[Jump to menu]

This article is an attempt to take previous forms of time travel and alternate realities in the DC Universe and work them into the current framework of Hypertime. Keep in mind that this is just my analysis of it, not a definitive reference.

See Also: Into the Future

While human cultures and sciences have advanced many theories on the nature of time over the centuries, the immortals have believed for eons in a simple timestream: time has a beginning and an end, flows at a constant rate, and any displacement produces changes downstream. Those few mortals who were able to breach the time barrier—Rip Hunter, Barry Allen, the original Chronos—even visitors from the future, like Professor Zoom and Abra Kadabra—subscribed to this same view of time. You could change the future by staying in your own time, or you could change the present by traveling to the past.

Top of page

The Linear Men

In the early 21st Century, time travel researcher Matthew Ryder managed to transport his laboratory to a point outside the normal time-stream, which he called Vanishing Point. From there he began studying the space-time continuum. He made contact with other time travelers, including Rip Hunter and eventually Waverider, a Matthew Ryder from a divergent timeline. Waverider’s continued existence after the erasure of his own past should have been a clue to what would later come to light, but at the time it was assumed that Waverider’s merging with the timestream had protected him. Calling themselves the Linear Men, this small band of time travelers decided to police the timestream so as to prevent widespread interference by one era in another.

Top of page

Crisis on Infinite Earths

In their investigations, the Linear Men discovered records of a cataclysmic event so great that space-time completely reoriented itself. The universe, formed as one, had been split into many parallel universes, each distinct, occupying the same space and time but with their atoms and subatomic particles vibrating out of phase with each other. Large-scale objects, like planets and stars, tended to coexist. For instance, each vibratory plane contained an Earth, but history varied from plane to plane.

In the late 20th Century, the Anti-Monitor (ruler of the antimatter universe) unleashed a wave of antimatter into the positive-matter universes, wiping out entire planes of existence until a desperate gamble attempted to merge the last five vibratory planes into a single universe. Earth’s heroes and villains followed the Anti-Monitor to the dawn of time and to the golden age of Oa, preventing the cataclysm that split the single universe into many, resulting in a world that shared many of those last five worlds’ characteristics. Soon, even those who fought for the survival of the multiverse came to remember the crisis only as a bid by the Anti-Monitor to take over their own, single universe.

There were a few anomalies: survivors of universes that had been destroyed who could still remember their original history, such as Lady Quark, who later joined the galactic police force L.E.G.I.O.N., or Pariah, the scientist who had unwittingly opened the door for the Anti-Monitor’s plan. While most people’s lives were altered subtlely, others, such as Wonder Woman, were changed so much that they left holes others’ lives, leaving people like Donna Troy and Lilith of the New Teen Titans without a past. The Legion of Super Heroes, in struggles with the Time Trapper and the sorceress Glorith and, managed to rewrite the 30th Century several times.

Top of page

Zero Hour

The shock waves from the Crisis spread out along the timestream in both directions, producing anomalies as divergent timelines (believed at the time to be both less “real” and less “permanent” than the “real” timeline) began to feed into the main timeline. Centered a few years after the key events of the Crisis, a new threat emerged as the space-time continuum began unraveling from both ends. At first a villain calling himself Extant (who would have become the Monarch in an alternate future) claimed responsibility, but it eventually turned out to be Hal Jordan, the mad Green Lantern, now calling himself Parallax, who had taken advantage of the instability to erase the universe and remake it as he saw fit.

Parallax succeeded in erasing history, although a band of heroes who had followed him to the dawn of time were able to ensure that the new history unfolded without his interference. Metron of the New Gods put it best years later, when discussing the struggles between New Genesis and Apokolips and their effect on the future: “In the game of the gods, Creation itself is the playing field. Sometimes Darkseid wins, sometimes we win. Each time, the universe is remade, as you have witnessed. In the end, balance is served” (JLA #15, 1998: Epilogue to Rock of Ages).

Top of page

The Amalgam

One such time that the universe was remade occurred when 20th-Century Earth found itself merging with an alternate world. Unfamiliar heroes with names like Spider-Man and Captain America took to the streets as unfamiliar villains like the Green Goblin menaced the innocent. The Daily Planet was bought out by the Daily Bugle, and Clark Kent found himself working with a new photographer, Ben Reilly. Both world’s heroes eventually discovered that cosmic beings overseeing two realities had suddenly become aware of each other’s existence, and people and artifacts began crossing over between the two. The two cosmic beings forced the heroes of each world to challenge each other, the winners’ universe surviving, but a human who could bridge the two realities protected them all from destruction by temporarily merging them into an Amalgam Universe. The two realities were separated without significant changes, and the two cosmic beings agreed to live and let live.

Top of page

The Kingdom

Rip Hunter discovered something incredible, a secret that he knew he would have to keep from his fellow Linear Men, because he knew they would be unwilling to accept it in their “ordered, cataloged” view of time. It began when they started noticing significant discrepancies. Investigations into the 853rd Century showed the original Superman still alive, even though records of the early 21st Century indicated Superman had been “killed by someone named Gog.”

In the 21st Century, Gog began traveling back in time, killing Superman a day earlier each time. The Linear Men panicked, fearing the space-time continuum would start unraveling again, and were puzzled when such devastation did not occur. Rip Hunter’s fear was different: that the secret he had discovered would be revealed to those not ready for it. He set about to repair the damage himself, recruiting four 21st Century heroes as well as the aging original Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Try as he might, the secret was revealed: Time is not the simple stream that the Linear Men (as well as the gods of New Genesis and Apokolips) had always believed it to be, but an interconnected, shifting “Kingdom of Wonders.”

