Once again, faithful Fan-Fix Followers and Front-Facers, it’s Plok reporting in while Nate’s off watering his orchids, with yet another turgid mess of continuity contortions calculated to glaze the ol’ eyes! And that voice in your head? The one that’s whispering there are better cures for boredom than reading this? You should probably listen to it…
But if you’ll stick with me, then I’ll stick with you!
Immortus is a liar.
That’s the one thing we know for sure about him, the one thing that Avengers Forever established beyond a shadow of a doubt. The guy just can’t tell the truth.
But, maybe that doesn’t matter.
Because if the only reality in the MU is what’s in the publishing record, and if the only immutable physical laws are mere grandiose reflections of the necessities of the publishing business, then we don’t need Immortus to tell the truth, and maybe we can even get a better read on what the truth is when we have his lies to help define their shape negatively. Kurt Busiek is not to blame; this was a monumental effort, a towering achievement of reconciliation! But Kurt had to contend with Immortus’ lies too, and so perhaps it was inevitable that he’d write a few of them as well. It’s isn’t really his fault.
But it’s the cosmology that’s to blame. Way back in Avengers #2, the Space Phantom shows up, and reveals himself to have the power to swap places with any Time-dwelling individual…sending them to Limbo by taking their place in the world in a way that cannot be discerned by all but the most extraordinary means because it is not an illusion: he really does “take their place”. But there are a couple of limitations on this power. One limitation is that the Space Phantom can only take the place of the living.
And another limitation is that he can’t take Thor’s place.
You have to wonder why. For myself, though I can understand the appeal of the “speciation of Gods” that’s ultimately accounted for in modern Marvel dogma by the “Elder God” clique of Gaea, Set, and Chthon — and it’s not un-Norse, actually, this speciation idea! — hell, it’s not un-Greek, either! — I still feel like it’s a bit less impressive in practice than it is in theory: somehow missing the boat of Kirbyishness on the mythological side, in the same way it misses it on the “Gods are really super-scientific aliens” side. Perhaps just because it fails to really conflate the two, for real? But instead just sifts them together in a materialistic way. “Magic is really just science we don’t know”, well that’s fine as far as it goes, but talk about burying the lead! Magic is “just” science we don’t know?
Maybe we’d be better off saying that our science starts looking like not such an impressive thing, when we consider all the stuff its current perspective excludes…and although in the real world we haven’t found anything that must lie outside that perspective, in the Marvel Universe such evidence is, if not a dime a dozen, then at least three for a buck. Asgard, for example, has plenty of high technology…but it also has the Odinsword and the Norn Stones, it has a Land of the Dead you can visit on foot, too, and though it’s no particular trick to think of technology sort of like our own that would explain it all…something something COMPUTERS something something ENTANGLEMENT…still that is all “just” science we don’t know yet, and to turn a Jack Kirby comic book into a Charles Stross short story seems a bit like…I don’t know, maybe to kill a mockingbird? Because there’s nothing wrong with a nice Charlie Stross story, but then again there’s nothing wrong with a nice Jack Kirby comic either, and we really should be able to have both…
…Rather than just creating a lot of new problems for the materialistic perspective to solve, and all hail the materialistic perspective but it’d definitely have its work cut out for it. On a good day Dr. Strange can trade spells with Dormammu for at least a time — and Dormammu can trade spells with Eternity for at least a time! — but “Asgardian magic” has always been beyond him. Dormammu may be the Ditkovian Devil, but Loki is a God, so Strange knows it takes another God to beat him. But, can’t he call upon the power of Oshtur, sister to Gaea from whom every God is descended? And, hasn’t he fought people from “pocket dimensions” before? Hasn’t he, in fact, gotten away with his skin intact from the Old Serpent himself?
So why is he so powerless against Loki?
