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Hypertime is still an unknown quantity in the DC Universe. It was introduced in a few pages of "The Kingdom" #2 without much time to explain what it is. However, comments by Mark Waid and a current story arc in "Superboy" have revealed enough about it that writer Chaim Mattis Keller and Fanzing editor Michael Hutchison have decided to discuss Hypertime's pros and cons.

It's About (Hyper)Time
A discussion between Chaim Mattis Keller and Michael Hutchison
With Elseworlds artwork by Bill Wiist and Melissa Wilson

"Supergirl from 'Generations'"
by Bill Wiist
MICHAEL: I know we were originally going to do this as a debate, with you taking "Con" and me taking "Pro". However, as soon as I heard Mark Waid say that an example of Hypertime was his inclusion of the Blackhawks in "JLA: Year One," the "Con" part became obvious!

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: "JLA Year One" included several characters who should not have appeared if Mark had really done thorough research. In the case of the Blackhawks, I'm told that several of the Blackhawks were dead before the JLA first appeared, but the whole team appeared intact in "Year One." (I'm not a Blackhawk fan, so I didn't know that; but hey, I'm not writing anything with Blackhawk in it.) Another ragingly obvious error was the inclusion of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. According to every official source, the SSV encountered a villain in the 1950s whose destruction blasted them through time, and the individual members were not recovered until the JLA's 100th meeting (or, in our terms, JLoA #s 100-102). This was probably one of the JLA's greatest cases EVER, but Mark somehow overlooked it or someone decreed that it didn't happen.

Mark says that Hypertime is more than just alternate timelines and realities. Hypertime is like a river of time that occasionally deviates from its course and then splinters off and pours back into the main river. What this means in non-analogous terms is that alternate timelines may, at times, cross over with the main timestream, thus explaining any incongruities or inaccuracies. In Waid's own example of JLAY1, the explanation for the Blackhawks appearing is that they are from an alternate timeline which crossed over.

This is a load of crap. Period. I mean, logically it doesn't make ANY sense. More to the point, it opens up the floodgates for writers to explain away their sloppy research. In the examples above, Mark just didn't do his homework and now he's trying to find something to blame it on.

Fans: "How could the Seven Soldiers of Victory be in JLA: Year One?"
Fans: "Why is that Martian City name Z'onn Z'orr similar to J'onn J'onzz's name when his name was supposedly made up by Dr. Erdel?"
Morrison: "Um…HYPERTIME!"
Fans: "How come J'onn J'onzz now has a new origin? What about all of those great J'onn stories which were published building upon the 1980's series which are now rendered irrelevant?"
Ostrander: "Um…HYPERTIME!"

"Jade from Kingdom Come"
by Melissa Wilson
CHAIM: That's pretty much my beef with the concept, but I'll state it a bit differently. Waid seems to have introduced this so writers can be free to go with what they think will make a good story, so that niggling continuity details will not ruin a story that could have been enjoyable, if written, but would not be if strict continuity were to reign. However, are there any stories in which the continuity glitches are so essential that they couldn't be worked around? Your Seven Soldiers of Victory example is an excellent illustration of this: would the story have been so much worse if they hadn't appeared? There is a large difference between a story being slightly different from the way the writer wants due to continuity, and a story not being good due to continuity.

MICHAEL: Better yet, let's use Grant Morrison's Thinker story in "Flash." If you're going to debate "continuity vs. good story," that's really the one to use. The original Thinker was dead and his helmet broken; to ignore that is to ignore several important Suicide Squad stories as well as the existence of Cliff Carmichael, the current Thinker. But the Thinker was an important character for the story Morrison had in mind, and there was really no other way to substitute any other villain. In the end, editor Paul Kupperberg approved the story because it was a very good tale…despite the fact that it was Kupperberg himself who WROTE the story in which the Thinker was killed! I just wish there'd been some explanation as to how it was possible.

Frankly, I'm not in favor of any way to "explain away" errors with a fallback excuse. I think some of the more creative writing comes from trying to fix mistakes. Witness Justice League of America #144, a story (by Steve Englehart?) that explained how the JLA could have been formed before Green Lantern even appeared. Now, this is almost super-picky, as it's merely a matter of publishing dates and an origin which pre-dated the first appearance of the JLA, but Englehart slavishly figured out a way for it to happen. Actually, I don't hold this up as a great story but more as an example of how committed many past writers were to making a sensible, cohesive universe (without pooh-poohing the faithful readers and calling them extremists for caring about such things).

