Aaaand here it is, Fan-Fixers, the epic conclusion! This is where I sign off, and turn control of your television back over to you! I’d like to thank Nate for letting me post this gargantuan folly on his blog, and thank him and Richard Bensam both for being faithful beta-readers…both highly inventive fellows! There really is some nice stuff floating around here, isn’t there? Barring a massive public outcry, I think I’ll have to return soon, and dash some more absurd paint on these still-partly-blank walls…
Thanks for reading! Your pal, Plok.
Like Johnny Storm, Reader, you are passing through the celestial barriers known as Un-Life! To touch them is to perish! But this is why I have selected you! Only you possess the necessary skill to make this journey!
Reed, Sue, and Ben can’t hear you yet! You’re still on some different plane! But you’re getting closer…CLOSER…!
THE MISTS ARE CLEARING…!
“It’s the kid! He’s okay!”
Indeed he is, and look what he’s brought with him.
It’s gonna go fast, now. The moment of truth is at hand.
Fair warning, for those of you who haven’t done the assigned homework.
The important thing to bear in mind, is that within the confines of the MU’s fictional reality the divergent timelines do not share an equal ontological status with the main timeline. In our own reality, things that didn’t happen can be mapped, and that map can be used to explain why the world’s actual events took the actual course they did…and the MU is no different, notwithstanding the fact that you can go visit the places where things happened differently and fall in love with Kitty Pryde there or whatever. In the limitless branches and sub-branches of the tree of never-happened that supports the world, these encounters are accounted for too, you see…and they’re not nothing, not by any means, but they do remain merely a part of the overall “calculation”. Well, if they could be any more than that, the MU would have imploded as soon as Professor Horton let that first little bit of oxygen into the Torch’s glass tank!
Every moment in time would have attained an infinite energy density, and closed just like the mouth of a wormhole before a single photon could penetrate to its centre!
Because in a fictional universe one can arrange for many things to happen that ordinarily cannot happen, but one cannot arrange for EVERYTHING to happen that ordinarily cannot. Or at least: one cannot arrange for all these to happen at once.
So by the immutable law of the real-world physics that have crept into the MU just by accident, even though such creeping-in was never actively intended by anyone, it is nevertheless true that the main line is “real”, and the divergents are not. Even a divergent that also diverges further by having a visitor from the main line “enter” it…well, that does add to the mix, but it only adds to the mix, and it doesn’t change the fact — the fact! — that the divergents are constituents of the main line in the same way that the main line is not a mere constituent of the divergents. Oh, to be sure, the main line wouldn’t be what it is without the divergents! Ever wonder why the heroes always win, and the universe never dies? Well, it’s because there’s a universe out there where that does happen (even though everybody does the exact right thing), but there’s also a universe out there where it doesn’t happen (even though everyone screws up!), and when you count up all these different kinds of universes what you find is that they basically sum to “Peter Parker eventually became Spider-Man anyway”. Johnny brought back the Ultimate Nullifier. Dr. Strange beat Dormammu. Thor still made his father proud, even though his father was so pissed at him, and Jean still died because she loved Scott.
Or to put it another, slightly-weirder way: we know there’s only one main line, because seeing the divergent timelines is actually proof that there’s only one main line. The robustness of the main line is accounted for by a (relatively) simple tally of other possible universes: the universes where things break down utterly are outliers, and the universes where they don’t are amplifiers. And it isn’t that it couldn’t be otherwise — because anything may occur in a fictional reality — but it’s that it isn’t otherwise, because the necessities of the publishing business in the real world have made Marvel’s fictional universe stable over time in its world. Interstitial space clutches at vanished forms, and preserves them against some future day of resurrection: however things fall out or fall apart, the MU “remembers” them as they were before things went pear-shaped.
There is also Avengers Forever.
The fractal net of Limbo extends to everyplace there’s a phase transition, to everywhere there’s a boundary…and there is a BIG one between the main line and its constituents in the counting universe of Hilbert Space. Going into Tme is dangerous as hell for Immortus, because (in complementary fashion) it is only from Time that you can actually change things pretty fast and pretty directly. There may be a What If? in which Reed Richards is kept from stealing the Pocket Rocket, and in that alternate universe it may develop that he steals it anyway, or that somebody else steals it, or anything else that makes it so there’s a Fantastic Four in any event…or the universe may end because there isn’t a Fantastic Four, or anything at all may happen but it’s still subject to “calculation”, still just a matter of where that branch is located on the ol’ Tree of Life…but if you get into Dr. Doom’s time machine and go back in the main line to that fateful day, you will be able to definitely stop that rocket from taking off, and there is no “calculation” about it.