“Technology” could give us the answer: Asgard is a program running on a massive computer (a bit like a video game!), and when Thor crosses the Rainbow Bridge it’s merely a photonic projection of him that arrives in Midgard, while the “real” Thor hangs suspended in potential. No one can tell! Except that when the Space Phantom tries to steal his form he can’t do it, because (perhaps like him) Thor isn’t really there. Likewise, Strange might be powerless against Loki because “Loki” is merely a projection, and all his spells projections too…the real Loki being no more than a very long string of numbers circulating in a superconducting lattice somewhere, and his magic just a bunch of cheat codes, a remote superuser mode for Midgard…which after all is also just a fictional construct anyway…and so once again there’s no “they” there, which consequently causes a great power to be vested in a version of Truth that’s (uniquely) born of recursion: Midgard is fictional, but Asgard is even more fictional, thus Asgard as a deliberate fiction within the fiction is paradoxically in a position to control it more aggressively. Inside the giant robot, a smaller robot who nonetheless lives in a wider context through seeing his own nature mirrored back to him…
…Is the one who pulls all the levers and pushes all the buttons, that makes the bigger robot go. And I wouldn’t necessarily propose anything too different as a non-technological answer for these questions, except that I would just leave out the “technology” part. Because it isn’t necessary! For since the fictional universe is fictional already, it doesn’t need to be digital as well…and anyway we know for a fact that its fictional status is NOT based on ones and zeroes, but on pens and inks instead. So why feel the need to insert a tissue of digital automation there? Snow Crash, after all, only proposed that its digital platform could be used to host fictional seemings otherwise impossible in a “real world” context…but where the non-real-worldness of the fictional environment need not be excused or explained away, “platforms” like this are just ideological frills…
So, here’s how it works in the absence of secret digital automation, which is actually pretty much the same way as it works in that digital automation’s presence…the Space Phantom can’t take Thor over, because there’s something special about him. Thor can’t be sent to Limbo against his will in the same way Iron Man and the Hulk can. But, why is this? What makes Thor different from all the other dwellers in Time?
Perhaps it’s because he isn’t a dweller in Time. Or at least: not a dweller in the ordinary parts of Time. If “Limbo” exists wherever there are phase transitions to be had, it doesn’t seem very much like there must be a lot of phase transitions in Asgard, does it? Odin never goes back in time to give himself advice…Hel can be visited on foot or on horseback, if you just follow the roadsigns…in fact now that I think about it, everything in Asgard seems to be part of a continuum, everything seems “horizonal”…there seem to be very few possible paths in or out, and what paths there are seem largely “physical”. The secret tunnel to Olympus, for example!
The Rainbow Bridge itself!
And there are more powers in those precincts than just science or magic. The Queen of the Norns practises “magic”, as Loki and the Enchantress also do, and a most powerful magic it is! But Odin simply has the “Odin-Power”, and Sif travels to Midgard by “a Goddess’ right!”, or somesuch…while their machinery lies all about, evidently applied to other things. And!
You never see Immortus there, do you?
(awkwardly adjusts Roy Thomas mask over face)
HAWKEYE: “I don’t get it, Morty — you make such a big deal about being master of time, and master of space, and I bet you’re master of kung fu for all we know…so if you’re so hot to visit Thor’s stomping-grounds, why do you need the Avengers?”
IMMORTUS: “Prattling fool of an archer! If you were as perceptive as your name suggests, you would see that even a Master of Time must have his limitations…!”
Roy was great, wasn’t he? That incredibly overexplanatory style. Also I like Hawkeye, don’t you? In Avengers Forever (“you remember Alberich?”) Kurt Busiek reveals why Rick Jones’ mind selected just these Avengers and no others for the Destiny War…but, you know, I always regretted that AF didn’t come out in the Seventies, because then there would’ve been a big illustrated text page going into those choices in more detail. Consider, if you will, how this particular selection of cross-time Avengers might’ve presented challenges for Immortus that another selection wouldn’t have: it’s conceivable that Genis-Vell’s cosmic awareness might be the one power in the universe (barring the superpowers known as Reason and Intuition, of course) that could detect a Space Phantom’s substitution, if given a minute or two to get around to it…and the version of Henry Pym known as Yellowjacket being in a fugue state might be pretty darn unreadable by mind-scanning, because most of his mind is so locked off that he doesn’t even know what he knows. YJ in his first appearance is practically Hank Pym’s genius unleashed, set free from all other considerations besides “making stuff” and “doing stuff”…he doesn’t even know where his education came from, or why he thinks the thoughts he does, and if you think about that old psionic saw that says “psychics can only penetrate surface thoughts with difficulty so TWO PLUS TWO IS FOUR, FOUR PLUS FOUR IS EIGHT”…well, the original YJ is all “surface thought”, isn’t he? So he’d be pretty unpredictable…
As regular old post-YJ Hank Pym would be predictable, except…except, would you be predictable, if your past crazy self was there, competing with you for your wife’s attentions and trying to show you up every five seconds, and insisting he’s not you, and always not saying that he’s in a state of constant horrible mental anguish that you yourself remember all too well? And the damnedest thing about it is that he is more “intuitive”, too, you know? He’s a shittier scientist, and a more incomplete person, but he’s sure as hell a better genius…
