This article contains spoilers for Defenders #1.
Time travel is all the rage in both Marvel Comics and the MCU – and Doctor Strange has just revealed his method of time travel is more dangerous than anything seen in Avengers: Endgame. Time travel is a standard sci-fi trope, and superhero comics have exploited it for decades. So it was honestly no surprise when the idea was incorporated into the MCU in Endgame.
The MCU’s time travel was messy and contradictory, in part because Marvel changed their model of time travel during production. Still, after clarification via Loki, it’s now clear the past cannot be changed – but that a time traveler’s interaction with the past also risks creating branching timelines where everything played out differently. Thus, time travel is one of the potential causes for alternate timelines, resulting in a Multiverse of infinite possibilities. But in Defenders #1 by Al Ewing, Javier Rodriguez, and Alvaro Lopez, Doctor Strange reveals that’s not necessarily the case with his time travel in the comics.
The issue sees Doctor Strange learn one sorcerer has been using the Book of Cagliostro (which is associated with a sorcerer who mentored Doctor Doom) to travel in time. Shockingly, Strange reveals time magic operates differently from scientific methods of time travel; it can actually be used to change the past and rewrite history. A sorcerer who wields time magic can potentially bend all of history to their will.
This complicates the models of temporal mechanics used in the comics, suggesting not every method of time travel follows the same rules. It’s actually a smart explanation for the many inconsistencies that have been seen in the comics; the X-Men’s Tempus, for example, possesses powers of temporal manipulation that appear to align with the sorcery Doctor Strange is talking about here, while other methods seen in past books are decidedly different. It certainly means the stakes in the Defenders series are far higher than in most time travel stories.
This does raise an intriguing question, however; could the same principle be true in the MCU as well? Is it possible that not every method of time travel shares the same properties? The MCU’s model of temporal mechanics is only just beginning to make sense, with the death of He Who Remains unleashing Marvel’s “Multiverse of Madness.” But there’s no reason to assume the TVA’s time travel follows the same rules as the Infinity Stones or Doctor Strange‘s, for example – and there may well be other magical ways to travel through time in the MCU yet to be revealed. That could well explain all the confusion so far.