Notes on Time Travel and Booster Gold
"Time travel stories always give me a headache!"
--Booster Gold creator Dan Jurgens, circa 1995
The DC Universe has a rich history of documented events, extending in some cases to the dawn of mankind and even beyond. Alternately, certain future events are also known to be inevitabilities for certain well-documented characters. The existence of these past and present continuities creates pitfalls and paradoxes for those characters that visit both the future and the past. Few characters exemplify the troubling nature of time-travel as well as Booster Gold.
In the year 2462, Michael Jon "Booster" Carter fled the future with technology and knowledge to become the superhero known as Booster Gold in the year 1986. Did Booster's return to the present change his past? Do Booster's actions in the 20th-century affect the lives of citizens in his native 25th Century? As a rather callous man of action, Booster has never stopped to contemplate the ramifications of such a remarkable set of circumstances. But his friends, allies, and enemies have.
IT HAPPENS BECAUSE IT HAS TO HAPPEN
In Booster Gold, Vol. 1, #6, Booster's robotic friend Skeets explains to Superman that historical documentation exists that proves that Booster was fated to travel to the twentieth century. Skeets does not reveal the details of this documentation, but his presumption is that if such data existed before he and Booster ever left the future, then it is predestined that they travel through time to the past. They will travel through time because they must, or in other words, because they appeared in the past, they must travel through time in the future. This Circular Causation Theory of time travel, also called a Predestination Paradox, Time Loop, or simply Fate, would allow for anyone in the DC Universe to travel back in time to any point prior to their own present and not worry about changes that could be made to the historical record.
By the time of the Millennium related events in Booster Gold, Vol. 1, #25, Martian Manhunter has been told by Harbinger that Booster's presence in the 20th-century is to protect him from events in the future. Once again, the exact specifics of these future events is unrevealed. But the essence of Harbinger's information would seem to indicate that Booster's trip to the past is/was predestined by some higher power. Apparently, on a single, inflexible timeline, deviation from the only possible course should be impossible. Harbinger's information supports the theory of a fatalistic passage of time in the DC Universe.
Booster's former employee Rip Hunter's early investigations into the time stream again support the theory of a single, pre-determined timeline in the DC Universe. As events transpire in the Time Masters series, it seems that each trip to the past accomplishes less, no matter how much Hunter attempts to alter events. Hunter's futile struggles would appear to indicate that events are predetermined and unmalleable. Years later, long after obtaining the status as the Time Master of the DC Universe, Hunter calls this situation of inflexible events "solidified time" in Booster Gold, Vol. 2, #5.
IT HAPPENS BECAUSE I MADE IT HAPPEN
A different theory of time and the effects of time-travel in the DC Universe starts to reveal itself with the appearance of the Linear Men during the "Time And Time Again" storyline beginning in The Adventures of Superman #476. The first Linear Man, charged with holding Booster Gold accountable for his crimes against time, will explain to Superman that he is responsible for seeing that no changes are made to the history that led to his own creation. This presents the possibility that changes could be made to pre-existing history that would alter the outcome of known events, thereby changing known history. This Relative Theory of time travel, presenting a relative present to the time-traveler, would indicate that all time-travelers within the DC Universe threaten their own future existence by altering the past to prevent the future. While this theory allows for a more dynamic universe, it would appear to contradict Skeets' previous assertions about fate.
During the events of Armageddon 2001, there appears another time-traveler in the DC Universe: Waverider. Waverider has returned from the future to the present determined to ensure that the events leading to his creation are prevented. During the course of his investigations, Waverider discovers that his presence is changing the future of characters with which he is interacting. Booster Gold is viewed with multiple fates in multiple timelines. This clearly contradicts the previously indicated theory that fate controlled the future, not the actions of those present within the timeline. However, since Waverider is from a time well short of Booster's native 25th Century and in one of Waverider's visions Booster returns to that time period, it is possible that Waverider's activities are not changing timelines at all, just presenting him with glimpses into different possible futures, each of which is equally probable but not predestined. Waverider's ability to see possibilities but inability to correctly discern the future is an element of his downfall during his final confrontation with Skeets during 52.