Then Jan is in the middle, and so it’s unbalanced stress all around. She can manage it — no one else could! — but it doesn’t leave much time to manage anything else. And then there’s the Hawkeye of this time, who is distinctly un-manageable by anyone he ever knew, even if they’re a future-Jan who turned out to be one of the all-time great Avengers Chairmen…this is Clint at his most irreverent, the Hawkeye who could give a damn about proving anything to anybody, and I really love this guy. He’s over his Cap-worship, he doesn’t feel like he has to hold up the name Goliath on Hank’s behalf, he doesn’t even feel like he has to rehabilitate his old criminal costume…as Kurt notes, any Hawkeye is a supreme natural irritant, but due to word-count pressures he can’t find the space to say that this Hawkeye may just be the best at that business…and you could even argue that in this Hawkeye is found the very beginning of the Clint Barton who’ll go on to be right up there with Steve Rogers and Janet Van Dyne in the All-Timer’s Club? Of which there’s only one other member, and at last that’s Songbird, who’s the only person in the universe who can manage any Clint Barton she sees, because who knows fathers better than their daughters do? And also she’s the one person who can keep things from really going to shit in this little group, because coming from the future and having been an Avengers’ Chair she knows everybody’s story…
…Except just one person’s story, and that’s the Englehart Cap’s story, because I doubt all that guy’s thoughts and feelings are set down in the official record. Kurt, for brevity’s sake, describes this Cap as “diffident”, but he’s really not diffident, you know…he’s only less prone to instinctual action because he’s working hard at trying not to be paranoid, though everything in his life seems to be trying to make him so. Wrestling with the problem of the limits of knowledge, questioning every appearance, and trying to drill down to his own personal heroic cogito. It’ll come, in time, with the words “every bit as bad as the Red Skull”, and then he’ll be sure of his compass again, but until then, while all the regular step-back-and-reflect people are in a mad whirl that keeps them mentally on the hop…he’ll be the guy trying to make sense of it all so he can find his way through it, and he’s a pretty smart cookie but we don’t often see him in this role, and so how d’you like that for misdirection, eh? The ordinary understanding of “how the Avengers typically function” is completely blown-up by this sortation, but unless you are intimately familiar with each of the Avengers in question you wouldn’t know it…you’d expect New Sober Reflective Hank to dominate Old Crazy Intuitive Temper-Tantrum Hank through being a thoughtful guy, you’d expect shit-disturber Hawkeye to snap to unreflective Cap in support of Decisive Action above all, you’d expect Songbird to defer to Jan’s superior mediation techniques, and pair off as a scouting unit with a Genis-Vell who’s respectful enough of the old legendary warhorses to submit to being used as a Special Tool…sure, you’d expect all that, if you only knew the Avengers by their considerable reputations…
But we were discussing Asgard, where time-travel isn’t used, because as we know “all time-travellers must pass through Limbo to get where they’re going”…however Asgard’s relative paucity of phase transitions means there are few places where Limbo can be called in, so interdimensional travel is hard, there. Why it’s almost as though Asgard is at the bottom of an energy well, almost like Eternal Asgard exemplifies an entropic principle in the MU, indeed almost like…
…Asgard is at the centre of the bubble. Or in its central precincts, anyway! In Olympus there is technology too, and also some magic, and then there’s the stuff Zeus exercises which I believe is simply called “Olympian Power”…hmm, sounds kind of like “the Odin-Power”? Deep in toward the centre of things, the fluid of Limbo is gradually excluded, squeezed-out until it isn’t there at all — just as in the “computer Asgard” there isn’t any time-travel because reversing an equation doesn’t change the equation because it’s an equation — and so making a “bubble” to instantly transit locations is more than just a matter of putting together some diodes and running some current, not any old Tom Dick or Harry can do it, because the whole business of quantum tunnelling is extremely vexed down here on the abyssal plain of Universe where everything is pinned down by pressure and density until you don’t swim you just walk. Up a couple miles, in the pelagic zone, swimming is cool…why you can even swim up to the surface if you want to, maybe even jump like the flying fish or vault like the dolphin, and when you go up into the air all the other fish say “shit, where’d he go, it’s like he’s OUTSIDE THE OCEAN”, and then when you come back down again they’re all like “HOLY HANNAH, how in the heck did he get there?!“…
And it’s a common cosmogony in pre-industrial cultures: the dense black chthonic realm of total fact is the circle in the middle, the large and changeable blue pelagic ring outside it is the world of human life, and the clear ring of the atmosphere above is the abode of mobile concepts, pure concepts, concepts with feet…
Concepts that are on the move, beyond our imagining. The alert reader of this long, long chain of pointless reasoning may have already recognized a bit of Vernor Vinge in it; so for that person, this is the place where I reconnect Vernor Vinge’s Milky Way with old Welsh mythological patterns. Annwyn and the Pig-Run and the Bright World…
They’re in the MU as well!
