe that’s why Bob Gale was on the book) or the right episodes of Family Guyand Futurama, which have dealt with similar plots.

Some readers were confused about what's changed and what hasn't, but in most cases the specific backstory isn't that important. All the writers had to do was clearly establish the status of the characters in the book. The specifics of how the Brand New Day status quo was reached was largely unnecessary. All the readers need to know to understand the new books is whether Venom hates Spider‑Man (easy to establish) or whether Kraven or Harry are dead, and that’s only when that’s relevant for a storyline. How long it took Spider‑Man to stop wearing the black costume isn’t much of an issue for the average Spider‑Man VS Vulture storyline.

The Rest of the Marvel Universe

There was some concern about whether the changes in OMD/ OMIT should have had more of an impact on the Marvel Universe, although the marriage’s effect on events in other titles has usually been minimal. While Peter was watching a movie with Mary Jane when he found out about the prison break-in which led to him joining the New Avengers in the first issue of that series, there’s no reason to assume that he wouldn’t have joined the Avengers if not for MJ. Bendis doesn’t even need to establish any possible subtle ways events in New Avengers would be different without MJ. All the reader needs to know is whether Spider-Man is an Avenger, and whether the others know his identity, both of which have been established.

The queries do tie into another topic of examination: Did Marvel succeed at defining what happened in One More Day?


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