CHAIM: On the other hand, it's that kind of writing that created the backlash which has now brought us Hypertime. While some nice stories could come out of explaining past contradictions, a number of writers (obviously including Mr. Waid) consider the need to occasionally include such stories as unnecessarily restrictive to their creative process.

But these writers lose sight of the big picture, in my opinion. Their job is not merely to write entertaining stories. If they wanted to, they could write prose novels or short stories, or try to publish an independent comic. Their job is to write entertaining stories featuring a specific character (or group of characters). In order to do this, the character must have a consistent background, which is defined by what has been written of him in the past. To ignore a character's continuity in order to write what seems like a good story is a nice recipe for an Elseworlds, but should not in any way be incorporated into the mainstream universe. Otherwise, you have a character who cannot be properly defined, and this ultimately impairs the ability of future writers (as well as other present writers) to write that character properly.

Bottom line: if you want to write a story featuring Superman, then you've got to use Superman, as defined by his past experiences. If you want to write a story and you think Superman would have been good for it if only he had never (fill in the blank), then you're not writing a Superman story.

MICHAEL: My big problem is that causality and consequence seem to be ignored. When the JLA and JSA members freed the Seven Soldiers from their various timelines, did they ask, "Hey, Sir Justin, how could you participate in fighting the Appellaxians with us a few years ago if you've been gone since 1950?" People can't just meet characters and then forget about them when they go back to their own timeline.

Let's look at another example: Batwoman. Or as she's known in the modern DCU: circus owner Kathy Kane. According to Bronze Tiger's post-Crisis origin (in Suicide Squad), Kathy did exist but only as a circus owner. There isn't any evidence that she was ever Batwoman.

There was a cute moment in "Kingdom: Planet Krypton" where Batman ran into Batwoman and recognized her as Kathy Kane. Obviously, this was a strange place in time and space where Hypertime crossed. However, it begs the question: "Why does Batman remember her?" I mean, there's just no reason why she would be in his memory unless individuals are pan-dimensional and thus subconsciously aware of their own existence in variant timelines.

Let's say there's a pretty blonde named Betty that I see on the street and in another timeline we actually struck up a conversation and one thing leads to another and we get married. In THIS universe, that never happened. I'm not going to bump into her and say, "Betty?" And you can't just say, "Well, that character crossed over and then rejoined her timestream." I mean, reality is reality and actions have consequences. I liked Waid's comment about "being too linear"…but the fact is that time can only move in that one way. Linear motion. Something happens and it affects what comes after it. I don't pretend to be a physicist, but I haven't heard any explanation as to how non-linear time could possibly work.

CHAIM: To play devil's advocate, I'd answer that your off-handed guess, that characters have some sort of innate pan-dimensional memory, is correct. Kingdom # 2 pretty much states that what is consistent (ha!) across time lines is the "legend" established by a certain character, and each version of that character is a branch off of the legend. It's not much of a stretch, then, to say that to some degree, every branched version has access to memories in other "branches" (although only under specific circumstances, such as the weakness in the Hypertime barrier that existed in Planet Krypton # 1 due to Gog's rampage).

So causality is not truly abolished, I'd say. On the other hand, history is. If you have multiple branches of the same character, and all of these branches are liable to cross each other and to cross the main "trunk" (to use the metaphor offered in Kingdom # 2), how do you know what's part of a branch and what's part of the main trunk? What's part of the same branch and which is a different branch? Does every writer decide for him or herself? If so, then no one will ever be able to follow a character's history, because the history is not consistently defined. If not, and we have concrete definitions, is that really different from rigid continuity? To me, that just sounds like rigid multiple continuities…which is infinitely more confusing, and was supposedly the main reason for the Crisis.

MICHAEL: I'd like to make a contention here: The writers griping about continuity believe in it strongly when THEIR character is the one dismissed as just a fictional property of DC Comics.

Last month's JLA had a picture of the Atom's JLoA. I was pleased that Ralph Dibny was at least pictured, but once again the costume is wrong. He is shown in a costume which he didn't adopt until well after the original team had disbanded. Based on his recent appearances in that issue, JLA/Titans and Superman, it appears that no one at DC knows which costume Elongated Man is wearing. Despite my joy that Ralph Dibny hasn't been completely forgotten, the lack of attention to a basic element ticks me off. And I'm sure everyone else rolls his or her eyes at my throwing a hissy fit about such a minor character.

