Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stealing Time

When time on the planet Earth starts running backwards--well, even by the standards of Superman's unusual life, that's really weird.

It happens in Superman #345 (March 1980) while Superman is stopping an out-of-control satellite from crashing into Earth. Suddenly, time moves backwards. Superman un-stops the satellite and flies backwards to the WGBS building, where he (as Clark) starts reciting the news backwards.

Within a few minutes (within a negative few minutes?) Clark realizes that something is wrong. He's able to mentally break free from the reversed flow of time, but then the rest of the world (still flowing in reverse) fades away from him.

I love how Superman's ability to break free is explained. Because he's done so much time travelling over the years--especially while he was a member of the Legion of Super Heroes--he's built up an immunity to chronal disruptions. He's the only person on Earth not affected by the reverse.

It's too bad a cameo by Rip Hunter couldn't have been worked in to the story, since it could be presumed he's also built up an immunity. But perhaps Rip was "currently" in the past and the time reversal just hadn't caught up to him yet.

Superman chases the time stream and finds an alien ship draining Earth of its chronal energy.  Curt Swan designs a really nifty ship here, by the way.

The aliens aboard the ship are a species that travels sideways in time. After their ship was damaged in an accident, they lost most of the chronal energy they use as fuel, so they are using Earth to re-fuel.

Since that means eventually wiping out humanity, Superman does object to this. There is very briefly a moral quandary for the Man of Steel. If he stops the re-fueling, the aliens will die and he's sworn never to allow anyone to die.

But he quickly spots evidence that the aliens are lying about their supposed "accident." They are actually at war with another "sideways in time" race and suffered battle damage. Superman stops the chronal drainage and, though displeased with the aliens, gives them a super-shove to send them through time back to their home. Earth reverts to normal after its chronal energy is returned.

What's interesting about this story is how much information writer Gerry Conway must give us to explain what's going on. Every page or two has yet another information dump. Often, this would make a story slow-paced and perhaps even a little boring.

But that's not a problem here. In addition to Curt Swan's spaceship and alien designs, the ideas behind the story are fun. There's the reason for Superman's time-travel immunity; the idea of a species that travels sideways in time rather than through space; and Superman's deductions that the aliens are (in part) lying to him. There is a lot of dialogue here to explain all this, but we have a great time reading those explanations. "When Time Ran Backward!" is a prime example of how a good science fiction or fantasy story can really touch your sense of wonder and imagination.

Next week, we find out that giant robots really need to be equipped with the equivalent of a car alarm.

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