And that’s why when the Space Phantom tries to steal Thor’s form in Avengers #2, he’s instantly cast back into Limbo. Why? Because the Space Phantom stands in Limbo, and the Hulk stands in Time, but Thor stands in the Godly Realms…and Limbo connects with Time, and the Godly Realms connect with Time, but only Time connects with both. Different grounds mean different soils, and different roots: Thor and the Space Phantom are both just visitors here. Just extensions, perhaps, or projections…but anyway the thing about Thor’s reality is that it doesn’t border on any bubbles. Inside the body of every person living in Time are phase transitions at every possible level…even at a cellular level there are such transitions, or how else would Henry McCoy have cured Henry Pym?…but inside Thor’s body there are no transitions of this type, because his body was formed in a place where there are no such transitions anywhere, or at least very few, and maybe this is even the source of the typical Asgardian density, durability, and strength? That one’s body is not shot through, on even a sub-atomic level, with rivers of nothingness that suck away mass and energy…
…Along mysterious dimensional paths, and for heaven’s sake let’s get back to those paths, or I promise you we’ll be here past the time when Odin fights the Fenris-wolf. Paths, we should conventionally expect, always begin in their home soil and then parabolically arc back to it, but Thor once again gives the counterexample, as his father was nonetheless able to re-seat him in Midgard as Don Blake in order to punish him…and then Thor didn’t want to give up having, as it were, a foot in both worlds. So let it be a lesson to you fathers out there! Tough love will indeed make your children independent. It’ll totally work.
You should know that going in. But ANYWAY, what was I saying about the paths? Oh yes: that from the quantum-mechanical perspective you could say that the paths define the place…because the “place” really only exists as the product of the paths. In Limbo, paths can link to paths can link to other paths…Limbo, being all edge, is all path and no place: Limbo has too much definition by possible paths, for any part of it to be stable in a place-like way. But down in Universe, it’s different: here, paths are mostly between places, because there are fewer of them. But…
There is also that potential for Universe (at least, the Time parts of it) to make paths leading into Limbo. And no one in Universe can be grounded in anything but Universe, so they can’t be like the Limbo-dwellers and link through from bubble to bubble to other bubble ad infinitum…but what would happen if a single piece of Universe spawned many parabolic paths into Limbo, that all came back to the same place? The ordinary inter-Universe paths might then get lost in that jungle of time-loops…you’d be hard-pressed to locate among all the incredibly open doorways the ones that led to just a regular, conventional other place…a regular place that’s probably within conventional walking-distance…and so you might get stuck there, mightn’t you, and your little piece of Universe might become, let us call it, “limbo-like”.
Only after a while, it might not even be so “little”.
You have to wonder how many times this could happen, or even if it would be possible to know how many times it could happen, or has happened. Square blocks of city streets could become vast churning grids of constantly-shifting location…underground tunnels could be transmogrified into convoluted maps of Hell. There could be bubbles within bubbles, constantly casting out wind-borne spider-strands to Elsewhere…and if there are no Things, but only Interactions, then might there not be some point at which what can’t be told apart from Limbo actually becomes Limbo?
Or, at least: “Limbo”?
So now that we’re finally here, let’s talk about Avengers Forever.
Problem Number One: the Space Phantoms don’t work right.
Problem Number Two: Immortus is a liar.
Let’s let these two fight it out!
If a Space Phantom can’t take the place of a character that is dead at the moment he wishes to enter Time, then AF is riddled with impossible events…not only was Phineas Horton an adult in 1938, and dead by the mid-Seventies (a problem that only gets prettier as the sliding timescale’s effect goes on, since Horton is every bit as pinned to the late Thirties as the young Steve Rogers), therefore not available for a Space Phantom masquerade in the pages of John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers, but also we are explicitly told in AF that the Space Phantoms impersonated the Gunhawks after they had already met their historical end in the Old West a couple of years earlier. There are two obvious solutions to this inconsistency: either Space Phantom impostures don’t work as they’re said to in Avengers #2, or the Space Phantoms impersonating Horton and the Gunhawks were brought forward in time by technological means to a point after which they had (if you follow) already eventually relinquished the forms of those they were impersonating. For cosmological reasons I am going to suggest that the latter solution makes the most sense…and maybe it would make it that much harder for Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness to detect a Space Phantom impersonation, if technically it had already “ended” by the time he encountered it? Of course once you have Space Phantoms being moved about the temporal chessboard from Time rather than from Limbo, you don’t really have all that much need for there to be more than one Space Phantom in existence…if the impersonations caused by a Limbo-switch are then being moved about in Time, then one Space Phantom could impersonate each of the Old West gunmen in turn, move each to a time where all those impersonations coexist simultaneously, do his thing and then move back to give the forms up. Apparent “deaths” of a number of different Space Phantoms could then be explained as one guy playing possum several times, knowing that a return to the past is imminent…and the exposure of the true Space Phantom form could be explained as what happens when an impersonation is disturbed that’s technically not even happening anymore, as other odd effects might be seen if a Limbo-switch imposture was then taken back into Limbo before the form was given up. So although AF may tell us that there are many Space Phantoms, its events remain explicable if there were really only one…which is an explanation I prefer, since it changes less of what we know.