But look at the changes happening to major characters. Suppose I'm writing a book and tell my artist to include Aquaman…and he does: the original two-armed, orange clad, clean-shaven character. Or I set a story during the "Rock of Ages" arc and the artist draws the red, blue and yellow-costumed Superman when he's supposed to be electro-man. Or, five years from now, I show a flashback story in 1999-era Gotham City and forget that it would be mostly destroyed. Or a 1994-era story showing Bruce Wayne in the costume instead of Azrael.

Or let's hit Mark Waid where he lives: The Flash. Would Mark be happy if I did a "Times Past" story of Justice League Europe in which Barry Allen is the Flash? "Oops! I forgot he was dead and Wally was the Flash!" I think Mark would be ticked at me for an appalling lack of research, and I doubt he'd buy the "Hey, don't let that get in the way of my good story" argument. And rightly so!

CHAIM: I'll bet you'd just love to be the wiseguy who does that, eh? But seriously, I certainly hope that whatever the rules are for Hypertime, they're consistently applied across the board. Unfortunately, given the shredding that DC's time-travel rules took, I can't honestly say I have much hope for that. Even worse, I wonder: does Hypertime mean that if one comic establishes those rules, the next comic can just say, "That was a different Hypertime branch…that statement was never made in our reality, so the rules are different (or non-existent)!

MICHAEL: Y'know, first I just have to say…I hated those time travel rules ever since I first heard them. I mean, a one-way trip destroys the machine and you can never use the machine again? That's terrible! How likely is it that you can find more ways to travel in time? That's like saying, "Now that you've dropped an atomic bomb, you have to go find a completely different wayto detonate an atomic bomb." So if those rules got shredded, I'm glad. Granted, I never liked Superman's ability to just go very fast and then suddenly a series of concentric circles labeled "1983, 1982, 1981, 1980…" appear in mid-air…but time travel shouldn't be dang near impossible even for the genius who figures out a way to travel in time!

I've noticed that even Dan Jurgens doesn't follow that rule anymore. The first "Time and Time Again" established that the original Linear Man was being corroded by his time traveling, and all of the Linear Men bear the cybernetic scars of time travel…but since that story, when have we ever seen one of the Linear Men harmed by a time-hop? Anyway, getting back to your point…

Hmmm…so what you're saying is that Dan Jurgens reaffirms that time travel slowly kills you in all the books he writes, whilst Chronos hops around with no problem and the writer could just say, "Well, Chronos takes place in a different Hypertime branch than the Superman series." Ouch! That is a nasty thought. Of course, that's just one example of what might occur if Hypertime isn't reigned in.

In using it as a knee-jerk cover for his discontinuities, the principal author of Hypertime has already demonstrated that Hypertime won't be used sparingly. That, even if he controlled the use of it (which Waid doesn't), it is going to be misused.

DC is a peculiar animal when it comes to "reining in" its writers. Some rulings stick, some don't. The time travel edict was firm for a little while. The "Barry Allen is irrevocably dead" rule has been followed for 14 years because everyone agrees that bringing him back would cheapen the send-off and re-establish the tiring old cliché that comic book death is temporary. But then, the JSA was given a terrific send-off…and that was overturned just a few years later in the appalling "Armageddon: Inferno," so "This person is dead" rules still aren't always followed. And, of course, Hal Jordan's turning evil had to be the one thing DC decided to set in stone; "not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story" as those old covers used to say!

I guess what I'm saying is that, even if they declared that Hypertime wouldn't be overused and abused (as the multiverse came to be), that would easily change based on the writers and editors in question. I mean, Denny O'Neill is still adamant that Batman is an urban myth and a lot of writers just tell him to go to hell. (If you want to talk about "strict continuity" getting in the way of telling good stories, look no further than Denny's mouth!)

