Sunday, June 01, 2008

A File from the Trapper Keeper

I find myself wondering what the Time Trapper is up to.

Part of the problem is that the character has changed over the years. He started off as a more-or-less generic supervillain, one who was inconveniencing the Legion with his Iron Curtain of Time, but who was, once confronted, relatively easily defeated. Then... I just thought up this idea. Editorial decisions forced continuity changes on the Legion, and the Legion writers (Levitz, Giffen, the Bierbaums, and now Geoff Johns) found that the Trapper was a useful tool for enacting those changes within the story. But, the more continuity-shifting events the Trapper was written to encompass and transcend, the more powerful and cosmic the Trapper is implied to be.

Now, I'm not talking about the issue of who the Time Trapper is. Although that's interesting too. For instance: during the Great Darkness Saga, the Trapper was understood to be a Controller, and, while he was imprisoned, one of Darkseid's Servants drained his power. But then later, it was revealed that that was actually one of the real Time Trapper's... decoys, I guess. Stand-ins. And the idea of who the Trapper was shifted, so that he was now the incarnation of entropy. Then later he was Cosmic Boy. Then later he seemed to be either or both of Lori Morning or Glorith. But this isn't the real point.

The point is, the more powerful and cosmic the Trapper is, the harder it is to figure out his motivation. At the height of the Trapper's activity in Legion history (late Levitz and early Five Years Later), his motivation was: he was competing with Mordru for power in the 30th century. As such he engineered the existence of the Legion and the pocket universe and all that stuff. He made the Legion, he hooked them up with Superboy, and he turned them loose on Mordru. Didn't work out all that well for him, but that's okay.

Now it looks like Geoff Johns isn't using this motivation. (Mordru seems to be part of the horde assembled behind Superboy-Prime, according to one of those promos we saw.) As we saw in Action Comics #864, the Trapper has a grudge against Superman and his legacy. He wants to separate Superman off from the Legion. He may want the Legion dead. But: why?

The obvious answer is: for a reason we haven't learned yet. And that's fine. Except.

If the Trapper wants all that stuff, why doesn't he just do it? If he can do all this temporal engineering, he can do pretty much anything he wants. So, he wants the Legion dead, why not just kill them? It shouldn't be too tough for him. What's holding him back?

It's like the thing about God. The argument about God is, if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, how can there be evil and suffering in the world? The existence of the evil and suffering implies that God is not all three of those things. Similarly, the continued survival of the Legion implies that the Time Trapper is not both omnipotent and omnimalevolent.

And maybe he isn't. I think it's obvious by this point that the Trapper has enough power to accomplish about whatever he wants. Doesn't he? Guy can create an entire universe with its own Superboy, he can pull people backward and forward in time however he wants... He should be able to polish off the Legion anytime he likes. But his appearances with regard to the reboot Legion weren't malevolent at all, but sort of ruthlessly supportive. Again, he seemed to consider the Legion to be his tools.

The other problem is Barbara Hambly. Hambly is one of my favourite fantasy authors. In one of her novels, The Silicon Mage, the main characters, Antryg and Joanna, have to take time out from their important affairs to save a small village from what they're told is the Dead God. The Dead God, in the mythology of this novel, is the god of entropy, the god who died so that eventually he would inherit all of existence. Antryg and Joanna realize that this can't be the actual Dead God, and find that it's really an insane telekinetic alien who's being poisoned by the atmosphere. After all, if it was the real Dead God, he wouldn't need to terrorize a village. All he has to do is wait, and he'll get everything he wants in the end. He went to all the trouble of dying so that he wouldn't have to bother himself with every little village!

And the Time Trapper is in the same situation. He lives at the end of time, where Superman and the Legion are long gone. What's it to him what happened in the 30th/31st centuries? That's all over, and he remains. Actually confronting the Legion in any way should be beneath him, because it's all going to turn out the same way anyway.

What we need is: A reason why the Trapper a) should give a rat about Superman and the Legion in the first place, b) should be moved to actually do anything about it, and c) would not be able to solve the problem with a snap of his fingers.

Try this. Let's say Superman, in himself or in his legacy, is a great enough superhero to overcome the laws of thermodynamics. If the Legion is allowed to continue to work with Superman as superheroes in the 31st century, they'll defeat entropy and prevent the heat death of the universe. And the Time Trapper will fade out of existence. And the fact that this is even a possibility means that the Trapper's power is limited and all he can do is some remote manipulation. (I actually like that. Of course Superman and the Legion could beat the heat death of the universe! I'm surprised they haven't done it already. Certainly the idea belongs in a DC comic. Remember, you heard it here first!)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

First post! (Always wanted to say that!)

Like your ideas. Read all your stuff.

Of course, I might be your opposite. The trapper is whoever/whatever he needs to be to tell the story at the time.

Keep up the excellent work!

8:05 PM  
Blogger snell said...

