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The 13 Most Interesting Time Travel Stories in Comics

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Al Plastino/DC Comics

In comics, time travel is as commonplace as the superhero team-up, but often just involves inconsequential time-hopping to have adventures with King Arthur or a far-future descendant. Time travel stories that take care to dance around concepts like causality and temporal paradoxes make most people’s head hurt, but these are the things that make for great stories. Here are 13 comics that did it right.

1. Weird Science Fantasy #25: "A Sound of Thunder"

Al Williamson/EC Comics

One of the most influential works of time travel fiction in any medium has to be Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story, A Sound of Thunder. It is the classic depiction of time as a fragile series of interdependent events and would inspire the phrase “The Butterfly Effect."

In the early 1950s, EC Comics took the liberty of adapting Bradbury’s story (initially, without permission or credit to Bradbury) into a seven-page comic illustrated by the great Al Williamson. It’s a gripping tale of a group of hunters who pay to go on the ultimate safari in prehistoric times to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The trip is perfectly orchestrated so as not to disrupt the ecology, even allowing hunters one shot at a predetermined dinosaur that would have been killed by a falling tree moments later anyway. When one of the hunters freaks out and tramples through the jungle—stepping on a butterfly in the process—they return to their own time to find their world has been drastically altered.

You can read this story in its entirety here.

2. Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past

John Byrne/Marvel Comics

The most popular time travel story in comics, “Days of Future Past” from Uncanny X-Men #141-142 introduced us to a dystopian future in which mutants were being hunted by the U.S. government. In a desperate attempt to change their fate, the surviving X-Men telepathically send the mind of the adult Katherine (Kitty) Pryde 30 years back and into her own teenage body so that she can prevent the assassination of a U.S. Senator—the event that would set this unfortunate future into motion.

A future that must be avoided at all costs would become the driving force behind X-Men comics for decades to come. It was an idea writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne came up with three years before The Terminator would do the same in Hollywood. Day of Future Past would, of course, inspire a film adaptation of its own in 2014—one year after the dark future of the comic was supposed to have taken place. Around this same time, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen turned the dark future trope on its head in All-New X-Men, by plucking the original Silver Age X-Men out of their past and into the present to warn them about all of the messed up events that had been happening to them recently. It was now clear that the grim turn that X-Men comics had taken in the past 30 years meant that the dark future was already here.

The “many-worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics—a theory proposed in 1957 by physicist Hugh Everett—states that time travel could be possible if the traveler accesses one of many universes that exist parallel to ours, avoiding any temporal inconsistencies. Marvel Comics operates under this theory as well and have made it clear that “Days” actually takes place in the future of Earth-811. 

3. Meanwhile

Jason Shiga

Jason Shiga’s inventive 2010 choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel Meanwhile is a perfect marriage of subject and format. The reader gets to control the decisions made by a little boy who stumbles into a scientist's laboratory that contains, among other things, a time machine. The pages of the book are marked by tabs and certain panels have color-coded paths that connect to those tabs which may jump you 20 or 30 pages ahead, causing you to read the book in a very nonlinear fashion. Shiga has released Meanwhile in many formats, including interactive apps for iOS devices, including Apple TV.

A former major in the study of abstract math concepts known as "pure mathematics,” Shiga has created a story with a total of 3865 narrative possibilities, encouraging many, many re-reads and a lot of potential for triggering temporal paradoxes and alternate timelines. You may even end up having the boy run into another version of himself. The catch to the time travel in this book is that the machine can only send you as far back as seven minutes—unless you can find clues within the story that will give you the code to unlock its full capabilities. 

4. I Killed Adolf Hitler

Jason/Fantagraphics

The idea of going back in time to kill Adolf Hitler is pretty much its own subgenre of time travel fiction. It even inspired a question asked of Republican presidential candidates this election season. Killing Hitler before he can commit the atrocities of WWII is a popular embodiment of the “Grandfather Paradox,” a concept that comes from the idea that going back in time to kill your grandparents will prevent your own birth, provided the universe and the rules of time allow that to happen. 