However if that were the case, then why send the Space Phantom, in his many guises, so far through time? From Limbo, all times and all places (with just a few exceptions) are equally-reachable — standing in Limbo is itself a method of time-travel, if you can only leave it! The Space Phantom’s impostures are straight out of “Quantum Leap” — he can’t take someone’s form without having travelled someplace in Time! And so one imagines that if he so chose he could take the place of a whole bunch of characters in a manner that would seem serial to him, but simultaneous to us, if they only happened to already be in the right place at the right time all together. Why, if you wanted to you could have a whole planet of people impersonated by the Space Phantom!
A galaxy-spanning Empire, populated by no one but the Space Phantom!
And the name rather gives it away. Imagine some long-past date in the MU, when the Space Phantom terrorized other peoples of the universe as he once sought to terrorize the Avengers. If you crossed him up, there could be no escape from his vengeance…the fastest ship couldn’t outrun an enemy to whom distance is a null category; the loneliest interstellar waste couldn’t hide you from a creature whose reach into spacetime is unlimited. As well, there seems no particular reason that the Space Phantom couldn’t live an entire life in Time, so long as that life belonged to somebody else. He could live a billion lives…a trillion lives. He could rule the Universe completely.
Why hasn’t he ever done it?
Or, to be more specific: why make the confrontation with the AF crew so complicated? Why not just move the Gunhawks through Time and then have the Space Phantom do his thing? On the surface, it seems as though the best answer to this would be “because the story’s right, and there are many Space Phantoms, and they’re all just standard-issue shapeshifters”, rather than “because it’s all to fool Genis-Vell”, but I’m not so sure about that…for one thing, he’s an awfully funny-looking dude for people “lost in Limbo” to just sort of turn into just because — for that matter, why wouldn’t Immortus have turned into “him” too? — and for another thing it makes him kind of boring, just another Moloid. When really he should be a Tyrannus!
He has a really impressive power, right?
Yet we are constantly directed away from thinking it’s as impressive as it is, and given that we’re dealing with Immortus then anything that involves him lying is more likely to be true, than anything that involves him telling the truth. What if there really was just the one Space Phantom? If he was under Immortus’ thumb, things could easily be arranged so that we would think there are many…and a bunch of indistinguishable servitors who just shapeshift every now and again doesn’t really seem like too big a deal, so that would only encourage us to take the Space Phantom lightly. If there is just one Space Phantom, with time-travel powers that are better and sneakier than anyone’s, then that’s a cosmic-level threat! But if there’s just some mob of functionaries who are extra-good at putting on disguises, well we’ve seen that before. Who worries about henchmen?
They’re really only good for bringing Immortus his slippers!
But on the other hand, if Immortus had under his thumb a being who could potentially replace all the people in the universe…then that’s not “a crowd of henchmen”, that’s a secret weapon of terrifying importance, and if the Space Phantom is only one of the instruments at Immortus’ command, then that makes Immortus an awful lot more powerful than we’ve been led to believe. Kang’s just another Caesar, but Immortus is a Prospero…and that’s a BIG step up in power, for the man who was once Rama-Tut!
You can see why he went for it!
Except…no, that isn’t the story, is it? Kang wearied of a life of endless conflict, and wanted to retire. Just get a cottage in Limbo, and play benevolent gardener to Time among his books. That’s what Immortus says happened, and apparently Immortus is now to be considered an honourable man…the enormous, mind-staggering power? No, no, now why would the man previously known as Kang ever be interested in getting his hands on that? To want such a thing, well you’d have to have some kind of limitless ambition and unquenchable thirst for dominance, or something…!
And Immortus, as we know, is just a humble scholar.
And definitely not a guy who lunged at power, only to find it all turned to ashes in his hands!
So…I admit, my off-the-cuff reasoning for why the fake Horton and fake Gunhawks might have been brought forward in time, it maybe sounds a bit thin. All to fool Genis-Vell, eh? But then at times it seems as though there’s nothing easier than penetrating a Space Phantom disguise. You don’t really need cosmic awareness, for that! So it’s a bit of a crap reason…it won’t suffice…
What would suffice?
What could cosmic awareness potentially discern, about Immortus and the Space Phantom and the Destiny War, that would be worth going to these slightly-ridiculous lengths to obscure?
