Innovative Lessons on Temporal Mechanics from Bad Silver Age Comics

Just for shits and giggles, I picked up a collection of old Silver Age Batman: Brave & the Bold comics from the library. While I still intend on focusing primarily on Modern Age, if it’s there to read for free, there’s no real reason not to check it out.

Short summary of the first adventure collected, The Brave and the Bold #59, Time Commander. John Starr, the self proclaimed Modern Day Monte Cristo, has escaped from jail, shown a film lecture with supposed evidence that he couldn’t have committed the crime of which he was found guilty, convinces the public, and makes a successful appeal to Batman to aid his cause. Batman acknowledges that Starr has made a pretty good case for his innocense. John Starr’s IMMEDIATE and inexplicable (seriously, with the public and Batman on his side, what could he hope to gain here?) betrayal comes as no shock, however, given that he is shown on the cover page battling Batman and Green Lantern. John Starr’s plan? Steal Green Lantern’s power by posing as an enervated Batman and terrorizing Gotham to blackmail the city into granting him a full pardon. I can’t stress this enough: the man who the public and EVEN BATMAN were convinced was innocent is going to blackmail the city into giving him a pardon. His original crime and supposed evidence of his innocense are tossed aside shortly after the first few pages and never really mentioned again. Can’t let that get in the way of a good Silver Age team-up story!

It’s stupid, it’s silly, it has the Whirly-Bat. So why do I feel like I have to write about it? Because of the absolutely baffling, yet novel and innovative, approach to how time works. In this story, Time is not a line. It is not a dimension. It is not some bendable flexible continuum. An object’s place is time is an attribute, as much as its mass, volume, and density. Matter can exist only in the moment in time in which it currently exists. There isn’t a ‘past’ version of an object or a ‘future’ version of an object, only the object and where it is currently in its own present. Confused yet?

Time Commander’s power is moving objects and locations in time. His strategy is to divide GL and BM and get them out of his way. He does this by sending GL one day into the past and BM one day into the future. Now, if you think of time as a continuum, all 1 day in the past GL would have to do is either find Batman from that day or wait until tomorrow to foil Time Commander. Batman, being 1 day in the future, is essentially ONLY missing from one day in time; he could try to thwart Time Commander in the day he was sent to, or he could just meet up with Green Lantern, who will have simply lived one day twice in his past. It’s implied, however, that they can’t do these things, because being sent into different times completely removes them from each other’s present reality. Green Lantern will always only exist in yesterday and Batman will always only exist in tomorrow; though they can send one another messages across time, their matter does not exist simultaneously. There are no infinite individuals existing in infinite moments, only one individual that experiences infinite moments in a fashion that we have rationalized as time. (Interestingly enough, the boardgame Omega Virus uses a similar concept of time, in that the titular virus hides itself by existing a few seconds in the future, which is why you need the Negatron to find it.)

Because Time is treated as an attribute of matter and locations, Time Commander is able to send entire sections of the city into different times. Part of the city is sent into the distant past, in which dinosaurs and volcanoes terrorize the inhabitants sent there. However for this to make sense, rather than sending the city into the past, past matter is brought into the future, which is the only way that the city which exists in the present can experience these things. I also want to know if the future in which Gotham is attacked by flying saucer men occurs canonically, and, if so, when.

Anyway, somehow, Green Lantern and Batman are able to send out a high powered Jamming signal that gets all matter that has been shifted out of their appropriate times back to where they need to be, and John Starr, a man who was well on his way to being exonerated, is thrown back into prison forever because of his stupid plan.  Still, it’s a much more thought provoking story than the subsequent one in which Batman bends Catwoman over his knee and spanks her.

It was Queen Bee, not Catwoman.  She was stealing the Cat Emerald, so I just assumed.  SORRY!

8 responses to “Innovative Lessons on Temporal Mechanics from Bad Silver Age Comics

  1. I’ve been thinking about the time travel shenanigans you described here and while I feel like I totally get it, I haven’t puzzled out all of the narrative ramifications.

    I mean, in addition to all the normal properties that things can have, they also in a “time” state, right? Let’s say one of three — Past, Present, or Future — simplified from above.

    Without the aid of time travel, things are presumably moving from one state to another in a fairly straightforward manner — Future becomes Present, Present becomes Past, Past becomes … older?

