Time travel has always been a concept that is synonymous with superhero comics. After all, superheroes drew influence from early pulp and sci-fi stories where time travel was stock in trade. <p>But it’s still a complex concept to grasp. It’s easy to botch a time travel story, and comic books have had their share of tales that simply don’t work. On the other hand, when time travel is done right, it makes for some of the most compelling stories ever told. <p>With time travel once again becoming a major comic book trope – <i>Back to the Future</i>, <i>Dr. Who</i>, and <i>Bill and Ted</i> are all returning in comic book form – we thought it high time to take a look at some time travel tales that still resonate to this day. Here are ten of the most mind-bending time travel stories in comic books!
DC Comics kickstarted the idea of time-tossed teen heroes all the way back in 1958, when <i>Adventure Comics #247</i> introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes into Superboy’s mythology. <p>As Earth’s greatest hero, Clark Kent built legacy so strong that it gave rise to the Legion of Super-Heroes, young crimefighters so inspired by Superman that they actually traveled back in time from the 30th century to recruit young Clark Kent. <p>One of comic books’ first time paradoxes – Clark Kent inspired the Legion, while the Legion helped him become the hero that would inspire them – Superboy’s adventures with the Legion had him hopping back and forth in time. This might seem like a dangerous prospect, but in order to preserve the space-time continuum, Superboy would immediately forget his adventures in the future upon returning to his own time.
What could make the first appearance of Victor Von Doom, from <em>Fantastic Four</em> #5, even more awesome? The fact that, instead of <em>fight</em> the FF, he just throws them back in time like it's no big deal. <p>And it only gets better from there: back in the past, the FF meet up with pirates and we discover that the Thing is actually infamous pirate scourge Blackbeard. In some glorious parallel universe all time-travel comics were this insane and packed; the story is over and done with in just 23 pages and everyone is happier as a result.
My continual pick for most-overlooked <em>Avengers</em> arc ever, Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom's time-travel love letter to the Marvel Universe sees the team split across multiple different eras, sending messages back and forth and also bumping into other Marvel heroes as they too cross the time stream from earlier stories. <p>Taking things to the height of absurdity and beyond, this is pretty much the only example of increasingly-confusing, melodramatic-yet-unerringly-awesome time travel superhero fiction that you'll ever need. Especially when Moon Knight gets involved.
You'd think that traveling to the past would be problematic for a hero so reliant on technology, and as this two-parter from 1981 (apparently, a great year for Marvel time travel stories) demonstrated, you'd be right... to a point. <p>Of course, Doctor Doom and his time platform are involved, but what makes this standout amongst other similar tales is watching Tony Stark get out of his transistorized comfort zone without losing any of his steely (literally) cool. Plus, of course, there's Doctor Doom doing what he does (scheme, monologue as much as possible).
What can make time-travel stories about one character traveling back in time to prevent another character making a bad decision even stranger? When the identity of the latter character is changed at the last moment because fans had guessed their identity, making the story contradict itself and suffer through an explanation that pretty much defeated the purpose of everything that came before. <p><em>Armageddon 2001</em>, in which a time traveler from a dystopian future attempted to stop a superhero from going rogue and taking over the world, is pretty much a great idea suffering through an execution that goes truly horribly wrong right at the final hurdle. Epic fail, as Nova would say.
Finally, a story that allows a character to actually follow through on their threat to change history! Admittedly, what resulted from that change was an even-more dystopian world that increased the amount of haircut disasters by more than 100 percent, but still. <p>For four glorious months, there was a feeling that maybe all of this time travel stuff could have long-lasting repercussions for the mainline Marvel Universe (and hey, characters like Nate Grey and Dark Beast are still floating around, plus AoA Nightcrawler on X-Force), and that alone was worth any amount of pain that Scott Summers' makeover brought.
For what is essentially a summer blockbuster of a comic, there's some great cause and effect time travel nonsense in <em>DC One Million</em>: The evil villain in the future is responsible for his own creation in the past! The heroes win the day because of a plan they set in motion 831 centuries earlier! <p>Grant Morrison's writing really takes full advantage of the narrative possibilities offered by time travel, ending up with a story that's far smarter than it seems on first reading, as well as one of the few time travel stories that dares to suggest a better future world than the one we currently have.
Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco and Roger Stern get to play Fantasy League Avengers with a team drawn from the past, present and future as they set out to finally explain away the origins of time traveling villains Kang and Immortus. <p>Gleefully playing with history, continuity and expectations, this is one of those stories that manages to make things you already know seem fresh and full of possibilities, as well as sneakily turning you into a fan of Yellowjacket in the process without you even realizing it. How did <em>that</em> happen?
More Morrison and more ridiculous cross-time planning as Bruce Wayne goes on a trip through history and creates the own bat-centric mythology that will influence his decision to become Batman, as well as the creation of the organization trying to destroy him in another story arc altogether, and there's also the heat death of the universe in the far future and and and... <p>Okay, in many ways "The Return of Bruce Wayne" makes no sense and owes a lot to the kind of easter egg-laden continuity porn that Englehart perfected in "Lost in Space-Time," but that's hardly a bad thing, especially when it's so beautifully illustrated as this series was. If only all comics could be this prettily obsessed with their own mythology...
The time travel story that changed everything for the X-Men, and created literally decades of stories that followed, 1981's "Days of Future Past" two-parter allowed the Claremont/Byrne team to go out with a bang. Yes, I know that they did another couple of issues afterwards, but let's pretend they didn't and gave the franchise's entire "Feared and Hated By The World They Have Sworn To Protect" concept more juice than it had previously enjoyed. And all achieved without any of our core cast actually traveling in time! <p>Three decades later, this is still an amazing story, being invoked when Brian Bendis brought the original teen X-Men to the present day – where they still remain - and, of course, serving as the named inspiration for Bryan Singer's 2014 film. The <i>Days of Future Past</i> timeline was also revisited as a tie-in to this year's <i>Secret Wars</i> event.