Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Your Guided Tour of The Time Variance Authority!

For his penultimate issue before ending his stay on Fantastic Four, writer/artist Walt Simonson devotes its story to giving us the 411 on the Time Variance Authority, which has recently monitored the extensive time-jumping taking place in Timeline 0257/0923-A (er, that would be us--specifically, the time-sequencer duel between Reed Richards and Dr. Doom) and taken appropriate action to issue cease and desist orders to the parties involved. With Doom terminated for resisting arrest by the TVA's "Minutemen" squadron, that left only the FF to be remanded to TVA custody and transported to the null-time zone where the TVA is based.

For what it's worth, it was only a matter of time (heh, get it?) before the FF would have been brought before the TVA anyway in order to answer for pending "temporal misconduct charges" that were awaiting further investigation. So things admittedly don't look too good for our foursome with this latest transgression--but they agree to accompany the TVA's "Minutemen" enforcers (led by their letter-of-the-law officer, Justice Peace) and face the music, cooperation which will hopefully count in their favor.

The Time Variance Authority is a real head-scratcher from a reader's perspective, though ultimately a harmless one. On the one hand, the agency obviously takes itself seriously, though its personnel often misconstrue the circumstances for any given infraction by distilling the matter down to a black-and-white assessment that indicates certain set-in-stone laws governing time continuities have been broken. On the other hand, however, it's admittedly entertaining to see heroes such as Thor or the FF get caught up in the TVA's red tape and have to make allowances for the agency's procedures while they see to whatever crisis they're currently involved in.

In this case, however, the TVA is the FF's crisis du jour--and red tape is the order of the day.

With the Chairman's response that it could be a matter of years before the FF's case is cleared up, you can imagine how the Thing is liable to respond:

"These infractions are more widespread than you realize!" How can that be? It seems absurd that the time-related events that Reed mentions which involve the Avengers and the X-Men should come as news to the TVA, a policing agency with a seemingly unlimited staff that's tasked with monitoring, monitoring, monitoring--an agency poised to act in response to any unauthorized activities in the timeline that ignore the law.* How in the world could the many time-related crises instigated by heroes and villains alike have slipped through the cracks with the TVA on the job?

*It's therefore easy to see the potential for stories that involve the TVA, since it doesn't seem the agency ever bothered to notify anyone of the laws they're enforcing. No doubt "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" is a phrase the various TVA investigation committees fall back on frequently.

But often the way to deal with such an elephant in the room is to mention it and then sidestep it, as Simonson cleverly does here.

VoilĂ . The issue is acknowledged, and virtually ignored; ditto for any danger to those who might have had their own brushes with "the law."  (Though if I were an Avenger, I'd start looking over my shoulder for Justice Peace.)

From here, the FF make a plan to extricate themselves from TVA custody--in which case a tour of the TVA would come in handy, providing Simonson with the opportunity to give readers their first look at the agency's extensive operations. It falls to Mr. Mobius, who chaired the subcommittee that arraigned the FF, to conduct them through the vast facility; in fact, details on Mobius himself are the first thing they learn, in that the TVA's management is staffed entirely by Mobius clones (one of whom is obviously wrapped around Sharon Ventura's little finger at the moment).

We soon see that the scope of the TVA's authority is impossibly enormous; for instance, a chamber designed to process whole universes that have been "discontinued" is a head-shaking indication of the broad discretion the TVA enjoys.** And as the group continues, the sights and concepts that play out before the FF are further examples of the infinities of time under the TVA's scrutiny and management.

**Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the identities of the costumed figures plummeting into nothingness along with the other universal refuse? Maybe old members of the Frightful Four who didn't make the grade...

Thanks to Mobius being so accommodating, the FF have been able to covertly gather the data they need to facilitate their breakout, which is suitably spectacular with Simonson at the helm. The solution amounts to Reed infecting the TVA computers with the equivalent of a software virus which destroys all references to the FF's timeline; i.e., that timeline will no longer be "registered" with the TVA. It's a solution even Justice Peace is on board with, since "With a new reality come new allegiances. New laws. And as you have broken no laws within my new jurisdiction, we need not fight." Needless to say the Avengers and the X-Men fall under that umbrella as well; but that's a clerical knot that the Time Variance Authority will have to untangle another day.

Mobius even rates his own UPC barcode! Now that's clout.


Big Murr said...

Such organizations as the TVA tend to give anyone trying to weave a continuity for the Marvel Universe a nasty twitch in the left eye. I used to be one of those poor fans, but years (and dozens of re-re-reboots of said universe) have scraped away such concerns. I'm chill now.

STILL, Reed and Doom's little duel is a playground squabble compared to the shenanigans other Marvel characters have gotten up to. Reed barely ticks off a few highlights mentioning the Avengers and X-Men. Where was the TVA when Sise-neg swept backwards thru time to become God (with only Dr. Strange trying to thwart him)? Where was the TVA when the Tomorrow Man recruited Thor to stop the Time Twisters from splintering all reality? And for goodness sakes, why haven't they done anything about Kang stomping up and down history with his bloody, muddy boots?

Okay, maybe not as chill as I thought.

Of the two characters tumbling into nothingness, one is obviously Supergirl. Crisis on Infinite Earths would have still been reasonably fresh in the minds of comicbook fans when this was written. The figure near her I can't guess at.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, you're a font of information and perspective, as usual. :D

Jared said...

Think it is ironic Simonson is arguing that a group is responsible for protecting the time stream around the same time his wife had helped introduce Cable in New Mutants, the ultimate Marvel time paradox.

I like this story but have a hard time reading it without wondering where the TVA was when the Avengers brought Two Gun Kid back from the past with them.

Comicsfan said...

Jared, yes, the TVA seems to be both diligent and dilatory, with an awful lot getting by them--sweeping whole universes into the dustbin even as they're slow to act on comparatively minor infractions. Even their database can be compromised by a lone Earth mortal with a tapeworm virus. Perhaps the TVA needs to get its own house in order before sending their Minutemen out into the timestream to make arrests.

Dave S said...

One of those figures looks like Supergirl, the other I'm fairly sure is a Kymellian from Power Pack.