    What determines when something moves from one state to the next? How do you decide when a thing becomes a “Past” thing, or when a thing is “Futuristic?”

    Wait, what if we accounted for “Retro” stuff, or described it as a form of atavism? We could say that things in the Past resurface in the Future and create a sort of stable loop… Past becomes Future, Future becomes Present, etc.

    *mumbles rapidly and incoherently while furiously scribbling notes*


    • It’s pretty mind boggling :O
      I think that one has to assume that each moment in time exists in a universe unto itself, and moving ‘backward’ or ‘forward’ in time is actually moving laterally into that universe. If you are moved out of your present time, you simply no longer exist in that time universe, and any past you are sent to or future you are sent to is actually a wholly new universe in which you did not exist previously, or, if you did, your original iteration in that universe would be replaced with the new iteration. Hence why 1 day in the future batman couldn’t simply find the Green Lantern existing in that day or why Green Lantern couldn’t find 1 day-in-the-past batman. Or why Green Lantern didn’t encounter his past self. Being displaced from a time universe eradicated other instances of the matter transported.

      To add more ‘raw observational data’, the Time guy shines his hourglass light on Bruce Wayne to reveal him wearing the Batman costume. The costume appears from out of time onto Bruce Wayne briefly before it is sent back to its native time. I’m not entirely sure what the ramifications of this are.

      • I’ve started formulating a system for manipulating time as a narrative device. Let’s say you want to have “the world ends,” “the elves leave Middle Earth,” or “the magic comes back” as plot elements. How do you determine if, when, and how these things occur within the context of a narrative?

        In a story, things either exist or they don’t. (Conservation of Detail.) A thing has significance or it doesn’t, and it does or does not impact the story. (Chekov’s Gun, MacGuffin, Red Herring, etc.)

        Time travel has lots of ramifications on a story’s plot that can be made or broken by alternate interpretations — which mostly come into play when delivering the Aesop during story resolution, etc, etc. — so coming up with effective means of resolving time travel are important.

        Can you change the Past? Can you change the Future?

        When does the story take place?

        I think there might be a kernel of an idea here that could make time travel part of gameplay — which would certainly help make sense of the bizarre instant-resolution mechanics of most RPGs.

        E.g. NPC blacksmith forges 3 swords of power in one year, which stand the test of time. PC blacksmith forges 1 sword of power in one week because keeping the rest of party busy for longer is impossible.

        Et cetera.


      • Oh, hey, here’s a solution for your item creation, at least. Time Jars. The PC has a magic smithy in a bottle, where, while 1 year passes for him, only 1 week passes for everyone else.

        As for the first part, I’ve always heard that that was one of the biggest stumbling blocks for MERP; players would be torn between having ‘reverence for the setting’ and wanting to do awesome things, especially in the 2nd Age settings.

        In an old gamebook I had once, there was a time-travel bit, where you could be sent back in time to the battle where the castle fell; you were specifically told that you couldn’t significantly alter history or prevent the castle from falling, but events in the past might affect the present. In one of the routes, you shoot your enemy with a crossbow. While it doesn’t kill him, once you get back to the present, he takes some damage as an old wound starts acting up.

        Or, you could have a universe where the fabric of time and reality are relatively weak and treat characters who are trying to substantially change reality as though they’re slipping between one reality and the next, while having less impact than they think.

    • I think it takes the concept that matter cannot exist in the same space to the next step. Same matter cannot exist in the same time. So rather than time clones obliterating one another when they touch in the same moment in time, existing in the same time at all is enough to remove the version of the matter that was existing first. Maybe it returns after the intruding matter is shifted back to its own time?

  2. Let’s say we eliminate instant-result skill checks from the game (part of that system for making skill checks/challenges resolve like dealing damage to monsters), and the existence/absence of objects/creatures can be determined “temporally” via the proposed system above.

    PCs could use skill checks to basically “phase” things in and out of existence incrementally. Objects move into and out of gameplay based on player effort.

    The players can only care about so many things at once, let’s call that the “Law of Finite Player Attention.” xD


    • That’s a more plausible explanation than the one given in-book for bags of holding. Based on the actual description, one would never be able to find things in the bag, since objects would be lost in infinite space.

  3. Pingback: Comment on Innovative Lessons on Temporal Mechanics from Bad Silver Age Comics by Alex - Ben Affleck To play Batman in 2015

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