Oh…except that the main line is robust, right? So you may stop the rocket from taking off, but you will not be able to be sure that the FF won’t still come into existence somehow. Somewhere there are a bunch of possibilities surrounding the FF that most definitely include you stopping them from taking off in the rocket, and if in a lot of those they become the FF anyway, well you may not be able to stop that from happening. Possibilities boil and bubble beneath the skin of eventuality, and all of them count…so cut one away, and that doesn’t mean you have cut all away. Before your intervention, the sum of divergents ensured a Fantastic Four…
And after your intervention, they may still ensure it, but the real point here is: a time machine does allow you to cut into the flesh of “what happened”, very directly and to immense immediate effect. And hey, it’s possible that you may succeed anyway, right? After all you don’t know that your own robustness might not triumph over that of the Fantastic Four…!
Maybe they’re not so special as you are, right?
But there’s another way to change the main line, and that’s by pruning the divergents. An unimaginably monumental task! To create a “diffraction grating” of that scope, that’s as contingent on other divergents not changing around it, that involves messing about with such frighteningly infinite numbers of universes…to be honest you would be better off taking your chances with the time machine, but for Immortus it’s a better option, because going into Hilbert Space doesn’t threaten him at all. It’s far more difficult a matter than just sending the Space Phantom to alter real and actual Time, but it has the twin advantages of safety and precision…because there is probably some serious question about whether or not it can even be done, but at least all your mistakes will be confined to the laboratory, right? God, how long would it take to alter the weave of the divergents enough to cause a real change in the main line, could you even be sure that it would work at all much less the way you want it to…but again, there’s complementarity there: the more time it takes, the more you can take your time. And since in Limbo there is no time anyway, you have to think that Immortus could eventually do just exactly as he pleased…
If he had a reason to, which of course by himself he does not. What can change his own life? Nothing, anymore. What does he care about what happens in Time?
There’s no reason for him to care about any of it.
Except maybe Kang. At some point Kang “wearies”, and becomes the second Rama-Tut…and it does appear as though once he does so his transformation into Immortus may not be capable of being halted. Immortus certainly doesn’t appear to care much about interfering with Rama-Tut II! But he does care about Kang, thus we might assume that Kang’s retirement is the key. A sophisticated Limboite like Immortus can probably feel when the boundaries that make up his environment change because something has disappeared or something has emerged — or re-emerged — in much the same way that the Space Phantom can probably feel when the number of his fractured selves is going up or down. So perhaps Immortus knows that the MU has a tendency he can’t hope to entrain very much, of sending forms away and then bringing them back. After the meeting of all three of his selves in the affair of the Celestial Madonna, he didn’t give a damn if Kang died — although Rama-Tut II did! — and in fact we could even go so far as to suggest he wanted Kang to die, that once he and his earlier selves had met in the same place and gotten their timelines irretrievably tangled it was his plan that Kang must die…but whether he wanted it or he didn’t, whether he planned it or not, in the end it didn’t matter because the MU brought Kang back.
Complementarity: Kang wasn’t necessary to Immortus anymore, but because of that Immortus also had no say in whether he had to exist or not. Once the threat of paradox no longer bound their fates, then…well, their fates weren’t bound, were they?
And Kang’s Decision once again was a threat. BUT!! Complemetarity one more time: Immortus probably concluded that the MU didn’t need Kang to turn into Immortus, in fact might be inclined to continue “remembering” his form even after he turned into Immortus…so was this not, perhaps, the very source of the danger to him? Multiple reappearing Kangs, all headed toward the unfixed point in the interstitial fluid that was blowing little Immortus-bubbles into Limbo. As long as Kang could become Immortus, then Immortus was in danger of becoming Phantomized…but if the universe didn’t need Kang to become Immortus, then all Immortus had to do was…
…Just make sure that what his fictional reality wanted, it got?
But then enter the Time-Keepers. Immortus lied about this too, it seems, because the Time-Keepers are not exactly figures shrouded in mystery. In fact, it’s painfully obvious that most of what’s ever been said about them can’t be straightforwardly true. And should Immortus not know about it? At the end of Time, in its last moments, the “One Who Remains” creates the Time-Twisters, beings charged with immense temporal powers…then thinks better of letting them loose, creating the Time-Keepers instead. And we are told this resulted in two separate flip-flopping states of possible reality, a final divergence between two timelines: one which was dominated by the “evil” Time-Twisters, and one which was dominated by their “good” twins the Time-Keepers.
