A Stitch in Time - Spider-Man, Journeyman and Angel(man?)

(Apologies in advance for the length of this post... I just had a lot to write. I know it rambles on at times, but I’m still a little angry about “One More Day”. Again, apologies)

Time travel is, at best, a theory of science-fiction, having nothing to do with actual science. It can’t be proven scientifically, and most legitimate scientists have no desire to attempt to prove it, since it has little to no true scientific benefit, and the negative ethical implications far outweigh any gains from its implementation. (As an aside, there’s even less desire to disprove the ability for time travel, since proving something DOESN’T exist is much harder than proving something does.)

However, within fiction, time travel -- and the ability to manipulate history -- is still a very popular archetype. Go back in the past to “fix” the future. Rarely do the best time travel stories involve traveling to the future -- even the best of the “Back to the Future” movies spent most of its time in the past. Perhaps the best example of a “travel back to fix the future” work of recent fiction was the early 90s TV show Quantum Leap. In that show, Sam Beckett could drastically change peoples lives by impacting one event in their history.

That, at its basic archetypal core, is the essence of the ending to the “One More Day” 4-part series in the Spider-Man comic books. Change one thing -- in this case the marriage between Peter and MJ -- change everything. At the end of one more day, Mephisto has “removed” their marriage (and, we are left to assume, the important events that led up to that moment) from time. Now, we can’t be assured that the timeframe we see at the end of the issue (after Mephisto’s actions) match up exactly with the timeframe of the preceding issues. That is to say, the events taking place likely take place in a new timeline. There is simply no way to change a major event in the life of someone as important as Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) and not have it change hundreds of subsequent events.

Over the next four months, in the “Brand New Day” series, we should see some of the fallout of that change, in both the form of past events that now played out differently in this timeline, and future events that will be drastically altered because of a single change. Whether you are for or against this story (and for the record, I’m very against it), you have to acknowledge that the “stitch in time” plot point serves as a way for Marvel to reboot their “Spider-Man” franchise while maintaining some level of continuity.

Now, on some level, what’s happening in the “Spider-Man” universe is very similar to events on the recently canceled (or, if not canceled, then done for now) series “Journeyman”. I originally dismissed this series as a modern “Quantum Leap” ripoff, but in the final four episodes or so, it revealed itself to be so much more. In fact, the series seemed to be moving toward the theme that if Dan Vassar, the main character of the show, was going to be regularly traveling back in time, then at some point, he would have to give up his “modern” life, as there was no way he could guarantee that he could continue to change the past without affecting the lives of the people he loved.

This theme was explored in multiple episodes in the back half of the series, most directly in the episode “The Hanged Man”. In that episode, Dan goes back to the past to save a mother and son from an RV that is about to fall over a cliff. In doing so, he drops his digital camera, a seemingly small act that has a huge impact on Dan’s modern life. When he gets back to his present, in addition to the many worldwide things that have changed, he finds that his child is now his daughter, not his son. He spends the rest of the episode trying to “fix” this mistake that he made, with nearly fatal results (worth noting that it’s not the first time in the series a mistake Dan made nearly cost him his life).

By what now seems to be the series finalé, “Perfidia”, we get a better picture of what happens as a result of constant changing of the past, through the eyes of Evan, a fellow time traveler whose life has been completely changed by time travel, and not in a good way.

I’m not going to detail the entire episode here, but I see a lot of Peter Parker in Evan. He was a guy who was given a great gift and always wanted to make things right. In the end, they both made a choice to erase their marriages, for what they believed to be a greater good. However, Evan realized the folly of his choice, and spent the rest of his traveling trying to undo what he’d done. I’d venture to guess that if Peter Parker could have spoken with Evan prior to making his deal with Mephisto, he might have chosen very differently. And in some small way, Peter did get that opportunity, in the third issue of the “One More Day” series, where Peter got to meet with the other versions of Peter, yet he still made the same (what I’m going to call) “mistake”.

In the Buffyverse, Buffy and Angel never got married, mostly because of their respective burdens -- Buffy being the chosen one and Angel being the ensouled vampire destined to save the world (also because the “Angel” series probably doesn’t exist if Buffy and Angel end up together). However, things may have been very different if not for one choice Angel made. In the episode “I Will Remember You”, Angel is transformed into a human by a demon’s blood. As a result of this, he gets to spend one memorable day with Buffy, as their forbidden love is no longer forbidden. However (there’s that word again), it’s simply not meant to be -- or so Angel decides. He realizes that he’s no longer the same fighting asset as a human, and so he has the Oracles turn back time, leaving him as the only one who remembers the day with Buffy -- much like Dan remembers his son, not a daughter.

Here’s the thing tying all three together -- in each case, our protagonist made a choice to alter fate (though in Dan’s case, it was to re-alter or un-alter if you will) for what he thought was the greater good. But what if each choice actually took the path of destiny off course. In Spider-Man’s case, Mephisto actually grants Peter and MJ (and us) a glimpse of the child that will now never be born. Maybe that child, not Spider-Man himself, was destined to save the world. Maybe Angel and Buffy, as a human couple, would have produced a child capable of stopping all demons for all-time. Maybe Dan, well, I can’t figure out what could have happened with him, since there were only 13 episodes to go on anyway.

But you get my point. Time travel -- and using it to change what has happened -- is not something to be trifled with on a a gut feeling. Decisions are not to be made lightly. And I can’t help but think that, particularly in the case of Spider-Man (which is what got me thinking about this whole subject), that’s exactly what happened. Peter, and by extension Marvel, made a decision without thinking through all the consequences.

(If you’ve actually read this far, I applaud you and really hope you take the time to leave a comment, since I’d love to know your thoughts on my semi-esoteric ramblings, or maybe just “Spider-Man”, “Journeyman” or “Angel” in general.)