When Time Is Broke, the Time Variance Authority Files the Paperwork

In a complex continuity — like what you find in Marvel Comics — there’s a vast web of realities and timelines that can be considered at any given point. Though attempts have been made to combine universes and simplify continuity, it only ever ends up being just as complicated as ever. This is where the TVA comes in; the Time Variance Authority is literally a bureaucratic collection of pencil pushers and office workers that observe realities across the multiverse and make sure no one lands anywhere they shouldn’t be in the timeline and thus alter things beyond what should happen next. And now they’re about to debut in Loki.

Created by writer Walter M. Simonson and artist Sal Buscema in the pages of Thor, the TVA is mostly an offhand reference in their debut issue but Thor #372 offers some details about their place in the larger Marvel multiverse. In that issue they’ve sent back one Justice Peace acting as a means to eliminate a particularly nasty villain from an earlier point in the timeline, a rare occurrence considering their larger task of preserving the timeline. These TVA would go unused for a few years after the off-hand reference to them in the pages of Thor but Simonson would return to the group a few years later, expanding on the idea and putting Marvel’s First Family in their sights.

Here’s how things mostly work at the TVA. Chronomonitors make up the bulk of the staff, working in endless lines of desks and monitors at the Hall of Chronometry where they monitor and make notes of the timeline across all realities. The Hall of Chronometry lives in the Null Time-zone with the rest of the TVA, where time has no meaning and thus they’re immune from the paradox of TVA prosecution. Those court proceedings are also a huge part of the TVA’s business, but the office work and monitoring is the majority of it.

Fantastic Four #346 sees the first larger tease of the TVA and how they operate at the end of an issue where the team found themselves catapulted 70 million years in the past. This type of temporal anomaly is exactly the kind of thing the TVA will take notice of and in that moment they did. They didn’t stop watching the Fantastic Four either though as they took particular notice of a battle between Doctor Doom and Reed Richards where they were using Null Time Sequencers, a device allowing quick and easy time travel. The pair leaped across time by the seconds to try and attack each other, quickly putting them on the radar of the TVA and forcing the Fantastic Four to go before a panel of judges to determine the nature of their “time infractions.”

One of the most prominent uses of the TVA came in the form of the 2005 She-Hulk series from writer Dan Slott. In that series, Jennifer Walters has returned to practicing law and has a doozy of a case fall in her lap in the first issue wherein her client, Charles Czarkowski, a man accused of murder but who claims it was in self-defense as the person in question was planning to kill him in the future. The TVA appears in the series to bring an impartial jury from the past into the proceedings, this leads to a whole can of worms that ends up with She-Hulk on trial in front of the TVA and being threatened with erasure from the whole timeline. Who’s to say if such an event will take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but all the pieces will be in place by the time the She-Hulk series debuts.

In the upcoming Marvel Studios Disney+ series Loki, the TVA serves at the direction of the Time-Keepers, a trio of characters that also interact with the timeline but whose primary modus operandi is self-preservation rather than maintaining a functioning timeline. It’s unclear if we’ll see these characters in Loki but in the pages of Marvel Comics they’ve been known to fight the Avengers.

Unlike a lot of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Time Variance Authority has a solid foundation but very few actual appearances in Marvel Comics. This will likely give the creators of Loki plenty of things to work with in the series, and frankly it looks like they had a blast with it.

Loki debuts on Disney+ beginning Wednesday, June 9th.

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