IT HAPPENS BECAUSE IT ALL HAPPENS
As Booster Gold watches at the conclusion of the Armageddon 2001 storyline, Waverider appears to save himself as a young man from a pile of rubble. This paradoxical situation would appear to be another example of fatalistic time travel that only happens because it has to. Yet Waverider believes that he has changed his personal past and created a new, alternate timeline that will prove more benevolent for the people of Earth. This Quantum Theory of time travel, that all events are possible and simultaneously occurring, would create an infinite number of realities, each slightly different from the first.
This theory of Infinite Earths is exactly the principle of time/space that was demonstrated as the reality of the DC Universe prior to the intervention of the Anti-Monitor during the appropriately named Crisis on Infinite Earths. Following the Crisis, the chronicled DC Universe was cut off from all others, resulting in a single timeline. Waverider's belief that he has created a better future while he himself still existed would indicate that the infinite quantum mechanics of the previously existing universe would still apply. Though in the current timeline of the DC Universe, several lingering elements of Waverider's future remain tangible possibilities, none and all remain equally possible. This theory has been granted considerable credence as the definitive method of time-travel in the DC Universe in recent years with Rip Hunter's discovery of Hypertime and Booster's travels through the newly reformed DC multiverse in the pages of 52.
IT HAPPENS BUT WE DON'T REMEMBER IT
Of course, all the previous presumptions are thrown out the window when Booster Gold tries to alter his past by aiding a prominent figure from the 21st-century well before her prime. In Justice League Quarterly #9, Booster's well-intended actions are demonstrated to actually alter the timeline. Though Booster's alterations to the 21st Century don't prevent Booster's origins in the 25th Century, it does change Booster Gold, if only as reflected by his memories of 21st-century history. The change in the timeline is instantly assimilated into Booster's history, preventing Booster from recognizing this change. This Objective Theory of time travel would suggest that time is flexible and can be altered, but those who alter it won't notice the alterations because time changes around them independent of their position in the time stream. As Booster's past events change, so to does his knowledge of past events.
This theory of the dynamics of time travel, amply demonstrated in the post-Flashpoint "New 52" universe, would explain why Skeets would believe in fatalism. Once Booster travels to the past, Skeets would recognize that Booster is in the past but have no knowledge of the fact that he once wasn't in the past. Rip Hunter could change the past but be unable to recognize that any changes happened. Waverider could try to save the world only to create the world that he escaped. And no one would know that these changes occurred, because their memory of their future past would change as their past "present" events change. It is precisely this state of events which motivate Booster Gold and Rip Hunter to act as policemen in the newly-maleable timestream of the post-52 multiverse of the second volume of the series Booster Gold.
IT HAPPENS BECAUSE THAT'S THE WAY IT HAS TO HAPPEN
What all of the previous theories of time-travel presume is that the laws of Booster Gold's physical universe are fixed and inviolable. Yet Booster has repeatedly encountered beings with a power and presence well beyond his comprehension. Though the Oan Guardians of the Galaxy, founders of the Green Lantern Corps, wield impressive impressive, life-changing power, they control mere toys when compared to the powers manipulated by beings such as the Spectre, the Lords of Order and Chaos, the Endless, the Source, or Animal Man's Writer. Should any of these beings chose to manipulate time in order to further their own goals, there is little, if anything that Booster Gold or his fellow Justice Leaguers could do to prevent it.
Take, for example, the events of Justice League Task Force #37. While attending a Christmas party with the majority of the active Justice League, Booster Gold is unaware that certain events of recent years have been changed by the devil Neron to fit the desires of a disgruntled colleague. To Booster, nothing has changed, despite the fact that mere moments earlier, the people nearby and the situation around him was unfolding in an entirely different manner.
Once this cosmic impotence is recognized, any potential time-traveler has to admit that their effect on any point in the timeline will only have the effect that those powers-that-be allow him to have. This realization must be maddening to super heroes, who exist purely to exert their will and power to change the world and make it a better place. In the end, each hero is little more than a player in a greater, unfolding story.
Perhaps Booster Gold has it right; it's best not to dwell too much on the "how"s and "why"s of his trips through time. Instead, do the best with what you can when you have the opportunity and don't worry too much about what the repercussions might be. No doubt, if in the process of fixing one problem another is created, eventually a good hero will get around to fixing that new problem, too. And in the meantime, having plenty of problems to fix makes for excellent opportunities for the career-minded super hero.