CHAIM: How would I fix this "Hypertime" mess if I were given the opportunity? The answer is deceptively easy (although it becomes harder and harder with each Hypertime story…unless we can just write those out of continuity as Hypertime): Hypertime worlds aren't "real", but they exist in the Dream dimension, a la Sandman. Neil Gaiman, in fact, practically wrote such a thing in the "Wake" storyline (Sandman # 71), when he has Superman referring to some pre-Crisis stories as dreams. In the land of dreams, the creatures are more abstract and iconic (thus, there might be an iconic Batman, Superman or Hawkman who gives rise to certain memories that are out of sync with the real version of the character), and everything that exists there is a "story" or "legend", as per the statements made by Rip Hunter in Kingdom. Once this is established, the DC Universe can go back to requiring consistency without totally chucking the continuity (ha!) of the Kingdom story.

Personally, I find this extremely fitting, as Neil Gaiman is probably the most continuity-conscious Vertigo writer who ever existed, and his stories never suffered for it. He's quite worthy of such a tip of the hat.

"Batman from 'Generations'"
by Bill Wiist
MICHAEL: I'm hesitant to say that anything needs to be "fixed" yet.

Let's try to be positive about this. There are, really, several aspects to this Hypertime thing.
One is that it means that the Elseworlds, strict Vertigo, Captain Carrot and other continuities which we thought were totally separate are now accessible. That opens up a wide world of possibilities. The excuse may be very scientifically shaky, but it's just a plot device, really. This may be the way to introduce characters from other comic companies purchased by DC (witness Wildstorm) without totally integrating them into the DCU. It may be a better way to do inter-company crossovers without needing a bloke like Access. If you want to do a crossover akin to Batman-Captain America (I loved this one, since the "Elseworlds" label eliminated the need to cross a dimensional barrier; they simply both existed in that world.), you can simply say it's a Hypertime universe where both characters live. As someone who's already worked up a Reed and Sue and Ralph and Sue story proposal, I'd love to set Elongated Man and Mr. Fantastic on the same planet where they both know each other and their wives are old friends (instead of needing Access to open a warp in space or whatever).

And, far from being a "return to the Multiverse", perhaps there will be a story akin to Merilee's current Fanzing fiction, "Choices", in which it's discovered that the 5-planet Multiverse still exists! We might learn that Crisis on Infinite Earths #11 merely relocated the viewing public to a conjoined Earth where the characters were suffering from some of that Pan-Hypertime consciousness we were talking about earlier.

Another aspect is the less-popular "Blanket Explanation for Creative Mistakes" which we've been discussing. This is the part which should be really reined in. 'Nuff said, really.

CHAIM: But don't we already have alternate dimensions in the post-Crisis DCU? Even if you consider Captain Carrot to have been totally removed from continuity through the Crisis (although I always thought it remained as a different dimension), there's Bgztl, other-dimensional home of the Legion's Phantom Girl /Apparition, there's Meta, home of whatever portion of Shade the Changing Man is still within continuity, there's Gemworld, the Land of the Nightshades and any number of magical other-dimensions…

The thing that the Crisis removed was the multiple dimensions containing analagous characters. This is what was supposed to cut down on the confusion. And whether or not you agree that the Crisis had achieved its goal, allowing DC history (I was about to use the word continuity, but of course it's sort of inappropriate in this context) to contain multiple counterparts of the same character definitely returns whatever confusion this caused pre-Crisis, and maybe even more.

That's why I think this thing needs to be nipped in the bud before it can be allowed to spread too much farther than the story in Kingdom # 2. Explain that away (and the current Superboy story arc), and we have a single-character system again (well, you know what I mean by that).

MICHAEL: You're right about Captain Carrot already being in an alternate dimension, and thus not truly a part of Hypertime. I think Mark just got a kick from including ol' Cap's picture (I'm referring here to the Hypertime two page spread, all of which used cuts from Mark's own comic collection).

One thing "Kingdom" never settled to my satisfaction was the status of the "Kingdom Come" future. In my opinion, "Kingdom Come" should NEVER have been considered as an actual possible future for DC. I mean, considering all the good people who die, all the pre-set destinies for major characters, all the good heroes who become horrid parents…and let's not forget the fact that it contradicts the other futures we've seen…it just should not have been more than a variant possible future.

I'm betting that the end of Waid's current Flash arc will wipe out the Kingdom Come future. The reason is that the mother of Flash IV (Wally's daughter) is this cop in the current story. Once Linda Park is restored to Wally's history, the future will be changed.

CHAIM: It's obvious that Kingdom Come struck a nerve in a lot of readers. Also, many readers liked the directions that they saw their favorite characters going in in Kingdom Come, and thought it would be good to see the current comics move in that direction. That probably accounts for most of the reason why Kingdom Come was looked at as more than just another Elseworlds.

