Mark Gruenwald was one of the first comic book fans to grow up and become the kind of person he was a fan of. Publishing comic book fanzines, he was hired as an assistant editor in 1978 and stayed with the company until his death in 1996. During that time he created the Official Handbook Of THe Marvel Universe, he wrote books like Captain America and Quasar, created and wrote the Squadron Supreme and the standout New Universe title, DP7.
As writer, editor and later executive editor Mark Gruenwald also established rules for time travel in the Marvel Universe that were adhered to (mostly) for decades. The rules were that any time travel took you to a parallel dimension, you couldn't actually change your own past. And with a few notable exceptions including a spectacular comic book time fight by Walter Simonson between Doctor Doom and Reed Richards, this held true. Even in that, the Time Variance Authority created by Walter all looked like clones of Mark Gruenwald.
Then Brian Bendis came along and gave us both a storyline in which killing a younger version of someone, Looper-style, removed the older version, as well as an Age Of Ultron that had people suddenly able to change one's own past, leaving multiple versions of characters , and suddenly everything was up in the air.
Avengers Endgame seemed to pay tribute to Mark Grunwald's version of reality as we are told, repeatedly, that time travel cannot change the past. That Back To The Future is bullsh-t.
Of course, we have already seen in past movies that this just isn't true. In both Doctor Strange and Infinity War, the Time Stone is used to do just that, change the very recent past. If it were impossible, what would be the point of a Time Stone?
And, of course, during Endgame the past is changed frequently.
The Ancient One tells Bruce Banner that it is the stones that keep reality together and that removing a stone from the universe at one point will create a divergent reality. Bruce shows her that returning the stone to the moment in time it was taken will eliminate that reality, putting everything back as it was.
However, we get those divergent realities happening before stones have been removed from those moments in time.
Loki escapes capture after the events of the first Avengers movie and travels away with the tesseract. Which means that he will no longer be imprisoned in Thor: The Dark Age – even though we see him imprisoned, revisiting Thor: The Dark Age earlier in Endgame.
He won't be able to stand with Thor against Malekith or replace Odin on thr throne. He won't have the tesseract on Asgard. He won't be able to use it to bargain with Thanos. And Thanos won't get the tesseract that way any more. And he won't die.
What's next? Sitwell now thinks that Captain America is Hydra, Captain America remembers fighting himself. Will that get disproved? How would Winter Soldier play out now?
Also Thor now lost Mjolnir in Dark World, taken by a future Thor, so it would never be destroyed – but also unable to be used against Malekith.
The big ones are probably on the planet of Morag though. Not only does the past Thanos discover his future, the snap and his death, but he gets younger Nebula to travel to his future, bring Thanos, Gamora and the fleet to that future, engage in battle… and then die. Everyone including Thanos, The Black Order, the fleet get dusted.
So they are unable to return to their own time. And so cannot continue the events seen in Infinity War. And so everything in Avengers Endgame was unnecessary because it never happened. Except it did.
The stones are returned. Any divergent timelines are now snipped off. Except those divergent realities have now had an effect. Captain America did go back in time and stayed there with Peggy and lived his life in hiding – a bit like Dan Jurgens's post-Convergence Lois And Clark series. I understand early plans were to have had Stan Lee play Captain America in those scenes, but it was decided that would be impractical. Was it always the way? Time travel that didn't change the past – because this is always how it played out?
Also Thor's hammer – does he still have it? And Gamora, how is she still here and alive if her realites were wiped out by the stones returning?
It's rather complicated, but if you fudge the reality stones thing as a removed stone affecting both its recent past as well as its future, you can get there. And Gruenwald's rules… mostly apply. With a wiggle. But there's an issue.
All those divergent realities, all those billions of lives playing out, not just on Earth but across the universe, are destroyed. Four timelines (the Time Stone and the Mind stone were a two-for-one, as were the Soul Stone and the Power Stone), with trillions of lives spinning off into their own reality, their own destinies and their own futures – created and then destroyed by the Avengers. Forget Thanos destroying half of life, the Avengers destroyed the lives in four lots of universes, that's eight times as bad as what Thanos did.
Or, if it really confuses too many people, just say that Tony Stark's use of the Infinity Gauntlet sent people back in time rather than dusted. And all's good. Ish. Apart from Loki. We could have had another epilogue that explained all this. But then a) it was getting Lord Of The Rings-like with its endings anyway and b) what would we have to talk about now?
Also, if the Infinity stones hold the universe's reality together – what happens after Thanos used the stones to destroy the stones. Say maybe that's what allowed the Avengers to travel back in time in the first place, the destruction of all reality? Phase Four could be a real mess…
What's your take? We're going to be talking about this a lot today I think…