And what we are told here is obviously not true, to the point where if we accept it we pretty much must also accept Gerry Conway’s mistake about how rocket propulsion works. A rocket doesn’t need anything to push against, obviously, no matter what it says in a little yellow caption box. For that matter, and just to show that even the original talent must not be limitlessly respected in this way, the Hulk cannot be just so strong that he can change course on a massive jump through the air, because there isn’t any strength like that outside of Flex Mentallo. The Hulk also (unlike Flex) can’t be just so strong that he can read minds or turn invisible, either! And in a like manner…
The episode of He Who Remains cannot have created two divergents at the end of time, because it actually created four. One in which there is only the Time-Twisters. One in which there is only the Time-Keepers. One in which both exist. One in which neither of them exist. And also we could even imagine a “hidden fifth”, an implied negative — oh, how I love these implied negatives, a staple of Western literature since The Brothers Karamazov! The obscured ground, upon which the forms float! — in which He Who Remains doesn’t even make it to the end of time, never thinks of making any powerful Time-Beings at all, where it all just sort of…never happened even a little.
And in the calculation of all that, it is apparent that the mainline MU is one in which there are Time-Keepers but no Time-Twisters, which would ordinarily be the end of it…except that there are a couple of extenuating circumstances, because the Time-Twisters, like the Time-Keepers and the Time Variance Authority they (presumably) founded, have too much power — and too little sense of responsibility! — to be trusted anywhere near anything that’s even like time. On the Tree of Never-Happened there are millions of Peter Parker branches and millions of Fantastic Four branches, and they’re all different…but every last twig terminates in one of only five conditions as regards the Twisters/Keepers, and none of those twig-ends has any other idea in their tiny minds except “survive” and “beat the other guy”. So that ubiquity actually represents a tremendous power to trim divergent universes — well, that’s what you get when you advance a pawn all the way to the end of the board! — but there are a couple of things standing in the way of this power being fully employed.
One is theoretical: inside Hilbert Space the Keepers and Twisters doubtless act to create a terrible centipetal power that could collapse all the divergents together, but the manner by which they might accomplish this is not necessarily clear. How does it work, exactly, when inside a divergent universe there lies an amplitude for said universe to alter another? Would a dimension-hopper from inside Hilbert Space actually be able to make it to another branch of the Tree? Or would it simply create another sub-branch? The question is open, but if it so happens that the second possibility is the one that obtains, then it would seem that Twisters and Keepers across the Tree would have to be content with competing on the basis of who could create the greatest number of sub-domains: in a manner slightly analogous, then, to how altering the mainline by screwing with divergents is less direct than simply entering Time. So if that were the case, Immortus’ power to operate from Limbo as a Limbo-seated being (something which neither Twisters nor Keepers, Universe-dwellers by law of what’s printed in a Thor comic somewhere, can do), would be a powerful weapon for doppelganger to employ against doppelganger…
…If only they could compel Immortus to do their bidding somehow!
Another thing that stands in the way of the Keepers/Twisters War destroying the Tree is mathematical: they just cannot comprehend that numbering divergent universes doesn’t do any good unless the universes are enumerable…which they’re not, or at least not without using the invention known as “fractions” that both Keepers and Twisters seem so senselessly to abhor. But I guess this is just a way of thinking inherited from the unimaginative hordes of the TVA whose ultimate product was He Who Remains…patrollers of time who do little more than walk up and down the same sidewalk on the same side of the same block all day, and call it a city. To explain how the TVA can even continue to function in the MU without so much as the ability to count properly (I mean really, there are four divergents there at the end of Time, for heaven’s sake! How do they stubbornly see only two?) would probably take an essay even longer than this one (!), but I can only assume what they’re doing is analogous to what the Twisters/Keepers would be doing in Alternity if they were actually unable to jump from branch to branch of the Tree…just constantly expanding a sub-domain that they perceive as the All. Powerful? Tyrannical? Absurd? Yes, yes, and yes…but fortunately also small. Did they really threaten to take the Watcher’s dimensional viewer away? It’s hard to imagine anything more rewritable at some future date than the adventures of the TVA, in fact at this very moment I am holding myself back from proposing that they’re all just Space Phantoms, and that Immortus cooked the whole batch of them up as part of a plan to make a better diffraction grating! And, consequently, that it isn’t by accident the Keepers and Twisters find themselves needing his help…deluded about the nature of Time…
Finally, the third thing that stands in the way of the ultimate domination of the Keepers and Twisters, is that they have an Enemy. And that’s Rick Jones, wielder of the Destiny Force…although regular readers of this blog might know him better as the descendent of Moon-Boy: unintended “brother” to Michael Korvac.