I suppose it's possible that, just as there is a Monitor for every universe, there might be multiple Time Trappers. Each might have his own origin, be screwing around with his own Legion's timeline for his own purposes, etc. Trouble results when they poke their nose into other Trappers' universes, where by their very nature they're not omnipotent...

Just a thought...

11:33 PM  
Blogger Bryan-Mitchell said...

I think that if the Trapper is a force of entropy, then perhaps the Legion is a force of order who serves to prevent things from falling into chaos.

In most of the history of the Legion, life in the United Planets during the 30th century has been pretty utopic with villains serving as only temporary disruptions to the perfection due to the Legion being there to keep the order.

So perhaps one could argue that if the Legion is destroyed, then the universe falls into chaos and entropy sooner.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

robcat: Thanks.

The trapper is whoever/whatever he needs to be to tell the story at the time

Yes, but a) you could say that about any character, and b) they only use him to tell certain kinds of stories. So we shouldn't give up on trying to figure him out.

snell: It has yet to be proven to me that these Legions all come from different universes. I don't know. It's a workable idea. But I think that having 52 Time Trappers devalues them.

bryan-mitchell: That sounds like good superhero-comic logic. I could raise any number of real-world objections to it, but no comic writer worth his salt would bother to so much as sniff at them.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel a little as if the Time Trapper has, in this version, gone a little mad for one reason or another. From action comics recent issues he seems to have problems with focusing on Superman (called him a "blindspot" and had to use Batman to see him or something). He just seems content right now with screw with Supe's head for some reason. I guess we'll find out what his grudges are against Supe's other then he can't see him.

Truthfully, from what I've seen of this Time trapper I don't know what to make out. The previous version I grasp held of... This one I just don't know.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It's true. I give Geoff Johns credit for one thing: he sets things up a long way in advance. Of course, that means that there's a big delay between the introduction of a plot element and the reader's complete understanding of that plot element.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Time Trapper is JOHN BYRNE

10:24 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Gentlemen, gentlemen, we shall refrain from personalities in this courtroom.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have the same problems with the Time Trapper focusing on the Legion despite being some all-powerful cosmic force. It was a little better when they made him into Cosmic Boy (certainly Cosmic Boy would be a little Legion-centric) or when the Legion was his plot to foil Mordru. But, those characterizations do seem to be left behind.

Thus, I am drawn to the idea that the Legion had some hand in the Time Trapper's creation. Perhaps he's one of the criminals they sent forward to the end of time. Or perhaps he is entropy personified--but only came to self-awareness because of the frequent time travels of the legion and superboy. Maybe that could explain his twisted fixation as well as his limitation (not being able to do away with the legion altogether).

7:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, one thing Johns has done is to make the Trapper at least as concerned with Superman as he is with the Legion, and this does two things. First, it's perfectly plausible for a cosmic force to be concerned with Superman, who is, after all, Superman. Second, it's consistent with this new/old Superman/Legion relationship that DC seems to have decided is very important.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Time Trapper is So Incredibly Old (hence alone, bored, tired; take your pick) that it wishes to die.

Peering back in Time shows that it was created as the result of an action by the LSH, and that the LSH (in turn) was inspired by Superman. Eliminate Superman, and the LSH doesn't come into existence. No LSH, no creation of the Time Trapper. No Time Trapper, and it can finally rest.

[Problem with this is that all you have to do is guarantee that Jor-El holds baby Kal an additional minute, so his rocket can't escape the destruction of Krypton... ]

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only hard thing I find about the Superman/Legion relationship is that for the last couple of decades, Superman has been so distached from it, its a suprise when he crosses paths with them. Now suddenly they are back together meeting more and more often and DC almost seems to be treating it as if things never were any different from the last couple of decades. A clear path for the Superman/Legion relationship (on the whole) would be a lot nicer, instead of dodging the issue until its suits a single writers intereast.

For example, in the 90s Superman animated series, they skipped the idea of Superman ever joining the Legion ranks completely, leaving the Legion as just guest appearances in that one episode. Okay, no big thing since they didn't have room for it in the series, but he isn't even allowed to get away with knowing they even exist until the JLU series when Kara stays in the 31st century.

2:21 PM  
Blogger CDR said...

Another problem I see, is that we've seen eras well beyond the Legion's. How do the worlds of Pol Manning and Abra Kadabra fit in?

12:58 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

allan lappin: That makes sense, but Johns would have trouble using it. He's committed himself to explaining all the Legion's past reboots and stuff (including the creation of the pocket universe Superboy and subsequent formation of the Legion) as just more of the Trapper's manipulations. Well, if he didn't want Superman and the Legion, why bother with the pocket universe? There's probably a way to still make it work, but it's kind of going the long way around.

anonymous: Aah, well, what do you expect them to do. At least they're doing it, and better late than never.

crood: They'll fit in a lot better if we ignore them than if we pay attention to them.

10:49 PM  

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