Norwegian cartoonist Jason is masterful at every genre he dabbles in, from crime to horror to science fiction. He does so with his trademark anthropomorphic characters and a storytelling approach that is full of literary and cinematic influences. His 2007 graphic novel I Killed Adolf Hitler is inspired by the French New Wave films of the 1960s and at its heart is not about Hitler at all, but the love story between a hitman and his often ignored girlfriend. When the hitman is hired to go back in time to WWII to assassinate Hitler, the hit goes bad and the dictator steals his time machine, leaving the hitman to have to naturally age his way back to the present in order to correct his mistakes (both personally and professionally). 

5. Mystery in Space #114: "Killing Time"

Tom Yeates/DC Comics

The dangers inherent in trying to kill Hitler played out to terrifying results in a 1980 issue of DC Comics' Mystery in Space by Gerry Conway and Tom Yeates. In this short story, a time traveler is successful in his assassination mission but is then overcome by a crowd of Nazis who steal his laser rifle, reverse-engineer it, and use the technology to conquer the world.

But, hey, that’s an easy fix, right? All it takes is for a future time traveler to go back and kill the first time traveler before he makes the mistake of killing Hitler. But then a Nazi time traveler comes back and kills him. Then someone else comes back for him, and on and on forever, creating an endless loop of assassins rewriting history.

You can read this story in near entirety here.

6. Ivar, Timewalker #4

Clayton Henry/Valiant Comics

In the mid-1980s, physicist Igor Novikov proposed the “self-consistency principle” that ruled out any form of time travel that could result in a temporal paradox. The laws of physics, which already restrict us from doing things like walking through walls, would similarly prevent a time traveler from altering the past in any way that would create inconsistency.

Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry perfectly illustrate this theory in their Valiant Comics series Ivar, Timewalker. Ivar Anni-Padda is an immortal who has spent centuries mapping “time arcs” that he uses to jump from one period of history to another. In his 2015 solo series, Ivar rescues a scientist named Neela Sethi, who is about to be murdered before she can invent a new form of time travel. Hopping from era to era, Ivar teaches Neela some of the most important tenets of time travel, particularly that the universe has a way of preventing you from tampering with it. Issue #2 demonstrates this by, you guessed it, showing how you can’t kill Hitler.

The self-consistency principle is demonstrated at its best in issue #4, in which Neela goes off on her own to prevent her father’s death. Over and over, Neela revisits this day from her youth, trying to reroute the course of her own personal history, only to have the universe persistently get in her way. Her constant failures play out in a way that is both comic and tragic. 

7. Chronocops!

Dave Gibbons/2000 A.D.

Three years before they would create 1986’s Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were honing their comic-creating skills by producing short stories for 2000 A.D. magazine. In one of the magazine's recurring features called Time Twisters, they published a five-page story called Chronocops! that is considered one of Moore’s best early works, and one that would hint at the complex narrative skills he would demonstrate later in his career.

Part satire of the television show Dragnet, part romp through all the classic tropes of time travel fiction, Chronocops! opens with our heroes, Joe Saturday and Ed Thursday, foiling a teen punk's attempt to create the typical grandfather paradox by murdering his great-grandfather. In just a few pages, Moore and Gibbons manage to pack in a dense array of sight gags, Easter eggs, and clever wordplay in a plot that unfolds forwards and backwards in time. Poor Ed gets clocked in the eye for an offense he hasn’t even committed yet and by the end he has to be stopped from marrying his grandmother and becoming his own grandfather.

You can read Chronocops! in its entirety here. It has also been collected in The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks

8. Adventure Comics #247: “The Legion of Super-Heroes

Al Plastino/DC Comics

One of comics’ classic temporal paradoxes occurred in 1958’s Adventure Comics #247, when Superboy received a visit from three teens who took him aboard their time sphere and brought him to the 30th century where they inducted him into their club, The Legion of Super-Heroes. Unlike most futures we see in comics, the Legion’s is a utopia that impresses Superboy so much he can’t wait to come back. It also impressed readers; while this issue was intended as a one-off, the Legion would continue to come back again and again, eventually getting their own long-running series.

The Legion was inspired to become superheroes by studying the 20th-century legends of Superman. However, when they go back to the time when Clark Kent is still a teenager, the adventures they have together would inspire Clark to grow into the hero they learned about in their history books. This type of paradox is referred to as a "causal loop," when a future event is the cause of a past event, which in turn is the cause of the future event.

