Crisis on Earth-Nerd: The Sliding Timescale.

October 28, 2007

Welcome to the world of the future, where men are men, women are women, and transistors are the height of technology.

Just wait till I find my

Why, someday, we’ll even invent computers which only take up half a room!

Look at Iron Man today, with nanotech and nuclear power, and you can only think “You’ve come a long way, baby. ” But how has Iron Man moved from roller-skates that also power his batteries to ablative armor fueled by a nuclear forge? The answer is the sliding timescale, a two-edged sword for comics. Utilized by both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, the sliding timescale is a method to keep comics “up-to-date.”

The sliding timescale can be simply explained as “time is relative.” It allows comics to maintain a relative modernity versus the long history of comics. Whereas beforehand various plot devices were used to keep a character from the early period of either Marvel or DC in print (for instance, Cap’s icy nap), the sliding timescale is now used to prevent rampant abuse of convoluted explanations, for the most part. Look at it like this: with the sliding timescale, everything happens “x years ago” or “x years in the future” rather than fixing it to a certain point in time. The Fantastic Four did not have their space flight in 1961; rather, their flight occurred “fifteen years ago,” with the point of reference being the current point of time of the reader. Superman did not debut in 1938; he appeared on the scene “thirteen years ago.” The Legion of Super-Heroes occurs “1000 years from now,” and so forth. While Marvel was the first to adopt the sliding timescale on a general basis, DC went a step further and corrected the entire DC Universe to the sliding timescale during the Zero Hour crossover. In fact, one of the highlights of Zero Hour (what few there were) was the inclusion of the new timeline. Follow ups were less than stellar. In fact, the timelines presented in subsequent Secret Files and Origins are often spurious at best, and utterly wrong at worst, especially concerning Batman and early history with Robin.

But how did comics work before the sliding timescale? For Marvel, it was blissful ignorance. By simply ignoring historical bits, they continued on like nothing was wrong. However, some devices were used to help transitions. The bulk of the World War II heroes received a great deal of assistance in staying young. For Captain America, his aforementioned ice nap served to preserve him for years, with the Red Skull having a gas induced suspended animation. Namor’s physiology allows him to stay young, while Nick Fury and other World War II heroes had various formulas and powers to keep their youth. For DC, two methods were used, one method carrying over post-Crisis. The first was the multiple Earths. Here, the World War II characters were revealed to be on an alternate Earth, where the Earth-1 Silver Age counterparts could interact with their older Earth-2 Golden Age counterparts. A understanding that time was moving at a slightly different pace for each world kept things relatively normal during the Silver Age. However, with the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Earth-2 WWII heroes now found themselves on a singular Earth while still interacting with modern heroes. How did they keep their youth? That answer was the use of Ian Karkull. A minor Golden Age villain, Karkull used a shadow manipulating device. Roy Thomas, in All-Star Squadron Annual #3 from 1984, would retcon a mission with Karkull ending with Karkull’s defeat and banishment when his device was destroyed. The resulting explosion irradiated the Squadron and assorted partners and love interests with the shadow energy and perpetuated their youth, causing them to age at a very slow rate. Having occurred pre-Crisis, Batman and Robin, along with Superman and Lois Lane among others, were present, but were removed from the mission afterwards. This shadow energy would also result in Obsidian’s powers.

This brings us to our final point: sometimes the sliding timescale need not apply. The vast bulk of topical references have to be ignored, such as substituting “President of the United States of America” instead of “Ronald Reagan,” or the ever-popular “military police action in Southeast Asia” instead of “Vietnam War.” Thus, despite what Punisher MAX claims, Frank Castle can stay relatively spry, “The ‘Nam” series be damned. Some characters don’t have to be under the sliding timescale, though. Immortal characters, such as Vandal Savage, can witness or be present at historical events as their age is no question. Time-travel also allows events to stay off of the sliding timescale, if applied properly. However, time travel and resulting explanations are another column entirely.

When you’re reading a comic, and see Spider-Man talking about 56.6 KB internet, Ronald Reagan punching out terrorists, the Wasp talking about groovy bell-bottoms, or Iron Man with transistor powered roller-skates, just think to yourself, sliding timescale, and adjust your mental state accordingly. It’s all a matter of “years ago.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: