Loki has arrived on Disney+, and wouldn’t ya know it the literal god of mischief and mayhem has gotten himself into a spot of shenanigans. That’s multiversal shenanigans, as Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) Tesseract-assisted escape from the events of Avengers: Endgame mucked with the timeline hard enough to attract the attention of the TVA, the Time Variance Authority, a vast operation that might be a bit hard to wrap your head around, as their department is…everything. All of time, everywhere and every-when, even the bits that never happen and never should. Luckily, the TVA has a long, storied comic book history, and together with our interview with Loki writer and creator Michael Waldron, we’ve got your full guide to the TVA right here.
The Time Variance Authority was first mentioned all the way back in 1986, in Thor #372 by writer Walter Simonson and artist Sal Buscema, when they sent a…very enthusiastic TVA operative named Justice Peace back in time to stop a madman named Zaniac, thus avoiding World War VII. (Comics books? Very good.) Their purpose was clear—keep the flow of time from spiraling into chaos—but the exact bureaucratic nature of the TVA didn’t come into focus until a few years down the line, really taking shape in Fantastic Four #352-353, written and penciled by Simonson. Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, in their ongoing efforts to be as extra as possible at all times, engage in a split-second time-hopping fistfight using Null Time Sequencers, which pisses the TVA off to no end. The Fantastic Four are arrested on charges of “illegal time use and continuity theft” and brought to the TVA’s Null-Time Zone headquarters, the impossibly large office space that exists outside the flow of time. (This is most likely where we’re spending most of Loki episode 1, although the exact name is never used.) We meet Mobius M. Mobius for the first time—played by Owen Wilson in the Disney+ series—who gives the Fantastic Four a tour of the TVA’s operations, explaining how an incomprehensible number of employees keep track of every strand of the omniverse.
“When a signal event occurs within a timeline,” he says, “the observing chronomonitor calculates its importance and, if warranted, splits the timeline at that point, to follow the various probable consequences of the event. Thus are futures created.”
The TVA operates largely the same in Loki. “Think about the amount of work has to be done there,” Waldron told Collider, when we asked just how many people work at the TVA. “Cataloguing all of time. Running pretty much, consecutively, at all times. How many people would that take? Loki, he looks out that window and he sees the enormity of it. It is a large-scale operation.”
The TVA of Loki not only ushers all of reality toward the proper future—the one “Sacred Timeline,” as they call it—but also seeks to eliminate anything or anyone who steps off that linear path. As explained by the absolute icon that is Miss Minutes (Tara Strong): “Stepping off your path created a nexus event, which, left unchecked, could branch off into madness, leading to another multiversal war.” (Wording that immediately brings to mind the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, also written by Waldron. Surely, a coincidence.)
Interestingly enough, Waldron stressed the danger presented by a possible multiversal war, but only if you fully believe what the TVA tells Loki. “The TVA, if we take them at their word, they’re making a pretty good point,” he told us. “They’re trying to prevent something terrible. A multiversal war sounds fairly awful.”
One thing you can believe is that time inside the TVA is wonky as hell. This makes one of the bigger questions heading into the show—when, exactly, does Loki take place?—a little complicated, because the most accurate answer is that it takes place outside of “when.”
“As [Mobius] says to Loki, time passes differently at the TVA,” Waldron told us. “I’m not even sure Mobius knows how old he is. These guys working at the TVA, they perceive time in a totally different way than you and I. It’s non-linear, you’re living outside of it. So, therefore, he doesn’t really think of himself as old or young.”
Loki Episode 1 is currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes dropping every Wednesday.
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