How does it work? Off the central timeline we just left. Events of importance often cause divergent “tributaries” to branch off the main timestream. But what’s astounding is there’s far more to it than that. On occasion, these tributaries return—sometimes feeding back into the central timeline, other times overlapping it briefly before charting an entirely new course. An old friend is suddenly recalled after years of being forgotten. A scrap of history becomes misremembered, even reinvented in the common wisdom.

There are hazards to Hypertime, of course.... Artifacts carried into differing hypertimelines dangerously break down the barriers between kingdoms...but you’ll learn more about that in the months and years to come.
   —(Rip Hunter, The Kingdom #2, 1999)

Indeed such breaking down of barriers had already occurred, as at Hunter’s direction the young heroes had been stocking display cases with weapons from alternate timelines. When the place was full of people, the disruptions were hardly noticeable, but at night, ghosts—echoes of possible timelines—could be seen. Not only seen, but recognized by people who had never met them in this timeline, but had in another.

It didn’t take long to learn more. Within weeks, a Superboy from an alternate timeline showed up—dying—and the main Superboy was able to travel through Hypertime using a device his counterpart had brought. What he discovered—aside from an evil, adult version of himself who was slowly taking over Earth on hypertimeline after hypertimeline—was that it was possible to travel through Hypertime using an element called hyperium, which exists in its natural state as energy. Unfortunately, contact with uncontrolled hyperium has a tendency to kill all versions of a person across all timelines.

Meanwhile, a new Flash had appeared to take the place of the missing Wally West. He was ultimately revealed to have come from another timeline; his continued presence in the main timeline had the same effect as the arsenal Rip Hunter had collected to battle Gog, and timelines began folding in on each other. Superman and Wonder Woman had to reveal the secret of Hypertime yet again, and the new Flash had to leave.

Top of page

Have Hyperjacket, Will Travel

Present understanding of Hypertime is that there is a central “main” timeline from which others branch off. Time does not necessarily flow the same in each. Unlike the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, every possibility does not generate an entirely new timeline; similar worlds—say, one in which you drink a Pepsi with lunch and another in which you have a 7-UP—intertwine as if they were a single timeline. Both possibilities exist, and the timelines can interact subtly, but it would be both difficult and pointless to travel from one timeline to the other. Conversely, any return trip from a more divergent timeline would have just as much chance of landing in either.

The merging of timelines in DC vs. Marvel fits perfectly into Hypertime, and can best be explained if there are actually two central timelines—one DC Universe, and one Marvel Universe—off of which branch DC’s Elseworlds, Marvel’s What If...?, and alternate futures of each.

For the most part, the only divergent timelines that are accessible are the ones with significant differences—such as Walter West’s home in which Linda Park died battling Kobra. The greater the difference, the easier it is to travel to it (and the less likely it is to intertwine with your timeline of its own accord). Yet travel through Hypertime is far from easy. The parallel worlds which shared the main timeline before the Crisis were distinct, completely separate, and easily identifiable. It was an easy feat for Barry Allen to travel from Earth-1 to Earth-2 and visit Jay Garrick over and over again using nothing but his own super-speed control of his molecules. To reach a particular hypertimeline, the precise frequency and fairly advanced technology is required—or at the very least something traceable. Wally raced out of the speed force and was drawn to the Linda from his own timeline. Walter was similarly able to trace their path back to the central timeline. Their own return trip home, however, was a long and difficult one, and Walter appears to be facing at least as difficult a journey to his own timeline.

Top of page

Cosmic Treadmills

Time travel, by contrast, is fairly easy. Magic, the speed force, and even highly-advanced 20th Century technology (see the cosmic treadmill) can pierce the time barrier. Changes to the past seem to ripple forward along the main timeline, but the agent making the changes, the traveler himself, is protected as his timeline of origin spins off. The world of Kingdom Come, once believed to be the definite future, is now one of several possibilities because of the efforts of Gog and countermeasures by Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman when they met their past selves.

One reassuring thing is that, despite the fears of some, the timestream seems capable of absorbing paradoxes. “Some would have you believe that time is a house of cards, and that if you remove one card, the house collapses. The physics of time, however, allow for another possibility: remove that same card, and the house rebuilds itself— but never to its original form” (Chronos #9, 1998).

Top of Page Primary Sources

  • “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (January–December 1985), Marv Wolfman and George Perez
  • Armageddon 2001 (May–October 1991), Archie Goodwin, Dennis O’Neill
  • “Time and Time Again Again” - Superman #61 (November 1991), Dan Jurgens
  • “Time Ryders” - Superman #73 (November 1992), Dan Jurgens
  • “Zero Hour” (September 1994), Dan Jurgens
  • “Marvel vs. DC” (March 1996), Peter David and Ron Marz
  • “Rock of Ages” - JLA #10–15 (September 1997–February 1998), Grant Morrison
  • DC One Million (November 1998), Grant Morrison
  • “Being & Nothingness” - Chronos #9 (December 1998), John Francis Moore
  • The Kingdom (February 1999), Mark Waid
  • “Haunted” - The Kingdom: Planet Krypton (February 1999), Mark Waid
  • “Hypertension” - Superboy #60–65 (March–August 1999), Karl Kesel
  • “Chain Lightning, Finale: Finish Line” - The Flash (second series) #150 (July 1999), Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn
  • The Dark Flash Saga - The Flash (second series) #152–159 (September 1999–April 2000), Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn

The Concept of Hypertime was developed by Mark Waid and Grant Morrison

Related Commentary

Text copyright ©2000–2005 by Kelson Vibber; last revised April 29, 2004.
Do not copy without permission.

The Flash Companion The Flash Companion
Preview at Speed Force
Order at TwoMorrows