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The Original Hypertime Theory

by Cecil Adkins

I. Disclaimer.
What follows is a lengthy discussion on the Hypertime concept as introduced in DC Comics' 1998 Kingdom Event series. While it represents my honest opinion about the matter, it is just that -- an opinion. I do not have all the facts, as it were, about Hypertime, and I do not know what is going on in the heads of Mark Waid or Grant Morrison (two of the writers credited --or blamed-- with the creation of Hypertime). My own opinion would change if Hypertime is shown to function differently in a published story from what I've written here. So don't take offense and think that I'm saying this is the way things are. No one can do that, unless they're hired by DC Comics to produce an actual story about this stuff. This is just my opinion, and I welcome your input on the matter.

II. Terms.
Crisis on Infinite Earths.
An apocalyptic battle which happened about four years ago on the mainstream DCU timeline, resulting in the retroactive destruction of the Multiverse and the creation of a single Universe in its place. A villain called the Anti-Monitor attempted to fill the positive matter Multiverse with anti-matter from his native universe and ended up "erasing" all but five universes. These remaining five were merged with each other to create the new, single Universe within the mainstream DCU timeline. The Crisis retroactively altered history so that there never was a Multiverse along the main DCU timeline, although the time-patrolling Linear Men have records of the Multiverse and the Crisis, and there are a few assorted characters who remember the way things were.
Linear Men
A time-patrolling police force responsible for maintaining the rigid continuity of the mainstream DCU timeline. Hypertime is a concept foreign to most of them, although one of their number (Hunter) is the being who revealed Hypertime to Superman and other heroes.
Multiverse
1). In normal usage, the sum total of ALL universes in ALL timelines. 2) In DCU terminology, the sum total of ALL universes within a particular timeline. (This is derived from Mark Waid's comments, "The Crisis destroyed all the Multiverses we knew of." Hence, the idea of a multiverse of Multiverses which I believe is inherent in Hypertime.)
Zero Hour
The continuity-adjusting event in which former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, under the new guise of Parallax, tried to remake reality in order to make it "perfect". Jordan was stopped by a group of heroes, but only after he had already erased the entire timeline and was ready to recreate it. The universe was "rebooted" by the heroes instead, and followed the "original" timeline pretty closely. This even was supposed to have done away with all alternate timelines and all variant versions of characters, but then along comes Hypertime.

III. Why All the Fuss?
I'll tackle this question in three parts...

1. Is Hypertime worth all the discussion (and arguing) that it seems to be causing (at least online)? Yes. Isn't it just a bunch of comics we're talking about here? Yes, that's true, but they're comics we feel passionate about. It's important to not just read the comics as throwaway entertainment, but to treat them as literature, which they are. People have great discussions about Shakespeare, and even Stephen King. Are comics ever going to be compared to the masterpieces of literature? No, but that doesn't mean that they don't have value, nor does it mean that comics fans shouldn't have open-minded discussions on the most important stories within the genre. And Hypertime is one of the most important concepts to come down from DC, EVER, whether you like the idea or not.

2. Some fans believe that Hypertime undoes the Crisis, that we've gone back to the same old multiverse concept as before. While this appears to be true on the surface, there is so much more to it than that.

3. Others think that Hypertime means an end to true continuity, and a beginning of shoddy storytelling. These points are addressed in the Feature Articles entitled, "Is Hypertime Feasible?" and "Answering the Objections".

IV. How is Hypertime Different From the Pre-Crisis Multiverse?

1. Different Starting Points

With the pre-Crisis Multiverse, the infinite universes had one common beginning. That beginning was "10 billion years ago" (Harbinger--Crisis # 7) when an Oan scientist pierced the veil of Time's beginnings in order to see the origin of the universe. His experiments caused the single universe to replicate itself an infinte number of times, so that "What was one became many" (Harbinger--Crisis # 7).

With Hypertime, different timelines (which are, semantically anyway, different from different universes) have different starting points. Let's take the Coast City disaster, the event that drove Green Lantern Hal Jordan into insanity, as an example. In Timeline # 0 (my term for the "one, true timeline" that's been the DCU since Crisis), Coast City was destroyed by a cyborg duplicate of Superman. Hal Jordan could have reacted to this many different ways, but we'll just look at three possibilities, and, since Hypertime causes a new timeline to be born every time a great decision is to be made, we'll assign each possibility its own timeline.

Timeline # 0 The "one, true timeline." Hal Jordan goes nuts, destroys the Green Lantern Corps and Oa, because they wouldn't help him resurrect Coast City. Kyle Rayner becomes the new, and only, GL.