9. Too Cool To Be Forgotten

Alex Robinson/Top Shelf

Does reliving memories count as time travel? Alex Robinson’s 2008 graphic novel, Too Cool To Be Forgotten, makes a good case for it while also expertly navigating many of the tricky principles of time travel. Forty-something Andy Wicks is put under hypnosis to cure his smoking addiction and finds his consciousness transported (Kitty Pryde-style) back to 1985 and into his teenage body. He quickly realizes that he is there to stop himself from smoking his first cigarette but the question is, what else could be changed by forcing his teenage self to remake decisions he already once made. 

As a Star Trek nerd, Andy is well-versed in the potential mechanics of time travel, which informs how he decides to act in these situations, since it is unclear to him (and the reader) whether this is an hallucination or something more. Robinson presents the concept of reliving high school as both a wonderfully nostalgic opportunity and also the worst nightmare imaginable.

10. All-Star Superman #6: "Funeral in Smallville"

Frank Quitely/DC Comics
Every issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 12-part All-Star Supermanis a masterpiece of high-concept pop comics inspired by the imaginative-but-silly Superman stories of the ‘50s and ‘60s. In issue #6, “Funeral in Smallville”, Morrison and Quitely give their modern, awe-inspiring twist on a popular Superman trope of that era: the visitors from the future. When Ma and Pa Kent take in three migrants looking to help out on the farm, Clark soon figures out there is more to these guys than it seems. In fact they themselves are Supermen; one from the 854th century, one from the 5th dimension, and one known as The Unknown Superman of A.D. 4500. They are here hunting a creature called a Chronovore, which ages everything it touches; they hope to recruit the present day Superman to help them.

There is a great plot twist in this issue that hinges on the fact that this story itself takes place in the past, relative to the rest of the All-Star Superman series. It is a story in which time travel is used not to alter the past, but to revisit it and loved ones who have been lost over the years. 

11. Patience

Dan Clowes/Fantagraphics

The newest book on this list is Daniel Clowes’ Patience, a graphic novel released in March about a young man named Jack whose world is turned upside when his young wife and mother of his unborn child, Patience, is mysteriously murdered. Jack spends the next near-two decades pondering why this has happened until he meets a man who invented a method of time travel (a vaguely explained process involving the injection of some sort of liquid) that gives him a chance to undo the event that ruined his life. Not knowing who the murderer is, Jack’s first step is to go back far enough into Patience’s past to solve the mystery.

Clowes’ take on time travel is inspired by a love of EC Comics and 1950s science fiction, but he uses it as a device to explore themes of nostalgia, regret, and the desire to control fate. Jack is indeed able to affect change in Patience’s past, but is his own tampering going to be the cause of her death anyway? 

12. We Can Fix It

Jess Fink/Top Shelf

Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It is probably the only time travel memoir. Like Alex Robinson’s Too Cool to Be Forgotten, it uses time travel as a way to try and fix the kind of small-scale mistakes most people have made in their lives, but Fink uses her own life and her own mistakes as fodder here. Wearing a futuristic bodysuit and operating a giant walk-in time machine, she visits herself at various ages, initially focused on voyeuristically reliving her early sexual encounters and preventing the more embarrassing ones. She also commits the ultimate act of self-love by making out with her younger self. 

The rules of time travel are not exactly in play in this comic, but it’s a lot of fun and eventually hits on some emotional moments as Jess digs deeper into her own past and asks the question: If you could go back in time, what in your life would you fix? 

13. Weird Science #5: "The Man Who Was Killed in Time!"

Jack Kamen/EC Comics

“The Man Who Was Killed in Time!” was a story by Al Feldstein and Jack Kamen (two of the greats who were producing sci-fi gems for EC Comics back in the early days of comics) that appeared in 1951’s Weird Science #5. This seven-page tale begins with a man running over his own doppelgänger on the road, then running off. He stumbles upon a rocketship that turns out to be a time machine and accidentally transports himself back 14 hours in time, where he proceeds to run into the road and get run over by his own car.

This goofy little story is quaint compared to the other tales on this list, but it is a fun little artifact in that it feels the need to explain itself with a wonderful little illustration at the end. So much of what we take for granted in time travel stories were first done by the people at EC Comics and this little comic is a reminder that it was all new for readers back then. 

This story was included in the first volume of the collected Weird Science, but you can also read it in its entirety here.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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