Does Time Travel Effect The Divine Realms?
This post involves spoilers for Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
There are universes, like the DC and Marvel Universes, that have a mundane/material realm, and multiple after-life realms and time travel. How do these interact? The question is: If Bob dies and he’s judged worthy to enter Elysium, or Valhalla or wherever and his death is reversed due to time travel, did he actually ever go to Elysium or Valhalla, etc.? Does Heimdall even remember Bob crossing the Rainbow Bridge in the first place?
Aquaman — in the Flashpoint Paradox, starts a war with Wonder Woman’s Amazons. The war is entirely Aquaman’s fault. He has an extra-marital affair with Wonder Woman, Queen of the Amazons and when his wife finds out about it, she challenges Wonder Woman — perfectly natural, perfectly understandable response — and Wonder Woman kills her in single combat — again, perfectly natural for Wonder Woman to defend herself and perfectly understandable that having been attacked by another queen that she should kill her rival. So — because he couldn’t keep his dick in the water, Aquaman starts a planet-destroying world wide war between Atlantis and Themyscira. Yeah. That makes sense.
So then he loses his stupid war and as he’s down on his knees about to go out like history’s greatest bitch, Wonder Woman is about to stab him/decapitate him and she says, “What I do now, I do for the good of all.” Aquaman has the temerity — I won’t say the balls — to say, “As do I.” He then activates the world’s biggest WMD — which he had made from Captain Atom’s still-living body — and murders everyone on Earth, you know, for their own good.
Remind me again — your adultery has lead to the deaths of every man, woman and child on Earth — and you wonder why you’re everybody’s least favourite hero?
Luckily, at the last moment, Flash goes back in time and prevents this timeline from ever existing and the apocalypse is averted.
Except — was it?
We see half the world engulfed by the explosion before Flash departs. Those people DID die — somewhen. When they died, were they ‘processed’ into their respective after-lives or did the powers that be just wait a minute thinking “well — let’s see if Flash fixes this before we do all that paperwork.” The proof that somewhere, somewhen, it all DID happen is brought back by Flash himself in the form of a letter from Thomas Wayne to his son Bruce, a tangible message on a piece of paper in an envelope that Flash hands to Bruce. Those events did happen (and so Mira, Aquaman’s wife, really should insist they seek counselling — at least).
If a man dies in the Marvel Universe at some point in the timeline and is judged and is found worthy of entering Valhalla, Thor should be able to go there and speak to him. Let’s say that’s exactly what’s happening. Loki is on trial. Bob has useful evidence against Loki and is testifying. Just before he can reach the part that will damn Loki, some mortal uses time travel and saves Bob’s life. Is his spirit instantaneously ripped out of Valhalla? Does the change in timelines effect the Norse gods who suddenly forget Bob was at the trial to begin with? Is Valhalla shielded by Odin’s power from changes in timelines and now there’s both live-Bob who’s walking around Midgard and dead-Bob who’s walking around Valhalla? Worst of all, can Loki be exonerated of a crime because time travel prevented the crime from taking place in the first place — i.e., Loki couldn’t steal the Flaming Lawn Chair of Power because the Enchantress used time travel and stole it first?
By whatever definition you use for gods, even comic book gods, it doesn’t seem satisfying to me to have their very memories and knowledge alterable by mortal agencies. It also doesn’t fit what we know of the gods who do choose to interfere with things. If the world’s going to end, is Thor ALWAYS going to use time travel — if it’s available — to prevent it? Does the status quo — the temporal status quo — matter to the gods? If Dr. Doom changes history in the 1700s so that events flow differently, then who will or won’t be in Valhalla will be effected by that surely. Does Odin care? Does a change in timeline create an alternate universe with an alternate Odin? How does “our” Odin feel about that? Can Odins cross timelines and talk to each other or otherwise interact? “Hi, I’m alter-Thor. We lost Ragnarok in my home timeline and so we’re evacuating what’s left of the gods and humanity to your realm. We’ve colonized Antarctica and just want to live as your good neighbours!”
SPOILER — In Justice League Injustice: Gods Among Us, at one point Ares’ plan is to create a time loop, one where the world is forever locked in conflict, so He can feed eternally. I recognize this as bad writing — because, why would the other gods let Him get away it? We have the sense that most comic book universes have a general “let the mortals deal with mortal problems” rule among deities and so, why in the world would they let Ares do something so, well, world-altering? Ares Himself wouldn’t let the world be locked into a time loop of eternal peace and love so that Aphrodite would be the most powerful and He Himself would die out.
This is why I just try to leave time travel alone. The rules are NEVER clearly spelled out.
A universe where you can be talking with someone in the afterlife and then *poof* they’re gone back to Earth mid-sentence and you’re aware of it, because you are removed from the mortal realm, is just unsatisfying for me as a reader.
But then, a universe where any idiot can use a time machine and make changes that effect the memories of the gods is also unsatisfying.
A universe where no one reaches the afterlife until “Judgement Day” would be acceptable except we’ve already had scenes of Wonder Woman talking to the dead in Hades’ realm and Thor talking to the dead in Valhalla and Hel. And even if only the characters who are in the epicentre of temporal changes remember those changes, people DO talk. And Wonder Woman pointing out to Zeus that Hades or Ares nearly wiped out humanity or some other such and only time travel stopped it, or Thor telling Odin that Dr. Doom set up a peaceful, if tyrannical regime, in the 1600s using time travel so none of the fallen who went to Valhalla after that did in this timeline — these aren’t things the gods are going to “look into?”
As unsatisfying as it is as a reader for mortals to be able to influence the Divine Realms via time travel, imagine how unsatisfying it has to be for the gods. So the only answer I can come up with is: there’s a path. A “way things are meant to be.” And all the times you see heroes fighting to restore the timeline from some change some villain or some idiot has accidentally made (I’m looking at you Flash — I’m looking at you Legion of Superheroes) — the gods have worked behind the scenes to keep the status quo or keep things as close to the status quo as possible.