And if Immortus was so concerned with removing the obstacle the Avengers represent to the safety of the timestream, why didn’t he just, you know…kill them? Kang almost killed them, on his first appearance, and Immortus must have technological capability far beyond Kang’s. Why muck about with the Legion of the Unliving and the Masters of Evil? Why all the slow-pitch?
Why all the “cackling like a supervillain”, over the years?
For the answer, let’s return to Doctor Doom and the Cosmic Cube. If Doom knows the method by which a Cosmic Cube is made, then why hasn’t he ever made one?
In this little fan-fix narrative of mine, it’s because he never trusted the Theory of the True Vacuum. If the force-field that is created is eventually transformed into a thought-into-reality machine, it isn’t because the True Vacuum is trapped in there! The nameless scientist at A.I.M. who talked his way into Cosmic Cube funding — which included MODOC funding, let’s not forget, so: big megaproject — may have believed that if he could make a little “bubble” in space that zero paths entered and zero paths left, then the True Vacuum would be the only residuum…but Doom, who’s got a bit more on his resume than this guy (hello? time-machine inventor over here?), doesn’t buy that for a second. To make a force-field whose interior is inaccessible to the realm of Universe, okay…okay, theoretically you could make that. But to make a force-field whose interior is inaccessible to Universe and Limbo? That’s just wrong on so many levels, that’s not even wrong, for one thing it’s “thermodynamically” impossible, for another thing you are essentially making a Limbo-bubble to try to do it, so it really fails in a tautological way at the first effort…and even if you could do it you would still not “capture” the True Vacuum because the True Vacuum — how does one put this — DOESN’T EXIST! In purely technical terms: it doesn’t “exist”, right? Where “to exist” is a thing, it isn’t that. And where “to not exist” is a thing, it isn’t that either. Total nullity lacks even a definition — the whole thing’s just question-begging, because when you say you’re going to make a force-field whose interior is inaccessible to both Universe and Limbo, and that will prove the True Vacuum…well, that’s backwards, because what could one employ except the True Vacuum, to make such a force-field in the first place? You’d have to have the stuff already in hand! Unless, oh yeah, it was just an ordinary Limbo-bubble anyway, and you’re just pretending it’s something else because you’re a failure as an intellect. You know, Doom has put up with a lot, when it comes to other scientists crashing around in the china shop of his scientific discoveries — Reed Richards even modified his time machine so it can go into “divergent realities”, which just shows how Richards is a pathetic excuse for a scientist, because the whole trick of building a functioning time machine in the first goddamn place was figuring out how to keep it from going into divergent realities! CURSE YOU, RICHARDS…!
But this “Cosmic Cube” thing…this is really just too much. This is table-rapping, it’s just garbage. And the scary thing about it is, it works…
…But no one takes two seconds to think about why it works, when it obviously can’t bloody work, so Doom wouldn’t touch the thing with a ten-foot pole as long as he doesn’t understand its principles. You have to be able to control the thing, you know? Otherwise it’s just a bomb going off in slow motion. Only a fool — or an engineer, like that imbecile Tony Stark — would just try to make something without knowing what it was he was making. Doom worked every day and night for years coming up with his time machine, he knew exactly what it was going to be before he so much as picked up his screwdriver, his knowledge of the principles of time-travel is second to none…these A.I.M. clowns and their hucksterish wannabe scientists, they’re a dangerous embarrassment. Doom never touched a Cosmic Cube until he understood why it worked the way it did, at the end of Englehart’s “Secret Wars III”…never touched one until he knew what was inside it that wasn’t the True Vacuum. Until he had proof that its interior actually wasn’t inaccessible to Limbo, but was simply in a relationship with only one part of Limbo.
Which, fair’s fair, is a pretty impressive achievement anyway…especially for a contemptible pack of morons who can’t even keep their own automation from enslaving them…
And here we leave Doom ranting in his castle, but let’s take away with us his idea of the impossibility of having a Limbo-bubble that doesn’t link to other Limbo-bubbles…the ineliminability of path-connection that he waggishly refers to as “thermodynamic”. Well, I guess it’s kinda thermodynamic, really! But let’s take this another step or two, to get to what he’s really saying. He’s really saying that when all you’re dealing with is bubbles, you never do encounter “interstitial fluid” on its own in a non-bubbly form. You never encounter anything like a “permanence” of medium. Paths make the bubbles and the bubbles support the paths…all bubbles are “made”, you know?
So the Limbo of Immortus and the Space Phantom is “made” too. But who made it?