You think the Time-Keepers care about the brutal Human Empire of the future?
What did they ever do about the brutal Empires of the past?
And meanwhile…back in Limbo…
Immortus finds that Kang is back. It doesn’t even matter how…in fact, it barely matters who, because Kang the individual isn’t the problem: his timeline is.
How to make it take another direction?
What matters to the Space Phantom is what happens in Time; divergent universes, which he can pretty much spawn at will, can’t hurt him…but his own presence in Time can. What matters to Immortus is breaking the time-loop that connects him to Kang; once he doesn’t have that to worry about, he’ll be completely immune to consequences arising from Time. What matters to the Time-Keepers is divergent universes; in Alternity, they are racing their dark reflections to see who can produce more divergents that are under their control, in order to replace the other in the mainline MU…although they are unaware that such an attempt is doomed by their stubbornly number-line thinking, no matter how Aleph-1 ubiquitous they may be on the tips of the branches…
And somewhere in the middle is Rick Jones…since evidently the Destiny Force can affect what goes on in every sphere of existence that we’ve detailed so far. And perhaps its reach may even extend to the interstitial fluid, wherein all forms are remembered? Rick’s power of imagination seems functionally identical to Roy Thomas’ power of memory — that is: it is a reader’s memory — though it seems quite certain Rick can’t possibly know this — which implies that his Destiny Force is an active factor in all three of the realities we have examined: Universe, Limbo, and Alternity. Which is no particular problem for any “metaversal” figure who’s trying to escape overdetermination…as (in this construction) Immortus and the Space Phantom surely are…but it’s absolute FROZEN HELL on any such figure who is seeking a defence in overdetermination, as the Time-Keepers are. Rick Jones, after all, can summon forth from his subconscious characters that are NOT currently in MU continuity…not to yank you out of the fictional context for no reason, Reader, but Rick Jones is one of those characters that provides writers and artists with the opportunity to drawn in le vrai Alan Moore-style “Alternity” …over there in the corner, that’s Mr. Magic…the Phantom is punching him…Neil The Horse looks on…Linus cowers under his blanket while the original Daredevil bloodily subdues Fin Fang Foom…Doc Savage looks on in concern, while The Shadow stands invisibly behind him and laughs…
So there’s no “control”, in a situation where that’s possible. The TVA seizes the tremendous power of the very last instant of Time, to create a method of exerting control over continuity that couldn’t possibly exist otherwise…but Rick Jones, though initially just an Atom Age Jimmy Olsen for an Atom Age Superman, became something else when Roy Thomas wrote him as an identification figure: became connected to the desires of a real person in the real world to have an effect on the fictional world, and so he is in possession of an ability that dwarfs anything else to be found there.
In effect: he’s become a Cosmic Personification.
But, of what?
The answer is right there at hand: “fictitiousness”. Or maybe: ‘”fictionality”? But this isn’t as straightforward as perhaps it may seem to us: within the MU the key concept in play here is IMAGINATION, but from our lofty real-world perspective it’s quite clear that “imagination” in the MU is not a very “imaginative” thing at all…since Imagination, as a cosmic force in the MU, is just a grandiose helmet that Memory wears. Rick’s imagination is massively dull by our standards…oooh, look, call out Plastic Man, or Buck Rogers! Or Prospero or Mary Poppins! Or Mandrake or McMillan & Wife. Alternity begins here, in terrible boredom…the sudden influx of imagination into the MU is only stuff that we’ve seen before, and never stuff that we haven’t…the breaking of the fourth wall is only the cracking of the cache of memory in there, that’s never not-uncracked here. And Rick isn’t the only Marvel character whose writer has meant for him to break the fourth wall by remembering things the other characters around him can’t, but most of these other attempts at the same thing have tended to fail rather dismally: metatextual awareness in a world constantly being rewritten just isn’t a very useful attribute, right! Because the world of Cosmic Atoms is all about forces and actions, not manifestations of the secret knowledge of the reader…since 1986, the DC Universe has had a “top layer” of reality, and therefore a universe in which if a character receives some vague intimation of his or her fictitiousness then that is meaningful…since you will probably never see a story at DC which reveals that the Crisis actually never happened at all. But the culture of Marvel has never permitted such finality, to the extent that Avengers Forever is probably as close as we will ever get, to a “Marvel Crisis”!
Or at least, to a constructive one…
But things are moving too fast, now, to stop and wonder about what a “Marvel Crisis” would look like! I’m running out of pages! And so we’re running out of time to get to Immortus’ real plan.