And the remainder is probably accounted for by Silver-Age fans who like the idea of the only Green Lantern in the universe not being Kyle Rayner.

MICHAEL: Oh, man, that means that I'm partly responsible!

One thing that annoys me (and no one else) about using Hypertime as a fixer for all the continuity gaffes is that I'd long ago worked out a story which would explain EVERY POST-CRISIS RET-CON! It would be a part of my Elongated Man proposal involving T.O. Morrow and it was going to be a heck of a lot of fun…the crowing point of a half-year story arc, a 48-page special…and everyone I've told it to has thought it would be great. Now, it loses some of its punch. Not that the yearnings of a comics writer wannabe should affect DC in any way. It's just a bummer for me, is all. J

Sheriff Prince
"Sheriff Prince from 'Justice Riders'"
by Melissa Wilson
CHAIM: You're being slightly facetious there, of course, but in fact, one of the things that got me very much into DC after the Crisis was the creative retconning done in such titles as Secret Origins, Young All-Stars and, more recently, Power of Shazam. It respected what went on before in separate universes, and used it as the template for a merged universe. To me, these stories now lose some of their punch, because history no longer needs to be consistent. If it serves, it can be, and if it doesn't serve, it shouldn't be. I don't like this. But obviously, I'm not the kind of fan that Mark Waid invented Hypertime for.

MICHAEL: I think there's only one thing that can truly keep the writers in check, and that's self-respect. Well, and the respect of the fans, although it seems all the rage for writers to publicly announce that the fans can all go &#@% themselves.

Hypertime or no Hypertime, there have been and always will be writers who neglect character history because they just don't care. That doesn't necessarily make them bad writers.

As much as I enjoy his work, Keith Giffen has always been one of those people. I remember when he began writing the Aquaman special and mini-series; I don't recall where I read this, but he was asked whether he read the Aquaman mini-series from 1986 and he said that he hadn't. At the time, I was shocked. This was the most recent work focusing on Aquaman, yet Keith hadn't even bothered to read it to see what it contained about him? Too bad, because the mini-series contained some extremely good character development. So Keith writes Aquaman's origin story and it contradicts one of the best scenes from the mini.

John Ostrander would be another example of a great writer with a penchant for not doing his homework at times. His bullet story in the "JLA 80 Page Giant" was exceptionally bad in terms of historical accuracy.

Other writers make "respect for history" an integral part of their work. Christopher Priest would be just one example. For his recent work on a Justice League two-parter in "Legends of the DC Universe", he did an extensive amount of work researching the JLA timeline. You know, "During what JLA era was Green Arrow in a monastery?" and that sort of thing. And with a few minor oversights, he did an excellent job. (Unfortunately, the artist for that story did not share the same zeal for accuracy. When instructed to "show some JLA members on the computer screen" he included Wonder Woman, Plastic Man and Batman in his modern black outfit. Priest was pretty miffed at this sloppiness which marred his work.)

I really respect that. I get a small thrill when I see a little editor's box denoting something like "Superman was exiled in space during this time." It's a sign that a writer went above and beyond the call of duty to pay some extra attention to detail. I think a lot of fans feel the same way. So it's always going to be a source of pride for writers like Priest. THAT is what will preserve continuity in the future, despite the continued existence of Hypertime.

CHAIM: I agree: the only thing that will keep Hypertime in check is writers' having respect for the past, and readers' forcing them to. The question is, though, which readers will the editors consider more important? The continuity-minded oldies who bought All-Star Squadron fifteen years ago, or the Image-raised teenagers who they might feel they have to court? If the latter, will chucking continuity, or at least not relying so heavily on it, draw them in with interesting stories, or will it drive them away when, after an initial burst of interest, they get confused because the back-story is so sloppy?

I honestly can't speak for those new readers, but I can note that the comic-book industry's greatest period of growth in recent years was the mid-to-late 80's, and even the early '90's, before the market bottomed out on gold-foil-hologram cover variants. This time period was marked by tight continuity (with Hawkworld being the rare exception) and careful use of characters' published histories, with occasional re-interpretation…not by sloppy mistakes and convenient ignorance, which seem to me to have been given new license by Hypertime.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison & Chaim Mattis Keller.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.

All scanned artwork is ™ and © DC Comics