Timeline # 1 Hal Jordan falls into a deep depression, goes to a therapist, and in time is able to resume his heroic duties, realizing that sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Timeline # 2 Hal Jordan blames Superman for the destruction of Coast City, goes about 30 years into the future, takes on a new identity called Gog, starts going back in time, killing Superman again and again.

Now, there could be an infinite number of timelines out there that we can access through Hypertime, so in terms of sheer number, it's similar to the Multiverse. But in the Multiverse, every universe had one common starting point.** With Hypertime, each timeline (or, universe, if you want to call it that) has a UNIQUE starting point, that being whenever a different decision or action occurred than the one in the "one, true timeline."

**(Yes, I am aware of the divergent timelines within the pre-Crisis Multiverse -- such as Kamandi's future versus the Legion's future -- and of course, divergent timelines such as these could have different starting points. But the UNIVERSES (note that a Universe is different from a Timeline) within the Multiverse had a common starting point. Plus, these pre-Crisis divergent timelines could not interact the way that Hypertimelines can, which we will now see...)

2. Different Relationships Between Universes/Timelines

After their creation, the Multiverse's infinite universes no longer had any intimate connection. What happened in one universe didn't directly affect another, unless one character from one crossed into the other and did something of great import. But the timelines of the infinite universes NEVER intermingled (at least not up until the Crisis, which wiped them all out by merging them into one single universe again). Even the act of creating the Multiverse had nothing to do with any particular universe, since the creation was the result of an outside force (Oa apparently was the only world with no doppleganger [Crisis # 7 again], and existed in the single universe before the Multiverse's creation. It got shifted to the universe containing Earth-1 during the Multiverse's creation. Since the Multiverse was created because of the experiments of an Oan scientist before the replication, it can be said that its creation was due to a force outside the Multiverse itself).

This is vastly different from the infinite timelines contained within Hypertime. First of all, each timeline's creation DEPENDS on something that happens (or doesn't happen) within its "parent" timeline. I've gone over this above, in the section on different starting points. Secondly, events in one Hypertimeline can intimately affect events in another, in a DIRECT way. They don't have to, but they can. Remember, in the Multiverse, the only way for any DIRECT effects to happen was if one character PHYSICALLY left his universe and went to another, and did something of great importance while he was there. With Hypertime, it's not CHARACTERS who are PHYSICALLY crossing over; it's the ENTIRE TIMELINE which crosses over. (This is not to say that a character from one timeline COULDN'T cross over into another, in a way that's very similar to the dimensional-hopping of the Multiverse. BUT, in Hypertime, entire timelines DO intermingle and change one another in DIRECT ways, and this NEVER happened with the Multiverse. Actually, the Multiverse's universes DID intermingle, but it was called a Crisis and it PHYSICALLY wiped out an infinite number of universes. When two Hypertimelines merge, yeah, things change, things are affected, but life still goes on and no one even realizes what's happening.)

3. Practical, Storytelling Differences

The Multiverse concept started at DC because of continuity glitches. In the classic example, from "Flash of Two Worlds" (Flash # 123), the Barry Allen incarnation of the Flash was inspired by COMICS he had read of Jay Garrick, the original Flash. But the original Flash had worked side-by-side with Superman, and so had Barry Allen. Was Superman a fictional charater in a comic, or a real person? To deal with this possible continuity error, DC introduced the idea of the Multiverse, so that there were TWO Supermen, one on Jay Garrick's world, and one on Barry Allen's. So, every time DC had to explain away a glaring "mistake" like this, they had to create an entire alternate universe to do so. This may have worked with the BIG stuff, but with the little, trivial things it was impractical.

Not so with Hypertime. With Hypertime's interweaving timelines, timelines which can intimately affect each other as they intermingle, it can merely be said that an "error" is the result of fluctuations caused by the mixing of timelines. This way, if Lois Lane appears in one issue of Superman with a paper cut on her right index finger, but appears in another issue with the same paper cut on her left thumb, it can be attributed to mixing timelines. I am not condoning the use of Hypertime to fix simple, trivial mistakes such as this, but this is to show that it COULD. I hope writers and editors don't see Hypertime as a way to ignore continuity or to be lazy. But if it could be used to explain away the Hawkman fiascoes, or to explain how Booster Gold remembers the Legion of Super-Heroes (in his series, Booster encountered the Legion as they were pre-Zero Hour, so does he still think of them as young adults, or does he think of them the way they are now, as teenagers?), then I'm all for it. It wouldn't be practical to have entire universes for each and every continuity snafu, but to say that divergent timelines feed back into the one, true timeline that we read about in every mainstream DC Comic would be a very convenient way of getting certain things back on track.