Now, bear in mind I am not definitely saying that he created the TVA, just so they could produce the Time-Keepers and the Time-Twisters and thus place a perfect infinite diffraction grating in his hands…although it might explain why they’ve always had the wrong information…but whether he did or didn’t, it still doesn’t change the fact that for all the Keepers’ power they can never do what he does. And can he ever screw them up, if he wants to! From inside the main line, in the very trunk of the tree of Time, the Space Phantom can generate an arbitrary number of divergent possibilities…has, in fact, already done so just by the fact of his existence…as the fact of a “main line” is itself necessary to the creation of divergents OH YES OF COURSE IT’S TRUE…!
…But not only that, but he can keep doing it, too, and Immortus knows that the integer-bound Keepers will never detect this counterforce to their attempt to own all and claim all, and resolve all. They can blast him dead where he stands, even in Limbo…but he holds their lives in his hands too. What they most desire is security: therefore they send him into every divergent that promises to support any other of the four He Who Remains divergents than their own, and they also send him everywhere they can to try and eliminate Rick Jones…
But Rick Jones proves very hard to eliminate by messing around with time, again for reasons this blog’s readers know very well…and this naturally implies he’ll be awfully hard to kill by killing him, as well, but of course the Time-Keepers don’t see this, and Immortus chooses not to tell them. Because he needs Rick Jones: things can happen, around Rick Jones, that can’t happen anywhere else. Kang and Immortus could be completely split, one from the other, if Rick Jones only wants it…
…So Rick Jones will make excellent cover, for Immortus’ scheming. It’s apparent that he can’t kill Kang, so what else can he do with him? Well, he can educate him in a false theory of time, that will leave Kang unable to figure out how to re-seat himself in Limbo in the first place! Without a shared ontological status between the main line and the divergents, there can be no possibility of a Council of Cross-Time Kangs, but somehow it seems as though there is…”somehow”, because Immortus tricks Kang into believing it. Rama-Tut II is already gone, thousands of years ago, into Limbo…and what do you suppose was the thing that made him go? Way back in the Celestial Madonna Affair, Rama-Tut II stays the Swordsman’s hand when he’s about to kill Kang, wondering if the act would wipe out his own existence too…and the next time we see him, he’s Immortus. And it’s just a coincidence, sure, but this is still both the first and last time that the man we now call “Nathaniel Richards” will be seen to worry much about paradox…and very shortly afterwards, he stops worrying about it once and for all.
After, possibly, he realizes the true nature of Time and Limbo?
But Kang will now never get there, because Kang now believes in the same sort of abhorrent state of “paradox” that the TVA does. And, in the same stroke, Kang no longer believes that he is fated to become Immortus at all, now that he’s successfully removed various other sorts of “impostors”. Oh, he still fears it…!
But deep down, his victory over the “other Kangs” has convinced him that his destiny can be changed. Meanwhile Immortus merrily removes, at the Time-Keepers’ urging of course, a vast number of divergents that make a Kang-who-becomes-Immortus a robust form. Now, the last thing to arrange is the showdown with the Keepers!
In which he is destroyed by them!
But he knows something they don’t, which is that the MU wants him around…and wants Kang around…and Rick Jones is right there, so it’s a calculated risk but as it turns out he’s calculated it right. The Time-Keepers, possibly his own devious creations, are destroyed…just by weaponry, or also by the Destiny Force reaching out and snipping all the little twigs off all the ends of all the branches, on the Tree of Never-Happened?…and Kang is set free, in that very same gesture which reconstitutes Immortus himself, just as it was all planned.
What was he hiding, from Genis-Vell’s cosmic awareness? Naturally it was never that the Space Phantoms were playing dress-up, as no one has ever needed cosmic awareness to find that out! But it was the fact that they were all the same guy, that Immortus didn’t want discovered. Because in the final confrontation with the Time-Keepers, the Avengers must believe absolutely in all the lies Immortus has told them, all the way from there being such a thing as “42%” of an infinite number of universes, to his final Marvel-style last-minute conversion and self-sacrifice…and if they were to see how powerful the Space Phantom really is, it would all be an awfully tough sell. It needs to be sold to the sort of people that can be believed, but that’s what makes it such a dangerous game, you see? Because the only reason to believe them, is that they might have found out it was all just another big Immortus lie-fest!
But fortunately for him…they didn’t find that out!
And they will never all be together in the same room ever again, so they won’t find it out later either. And…
Oh my goodness…is that the end?
Did I actually finish this thing?
Can’t help thinking that I’ve left something out…
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