Comics Creators

Should time pass in superhero comic books?


With both Superman and Batman having sons now I’ve been thinking about this. Many comic book fans want progression in superhero comics. They years to pass, they want characters to grow, they want past stories being significative and informing the future. DC had turned back the clock only to realize it didn’t work with their fanbase and now they’ve taken the complete opposite direction, bringing back Post-Crisis Superman, the one that was married to Lois, and not only that but giving him a son. Fans seem to be happy with the current direction. But Batman and Superman must be in their thirties forever, as they are icons. In the long run this will become a problem.

The illussion of the passing of time in superhero comics is a bubble that eventually bursts. DC gave up this time. But for how long until the next reboot? Is progression really worth it when it’s bound to collapse under its own weight?

Marvel also turned the clock back by not allowing Spider-Man to have a family in the main continuity.

What do you think?


As a few on the board discussed elsewhere, it was passing back in the time when The Uncanny X-Men and The Teen Titans were the hot titles. If CRISIS had allowed the original Super Friends of the Justice League to die heroically, it would’ve been interesting to leave Grayson as Batman, and Kara El and Donna Troy as the most piwerful DC heroes. It would be hard to see that getting any traction today though.

Maybe in the movies, though, as actors age.


Maybe not at a 1:1 scale, but heroes should age and retire at some rate if they’re part of a persistent universe. I honestly think this is one of the biggest issues facing superhero comics


Right now I would prefer superhero stories where time really, really did not pass. It would actually pass so little that the hero would be frozen in one time period, untouched by any invention or development. So in the same way that all Robin Hood stories are set in medieval England, all Batman stories would be set in the 40’s, and neither of them would use facebook to fight crime or steal from the rich.


I would like it if time occurred at an accelerated rate. I’m sick of waiting one month to pick up a book and find that the characters are in the exact spot they were in at the end of the last issue.

If time passes quickly, as opposed to slowly, I feel like I’m an enormous god watching over the pitiful lives of these characters; characters whose existence could not comprehend the magnitude of my being.

You know, just like in the real world.


Kinda like how Zorro, The Shadow or The Phantom are generally set in a single time period? I could get behind that


Yes, just like that.

Except for the Phantom. Since part of his concept is that his family has been fighting crime for several hundred years, with the role of the Phantom passing from father to son, he is the one super hero for whom time could really pass. He can get older, get married, have children, die and then a child would take over and become the Phantom. This has already happened 20 times before, as far as I recall.


It’s not a superhero book, but if you want to read something that genuinely passes time with us then read Judge Dredd.
There’s 35 years worth for you to catch up on.

As for whether or not they should pass time, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do these things. It’s interesting to read stuff that does and interesting to read stuff that doesn’t. But it’s not really a viable long term way to do things, especially for big corporations who own these characters.


It’s interesting to read the very earliest issues of Amazing Spider-Man and see them run pretty quickly through Peter’s high school career (he graduates in issue #thirty-something) - and then at some point they clearly realise that they have to slam the brakes on if they want to keep him young, and everything slows down to a crawl.


I preceive time passing in the Xmen books.
Buy that may be me imprinting my own aging on them.

What age do you make the Xmen out to be?
I view Cyke and Co as in their forties. With mags and his gen in their 60s. but again that could be down to reading about them for the last 3 decades.

Punisher and Nick fury where always older than dirt no matter that Punisher and Daredevil have been kids together on certain takes on thr character.


Well people have definitely aged in the Marvel U - that’s pretty evident in the idea that there are young versions of the X-men and old versions. I think it’s been hinted that Cyclops is in his 30s, so, if young cyke is 15/16 then maybe we can assume roughly 20 years has passed?

That would make sense for Spider-Man too who was a high schooler, and then became a teacher, professor and now owns his own business.

It makes less sense for some other characters, like Daredevil.


Isn’t the rule of thumb these days usually that it’s been around ten years since the start of the MU (Fantastic Four #1 is usually used as the yardstick)?

Although maybe that’s slipped a bit further now and it’s more like 15 years. I don’t think Spidey can ever really be older than his early thirties though.

(Also, did Secret Wars reset everything to an extent? I don’t really follow Marvel closely any more.)


I got the impression that the team was meant to be in their forties during Morrison’s New X Men run, but then Emma said she was twenty-eight in Riot at Xaviers…


I seem to recall I did the maths on this once and approximated that one week in real time was about equal to two days in the Marvel U on the aggregate. A year would be 3 months; so on that scale it’s been approximately 2 and a half years between now and the first Civil War; 5 years since Onslaught; about 10 years since Thanos War etc. So the Marvel U’s been around for about 15 or 16 years.

So, by the time Avengers 5 comes out, the MCU will have been around longer than the Marvel U :smile:


That sounds about right.


Yaay! Validation!


On that note, you can time a lot of the 80s-90s X-books by Kitty Pryde’s age. She was 13 (and a half!) when she showed up in the Dark Phoenix Saga, and her 15th birthday was in Excalibur 24.

So in the course of less than 2 years she joined the X-Men, was nearly killed by Magneto, traveled into space to fight the Brood, was kidnapped by Caliban twice, joined the New Mutants briefly, became best friends with Illyana Rasputin, trvelled to Asgard, was critically injured in the Mutant Massacre, had her life saved by Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, mourned the X-Men’s “death”, founded Excalibur, was distraught by Illyana’s reversion to childhood, and adventured across alternate dimensions, finally accidentally returning to earth some time before the rest of Excalibur.


Yeah, both X-men and Fantastic Four sort of tip their hand in terms of the timing. We know when both Val and Franklin were born and they’re now around 4 and 7.

I don’t think we’re meant to think too hard about this stuff but I’m also pretty sure there’s a whiteboard at the Marvel Offices with this sort of stuff somewhere.


When Marvel published the "Index to … " series in the 80s, they carefully worked out how much time was passing by analysis of how much time appeared to elapse in individual titles, anchored by a Christmas or other identifiable holiday, and cross-referenced between titles when they crossed over. So you would get things like (in the FF index) “This story takes place one week after Johnny met Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #(whatever) and so takes place in Peter Parker’s junior year in college, making Johnny 18 years old”. You would get some oddities like: “This takes place between X-Men issue (whatever) and (whatever), both of which took place in December, so there is an unseasonable winter heatwave in this story”. But overall it felt very coherent and believable.

Of course, they were looking back to the 60s and 70s MU, when there were less titles and seemingly a more coherent editorial strategy, with no multi-book events to fit in. And as Dave noted above, the characters really did age in those early stories, with identifiable life milestones, but that idea subsequently went out the window. I suspect there is no way you could produce an equivalent index series for the modern MU.


I imagine it looks something like this: