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Al Plastino/DC Comics
Al Plastino/DC Comics

The 13 Most Interesting Time Travel Stories in Comics

Al Plastino/DC Comics
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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Deadpool Fans Have a Wild Theory About Who Cable Really Is
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Deadpool 2 is officially in theaters and ruling the box office just like its predecessor did back in 2015. But this installment is about more than just crude jokes and over-the-top action scenes; it also includes the debut of a longtime Marvel character that fans have been clamoring to see on the big screen since 2000’s X-Men hit theaters: Cable.

But the Cable in Deadpool 2 isn’t quite the one fans have gotten used to in the books—for starters, his powers and backstory are reined in considerably. While it’s easy to assume that’s by design, so that audiences can better relate to the character (which is played by Josh Brolin), some fans have speculated that the changes are because, well, this character isn’t really Cable at all; instead, Screen Rant has a theory that this version of the character is actually none other than an older Wolverine from the future.

So how can Wolverine be Cable? Well, it’s actually quite easy, considering that Wolverine was Cable in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe comics, which was a series of books in the 2000s that completely reimagined the regular Marvel Universe. In this reality, a grizzled, aged Wolverine takes on the Cable nickname and travels back in time to prevent a takeover of Earth from the villain Apocalypse.

We were already introduced to Apocalypse in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and while he was defeated in the end, Screen Rant theorizes that he could return like he does in the Ultimate X-Men comics: by inhabiting the body of Nathaniel Essex, a.k.a. Mister Sinister. Essex was already name-dropped in Apocalypse and Deadpool 2, so it stands to reason that there might be some larger story on the horizon for him.

This would, of course, lead to more X-Men movies down the road, with Cable revealing his true nature and teaming with a crew of mutants that includes the classic X-Men cast as well as their younger selves to battle a newly formed Apocalypse. It’d also allow the character of Wolverine to live on in Brolin, leaving Hugh Jackman to enjoy a retired life without claws.

Obviously this is just one fan theory based on a comic storyline from over a decade ago. It would also have to ignore a whole host of continuity problems—including the events of Logan. But having a twist with Cable actually being Wolverine from the future (and likely from a different reality) is the type of headache-inducing madness the comics are known for.

[h/t: Screen Rant]

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8 Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

A comics page staple for nearly 65 years, Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois is a celebration of the mundane. Married couple Hiram “Hi” Flagston, wife Lois, and their four children balance work, school, and family dynamics, all of it with few punchlines but plenty of relatable situations. This four-panel ode to suburbia might appear simple, but it still has a rich history involving a beef with The Flintstones, broken noses, and one very important candy bar wrapper.

1. IT’S A SPINOFF OF BEETLE BAILEY.

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker had been drawing that military-themed strip for four years when a friend of his named Lew Schwartz approached him in 1954 with a new idea: Why not create a strip about a nuclear family? Around the same time, the Korean War was ending, and Walker had sent Beetle home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois. Drawing a line between the two, Walker decided to pursue the suburbia idea using Lois as connective tissue. Hi and Lois was born: The two strips would see their respective characters visit one another over the years.

2. A CANDY BAR HELPED DEFINE THE STRIP’S LOOK.

Already working on Beetle Bailey, Walker decided to limit his work on Hi and Lois to writing. He wanted to collaborate with an artist, and so both he and his syndicate, King Features, went searching for a suitable partner. Walker soon came across ads for both Lipton’s tea and Mounds candy bars that had the same signature: Dik Browne. Coincidentally, a King Features executive named Sylvan Byck saw a strip in Boy’s Life magazine also signed by Browne. The two agreed he was a talent and invited Browne to work on the strip.

3. HI ORIGINALLY HAD A BROKEN NOSE.

As an artist, Walker had plenty of input into the style of Hi and Lois: Browne would later recall that trying to merge his own approach with Walker’s proved difficult. “When you draw a character like Hi, for instance, you immediately set the style for the whole strip,” he said. “You have already dictated what a tree will look like or how a dog will look, just by sketching that one head.” In his earliest incarnation, Hi had a broken, upturned nose to make him seem virile, puffed on a pipe, and wore a vest. Through trial and error, the two artists eventually settled on the softer lines the strip still uses today, an aesthetic some observers refer to as the “Connecticut school style” of cartooning.

4. EDITORS WERE WARY AT FIRST.

When Hi and Lois debuted on October 18, 1954, only 32 papers carried the strip. The reason, Walker later explained, had to do with concerns that he was spreading himself too thin. At the time, cartoonists rarely worked on two strips at once. Between Hi and Lois and Beetle Bailey, there was fear that the quality of one or both would suffer. Editors were also worried that having two artists on one project would dilute the self-expression of both. Walker stuck to his intentions—to make Hi and Lois a strip about the small pleasures of suburban life—and newspapers slowly came on board. By 1956, 131 papers were running the strip.

5. TRIXIE MAY HAVE SAVED THE STRIP.

With readers a little slow to respond to Hi and Lois, Walker had an idea: At the time, it was unusual for characters who don’t normally speak—like Snoopy—to express themselves with thought balloons. Walker decided to have baby Trixie think “out loud,” giving readers insight into her perspective. Shortly after Trixie began having a voice, Hi and Lois took off.

6. CHIP IS THE ONLY CHARACTER TO HAVE AGED.

Like most comic strip casts, the Hi and Lois family has found a way to stop the aging process. Baby Trixie is eternally in diapers; the parents seem to hover around 40 without any wrinkles. But oldest son Chip has been an exception. Roughly eight years old when the strip debuted, he’s currently 16, a nod to Walker's need for a character who can address teenage issues like driving, school, and dating.

7. IT LED TO HAGAR THE HORRIBLE.

Browne might be more well-known for his Hägar the Horrible, a strip about a beleaguered Viking. That strip, which debuted in 1973, was the result of Browne’s sons advising their father that Hi and Lois was really Walker’s brainchild and that Browne should consider a strip that could be a “family business.” By 1985, Hägar was in 1500 newspapers, while Hi and Lois was in 1000. Following Browne’s death in 1989, his son Chris continued the strip.

8. IT ALSO HAD A BONE TO PICK WITH THE FLINTSTONES.

The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s modern stone-age family, premiered in primetime in 1960, but not exactly the way the animation studio had intended. Fred and Wilma were initially named Flagstone, not Flintstone, and the series was to be titled Rally ‘Round the Flagstones. But Walker told executives he felt the name was too close to the Flagstons of Hi and Lois fame. Sensing a possible legal issue, they agreed.

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