Now that we've established the differences between the Multiverse and Hypertime, we can see that Hypertime is much more dynamic and interactive than the Multiverse ever was. It's time to examine the ramifications of Hypertime and what it means for the future of the DC Universe.

V. So Hypertime's Different. So What?

Okay, here's where it gets tricky. What happens to an infinite number of people, existing within an infinite number of timelines, when those infinite timelines intermingle? Since we haven't seen a clear-cut story featuring this concept, we can only speculate. But here's what I think.

For simplicity's sake, let's just take one character from the "one, true timeline" and apply the ramifications of Hypertime as I see it to him. We'll use Wally West, the current Flash, for our example.

Let's say we place him on our "one, true timeline", where ______ represents the timeline itself...

___________Wally West______________

Sinple, right? That's how we've thought of the DCU since Crisis. ONE timeline. ONE Wally West. But, according to Rip Hunter, sometimes Hypertimelines branch off from the one, true timeline, like tributaries from a river...

See, the second timeline, the one with "Wally-2", is created from the first. This could be caused by various things, such as an important decision or action, etc. Like, what if Wally went over the edge after learning of his Uncle Barry's death and became evil, like the Black Flash or something. (Keep in mind that an "important decision" or action could have occurred thousands, or millions, or billions of years in the past to cause divergent timelines. Divergencies are not limited to important superhero decisions or actions. A divergent timeline which starts a significantly long time ago could account for radical changes in the modern era. This could explain certain Elseworlds, such as Gotham by Gaslight or Justice Riders, where people who normally would be born in the 20th century were born much earlier.) Whatever happens, the Wally that goes off with the divergent timeline will eventually become DIFFERENT from the Wally remaining on the one, true timeline. (Incidentally, this is very similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Commander Riker was split into two Rikers by a transporter malfunction. The two Rikers became very different people because they experience very different things. In the example above, the two Wallys would be affected this way too.)

Now the fun part. Rip Hunter also said that "On occasion, those tributaries return--sometimes feeding back into the central timeline, other times overlapping it briefly before charting an entirely new course." So, what happens if the two timelines from above re-connect?...

If the two timelines merge, then the two Wallys must merge as well. THIS is how Hypertimelines are going to be intermingling, crossing over. It's not the same as a "crossover" in the Multiverse, where individuals merely crossed vibratory barriers. We're talking ENTIRE timelines (or universes, if you're so inclined) merging and separating and merging and separating over and over again, with no universal destruction like the Crisis.

The "merged" Wally from above (Wally-?????) is DIFFERENT from either Wally-Prime or Wally-2 because he represents a merging of two dopplegangers. This is probably the cause behind Hunter's statement (from Kingdom # 2) that "An old friend is suddenly recalled after years of being forgotten. A scrap of history becomes misremembered, even reinvented, in the common wisdom." If Wally-????? is a combo of Wally-Prime and Wally-2, then you'd better believe his memories and personality could be different from either of the two components. Since there are (presumably) an infinite number of timelines out there, flowing through each other, the chances for GREAT difference should be relatively small. BUT, for things like the 15 different versions of Hawkman since Crisis, the differences could be STAGGERING.

Now, we can go two ways from here. If, according to Hunter, the tributary merely "feeds back into the central timeline" and doesn't split off again, it would look like this...

 

The new Wally West would just continue on, in the one true timeline, either slightly or significantly changed from Wally-Prime, depending on how different his doppleganger was. This is how Hypertime is going to be used to resolve continuity errors. If Wally West acts differently now than he did a year ago, it's because, in the intervening time, another Hypertimeline merged with "ours," and the Wally West from that one was different enough to alter the final, merged "copy" of the Wally West that we're reading about.

But, if the tributary overlaps the one, true timeline "briefly before charting an entirely new course"...

The Wally that remains on the one true timeline would be the same as the one in the previous example, but the Wally that goes back with the tributary would eventually change and be different from the Wally he was "split" from, just like Wally-2 was different from Wally-Prime.

Incidentally, there's a line from the Legends of the DCU Crisis special that relates to this, in a way. The Flash (Barry Allen) says, "Many of them (the people being sent to Earth-1 to escape the Crisis) are genetic dopplegangers. If I'm right, they'll merge with their Earth-1 counterparts. I'm not sure if families will be left intact, but at least they'll be alive." Ironically, I think this fits Hypertime better than it does the Multiverse. Before the Crisis, the Superman from Earth-1 had met his Earth-2 counterpart; they crossed into each other's worlds WITHOUT merging, and surely they were genetic dopplegangers. Oh, well. Whatever Barry Allen's statement meant within the framework of that story, it's a pretty good description of how I see Hypertime working.