Of course, now that we’ve actually seen a crapload of Space Phantoms, they’re all “real” — since what happens in a published Marvel comic is the only true record of events occurring in the shared universe. But interpretations of those events can change, so…given only one Space Phantom, and yet a profusion of other Space Phantoms, and given that Limbo itself is outside Time — I’d suggest that the idea of time-travel within Limbo is pretty much a non sequitur — then how come there are all these copies of ol’ Phanty running around? Well…he can’t be called “the Space Phantom” for no reason, so how about we assume that at one point he did terrorize the universe, and rule space with an iron fist? Limbo, as I’ve proposed, might be a terribly lonely place…you might think “yes, awesome, all that power, what a great time I’ll have with it!”, but power is only real big fun for a creature seated in Universe, whether it’s ordinary Time or the Godly Realms…whereas for a Limbo-dweller, you just straight-up get the monkey’s paw. And all parabolic paths only lead back to their origins, so you can’t really escape the place once you’re there…
Except the Space Phantom does seem to be able to escape, by “taking places”. How tempting this must have been, then! Live a trillion lifetimes, enjoy the fruits of limitless power and indestructibility! Nudge events into any course you please. How easy would that be? If you want something changed, you just Quantum Leap it…replace a person in a position to alter the chain of causality. Simple.
Simple for a while.
But then what the hell do you do if you replace someone at Time X (let’s say), and that turns out to be a blast, but then when you go back to replace someone at Time X-minus-1, although you also have a blast you change the timeline of the person you replaced at Time X? And then when you pop back to Limbo, there’s another one of you there, because in Limbo there’s no paradox (because where there’s no Time, there’s no paradox) so you can’t sort it out, so that guy is simply you as well, and suddenly you’re one being in two parts. Which is annoying. And gives you a headache. And your thoughts are a bit crackly from all the interference.
So maybe you try to fix it, see? By going back to Time-minus-2…but that only makes it worse, and actually things get a lot worse in a tearing hurry, because of course there is no person you can ever replace, who doesn’t have the ability to deflect causality, and you don’t really give a damn if you’re making different timelines by leapfrogging back over your previous instantiations but you’re making different Space Phantoms, because you’ve been stupid and invited Time into Limbo, and Limbo doesn’t tolerate Time, so it just kicks Time back out and makes you pay the price. The Universe breathes a sigh of relief, as it starts to see less and less of you…but you’re still not done, because now every time some asshole with a time machine in Universe goes back and does something which alters the timeline of one of your replacement-selves…POP! Another Space Phantom, and a still more fractionated consciousness. So hard to think, damn it…so hard to remember…!
And then every once in a while someone down in Universe does something with a time machine to your causality that trims a Space Phantom…or two, or three, or a hundred…and it’s like a game: sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. When there are fewer of you, you can think better, you’re more effective, you can reconsolidate. When there are more, you’re a mess. But at least there’s hope, that one day your past replacement-selves might get trimmed down far enough that you could trim the last ones on your own, return to your original, singular state?
And then Immortus arrives. How he got there you don’t know, how he became unseated from Universe and reseated in Limbo (if only you could remember!) is a mystery, but when he gets there he realizes in an instant what the deal is with all these scatterbrained Space Phantoms lying all around the joint…and he makes you an offer:
Do his bidding, and he’ll change time to trim your other selves.
So…many Space Phantoms, and it’s just a horde of Moloids who’ll follow any leader.
But one Space Phantom, and he’s an immensely powerful spirit who’s willing to make a devil’s bargain with Immortus…and Immortus had better not betray him, either…
Because Immortus needs him too. Immortus, you see, if he realized in an instant what had happened to the Space Phantom, would know darn well he could never safely go into Time if it meant crossing over his own causal footsteps…and that he probably shouldn’t go into Time at all unless he absolutely has to…and so whatever he does in Time has got to be absolutely hygienic! But the Space Phantom is another story: already contaminated with Time, he can go anywhere Immortus chooses to send him, without incurring any ill effects that, really, he isn’t already suffering from. Just so long as Immortus has his confidence, you know? So Immortus never has to “split”, as he otherwise might, and even if he does he probably is fortunate enough to have an exit strategy planned in advance…and as a result there are no “many” Immortuses, but only the one. Which is the one Kang turned into.
Oh, except that’s another lie, as long as we’re talking about lies…
Because of course it wasn’t Kang that turned into Immortus, but instead it was the second Rama-Tut. You remember, the one who was integral to the turning-out of the Celestial Madonna storyline? The one Kang became, when he “wearied of conflict”?