VI. Hypertime & the Crisis

Now that we've seen how different Hypertime and the Multiverse really are, now that we've seen what Hypertime might mean to the future of the DCU... it's time to see what Hypertime means to DCU's past.

Since Crisis, we've had to assume that the DCU we've been reading about was ONE COHERENT UNIVERSE possessed of ONE COHERENT CHRONOLOGY. This one universe was the result of the mergings of the infinite universes that preceded the Crisis. Of course, since the Crisis literally ERASED the histories of the infinite universes, the current DCU characters never knew about them. And yet, they remember the Crisis. What do they think happened during the Crisis? They obviously don't know the TRUTH about the Crisis. Even Waverider, one of the Linear Men, didn't know about it until Rip Hunter (hmm...) told him. This is one question that, to my knowledge, hasn't been fully answered by DC Comics.

In Zero Hour, it was established that the Linear Men DO have record of the Crisis (the TRUE record). Waverider was astounded to learn of the infinite universes which HAD existed. So it's not like DC just up and said, "Nope, the pre-Crisis DCU never existed from the post-Crisis DCU's point of view." So, the Crisis DID happen, and it was about more than the current DCU characters could fathom. It's usually placed at about "Four years ago" on DCU timelines.

So, in comes Hypertime. As we've established, Hypertime is not the same as the Multiverse, but it appears that many of the Hypertimelines viewed in Kingdom # 2 are very similar to pre-Crisis alternate earths. The big question is... What is the relationship between Hypertime and Crisis?

The Multiverse WAS destroyed by the Crisis. Hypertime is NOT just another Multiverse. SO... those Hypertimelines that we saw in Kingdom # 2, many of which featured pre-Crisis images... are those images showing us the PAST i.e., the part of a timeline (or timelines) that exist pre-Crisis, or are they showing us the PRESENT, i.e., timelines where pre-Crisis-like earths still exist and their heroes live on?

I don't think the answer is as simple as, "Hypertime's just the Multiverse with Tangent and Elseworlds thrown in." That part of my opinion should be perfectly clear by now. Taking everything that we've established to this point, we should be able to determine the relationship between the pre-Crisis and post-Crisis DCU.

Some have said that Hypertime is a smaller version of the Multiverse. But the opposite is true. We can assume that Hypertime has always existed, even before the Crisis, and that the ENTIRE Multiverse occured in just ONE DCU Hypertimeline. There could have been other Hypertimelines where the single universe NEVER split, 10 billion years ago. So, the Multiverse can be made to fit within Hypertime, not the other way around.

Here's what we know about the Crisis, step by step:

  • Before the Crisis, an infinite number of worlds existed in one "central" DCU timeline.
  • The Anti-Monitor sought to destroy this Multiverse with an anti-matter wave.
  • The universes within this Multiverse that were not destroyed outright were merged to become ONE SINGLE UNIVERSE again.
  • Shortly after the Crisis, DCU history was retroactively altered so that there was NEVER a Multiverse.

The last point seems to contradict what I said earlier about the Linear Men having record of the Crisis, but not really. It's similar to have a sentence written on a piece of paper, and taking a photograph of that piece of paper. If you erase the sentence, it's the same as it never having been there. But you still have the photograph, which contradicts the physical evidence of the blank page. The records at Vanishing Point (the HQ of the Linear Men) show a crisis in which 10 billion years of infinite histories were condensed into ONE history, but this contradicts 10 billion years of actual history that NEVER had a Multiverse. So, even though the Multiverse NEVER existed, it DID exist. If this seems paradoxical, don't worry, it's SUPPOSED to be. I don't believe the pre-Crisis Multiverse is *technically* reachable through Hypertime.

The Crisis DID effectively wipe out the Multiverse contained within the previous 50 years' worth of DC Comics stories. BUT, keeping in mind that there are an infinite number of timelines out there, there are undoubtedly Hypertimelines where the Crisis did not happen and the Multiverse (similar to the one we used to read about) lives on. And all of those pre-Crisis-type worlds ARE accessible to modern DCU characters.

VII. Conclusion

We shouldn't expect to have all the answers in front of us in a neat little package. Not knowing everything is what keeps us reading. But speculation has always been a staple of comic fandom, and it's a healthy one. Hypertime and its mysteries will keep us (and the DCU) guessing for quite awhile.

And that's how it SHOULD be.

   
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