So, obviously this is all just a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When Englehart wrote the death of Kang in battle with Thor, the fans howled: “Englehart, you idiot, if Kang is dead then how can he eventually become Immortus? You’ve created a TOTALLY NEEDLESS PARADOX AT THE VERY LAST SECOND…!“ But there are paradoxes, and then there are paradoxes. What happens in the published comics, is the only true record of events that have taken place in the fictional universe, right? So the death of Kang at the hands of the Thunder God doesn’t matter, because we have seen the second Rama-Tut, and we can’t be made to un-see him. The orthodoxy of time-loop logic jumps the track at this moment, but it doesn’t take the train with it, and so there might be any later explanation for why a second Rama-Tut who remembers a life as Kang is there to stay the hand of the Swordsman, but there is no explanation in the MU that cannot be reversed anyhow, and then re-reversed, and re-re-reversed again, world without end, all without changing the fact that Rama-Tut is there, in the Celestial Madonna storyline, and speaks the dialogue that was written for him to speak, and you know what? Cosmologically, nothing comes of it. So the paradox clearly isn’t a paradox, according to the true and actual extrauniversally-determined physical laws of the MU…because to be a true paradox, something paradoxical would have to exist on the PAGE, you know? Some real pen-and-ink depiction would somehow and at once have to contradict that same depiction that it is, in a way that frustrated narrative’s power to account for it with a new chain of logic. And this is not what happens with Kang’s death. Kang gets brought back, not because without him the paper will fall away from the staples, but because the interstitial fluid “remembers” him: which is to say, future writers want to use him. They don’t have to use him, if they don’t want to…!
But as it happens they do, and imagine Immortus’ annoyance! He is, after all, happy when Kang is killed, because the time-loop is broken…
But, why would he be happy about that?
If the world of Limbo is truly “outside Time”, then an answer suggests itself: Immortus doesn’t need his old worldline to exist, in order to keep on living. One day the second Rama-Tut just sort of…comes to an end, in Universe, and that’s the end of his story as far as chronology goes. Born in the 30th century, goes back to 3000 B.C., fights the FF…then forward to the 40th century, becomes an intertemporal conqueror, fights the Avengers…then retires to 3000 B.C. again, then one day mysteriously vanishes without a trace. Severs his causal connection to history. So, can anything that might happen to Kang really affect Immortus now? Especially since we’ve already seen the result of that experiment, and the result is “nothing happens to Immortus”?
And if anything that happens to Kang could affect Immortus, would Immortus really sport with his own survival by taunting Kang? Would he constantly torment him with the inevitability of his decline into a Humble Scholar?
Yet why does he bother with that either, if you see what I mean. If Kang might not one day become Immortus, thus wiping Immortus from existence, then Immortus wouldn’t want to taunt him…but if his transformation into Immortus is inevitable, then that also means none of Immortus’ taunts can have any effect on what is fated to occur, so then again Immortus wouldn’t have any reason to taunt him. Well, he won’t change anyway, so why bother talking at him? But consider how the picture changes if Immortus wants Kang to reject the destiny of the Humble Scholar! If Limbo is time-free, then nothing will change for Immortus if Kang rejects his destiny. But what if he doesn’t reject it? Perhaps the end of the second Rama-Tut’s timeline, fixed in Universe, is a loose point in Limbo, like a fire hose without any firemen to hold onto it…potentially spewing random copies of Immortus into the borderlands. The time-loop means Immortus and Rama-Tut and Kang are always crossing paths…so maybe every time a Rama-Tut II does whatever it was he did to become Immortus, a new Immortus is created?
Is it possible?
Well…if someone might write it into a comic, then yes: it’s possible. Heck, it’s more than possible! It’s almost necessary. And sitting right there is the Space Phantom, an object lesson in what can happen to you if you invite Time into Limbo, or indeed if you are so unwise as to choose to be a character in no particular fixed state of Time, in a storytelling milieu in which time-travel and the world at large can both exist at the same time; Immortus has been very careful not to let himself become Phantomized by his own actions, but what will happen to him if he once enters Time after the date of Kang’s conversion to the second Rama-Tut? If we reason from the extrauniversal level of the real world, we can see immediately that the fictional world of the MU is astonishingly tolerant of paradox; every instance of time-travel constitutes a paradox, after all! So consider the possibility of someone writing a story that involves Limbo starting to fill up with Immortuses, if you will, O Notional Reader…
Well, could we ever really write that eventuality permanently out, once it was written in?
Or consider if you will the Space Phantom himself: given that he might, under any given future writer’s direction, insert himself into any previously-documented moment of the publishing history…then hasn’t he himself spawned, all on his own, an infinite number of divergent universes? Just by not inserting himself everywhere, hasn’t he created a departure-point into alternity from every instant, along the paths he didn’t take?
I promise, this is the very last thing I will say “we’ll come back to that” about…because really, no foolin’, we’re coming back to that, and SOON!
We’re actually almost done with our mad whirlwind of a trip!
Any minute now, we will re-enter reality!
But for just a moment more…we hang suspended.