A trailer for Disney Plus's upcoming MCU streaming show Loki just dropped, and along with plenty of actor Tom Hiddleston's usual charm as the god of lies, the trailer shows off a good chunk of the show's apparent plot.
Set following the events of Avengers: Endgame in which Loki created a divergent timeline by stealing the Tesseract and escaping, the show follows Loki as he is apprehended and recruited by the new-to-the-MCU Time Variance Authority, an organization that monitors and corrects anomalies in the timestream.
If that sounds a bit complicated, don't worry, you're not alone. As Endgame's often humorous exchanges and attempts at explanation proved, time travel can be a mystery all on its own. Fortunately, we're experts not just in comic book science, but comic book history, so we're going to dig into who the Time Variance Authority and their successors the Time Keepers (also mentioned in the trailer) are, and how they fit into Marvel Comics.
What are the Time Variance Authority and Time Keepers?
The Marvel Universe history of the Time Variance Authority is mysterious and a bit convoluted – as one may expect, given they deal with and originate from infinite branching universes and timelines. Even the real-world origins of the TVA and their sister group the Time Keepers, which are much easier to trace, have their strange twist and turns.
We'll start at the beginning and try to keep the back and forth to a minimum, given just about everything to do with the TVA sorta happens at multiple points in Marvel history simultaneously, and even the way the characters were developed jumps back and forth in time somewhat, thanks to retcons and time travel shenanigans.
The Time Variance Authority was created in 1986 by writer/artist Walt Simonson in Thor #371. In that story, Thor teams up with an agent of the TVA named Justice Peace (a hilariously over-serious pastiche of Judge Dredd, complete with grimace, helmet, and sci-fi motorcycle) to stop a time-traveling threat, though no other real lore about the TVA is revealed.
It wasn't too long before Simonson brought the TVA (and Justice Peace) back in his Fantastic Four run, with Justice Peace taking the Fantastic Four before a tribunal of judgment for meddling with time – including Reed Richards using a special device to battle Doctor Doom between the seconds of time, causing havoc to the timestream.
This revealed more about the TVA, including their headquarters in a place called the Null Time Zone, which exists in a pocket dimension outside of time. Many of their agents use the Justice title, including Justice Peace, Justice Love, and more. Though the TVA sometimes uses outside agents such as Thor or the cybernetic space bounty hunter Death's Head, all of their employees are genetically engineered for their specific jobs.
Simonson also introduced Mobius M. Mobius, a high-ranking TVA bureaucrat based on late Marvel editor/writer Mark Gruenwald, known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel history. Mobius is played by Owen Wilson in Loki.
(Interestingly enough, Gruenwald also wrote a long Captain America run that has formed the basis of much of Disney Plus's current MCU streaming show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, including creating John Walker.)
From there, the TVA's history gets more than a bit weird, as it's time to bring in the Time Keepers.
The TVA, which is formed under unknown circumstances sometime in the distant future of the Marvel Universe, will itself someday be replaced by a different group of multiversal monitors, the Time Keepers, created in 1976's Thor #243 by who else but Mark Gruenwald (yes, the Time Keepers technically predate the TVA in the real world, despite coming after in the Marvel Universe. It's like we said… time travel shenanigans and retcons).
Far, far in the distant future, the last living Time Variance Authority agent, known as He Who Remains, will engineer a group of beings designed to eternally monitor, and if necessary, manipulate the time stream to maintain order. The first experiment goes awry, resulting in the Time Twisters;: evil beings with control over time who wish only to conquer.
With the help of Thor and his allies, He Who Remains manages to defeat the Time Twisters (who will return as villains time and time again) and create a proper version of the Time Keepers, who are established in their post as the monitors of the timeline at the end of time.
The Time Keepers are mentioned in the Loki trailer and seen as the three massive statues that stand in the TVA offices.
The TVA and Time Keepers in the Marvel Universe
Given how often Marvel's comic book heroes and villains muck around in the multiverse and the timestream, it's no wonder that the TVA and the Time Keepers have had their share of dealings with their share of recognizable (and MCU-connected) characters.
From the TVA's earliest appearances alongside Thor and the Fantastic Four, they've operated as semi-neutral guardians of what they see as natural law and order hunting down heroes and villains alike for time transgressions.
Aside from taking the Fantastic Four to task, the TVA also encountered She-Hulk, who was working as an attorney for the superhuman law firm Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg, and Holliway (Goodman, Lieber, and Kurtzberg are the real names of the 'founding fathers' of the Marvel Universe, publisher Martin Goodman, Stan Lee/Stanley Lieber, and Jack Kirby/Jacob Kurtzberg). Though she ran afoul of the TVA by warning a time-traveling version of the then-dead Hawkeye of his fate during a trial, she later also saved the TVA from the villainous Clockwise, earning herself a pass.
The TVA has also gone head-to-head with none other than Deadpool multiple times, especially in the course of Deadpool's association with his longtime frenemy Cable (a time-traveler himself). Most recently, Deadpool actually invaded the TVA headquarters in an attempt to kill Cable who was being held prisoner there, as the TVA had mistaken Cable for his evil clone, Stryfe, who was on a time-traveling murder spree as part of the series Despicable Deadpool.
Comic books are bananas, and it's great.
Then of course there are the Time Keepers, who have their own separate but sort-of-also-kinda parallel history with many Marvel characters.
The Time Keepers' longest association is with Immortus and his younger self, the time conqueror Kang. Immortus first encountered the Time Keepers when they instructed him to kill Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, a so-called Nexus Being with an intrinsic connection to Marvel's multiverse who would someday be responsible for great tragedy (which wound up being true, actually… specifically because of what Immortus did next).
Instead of killing Wanda, Immortus manipulated events to eliminate Scarlet Witch's children William and Thomas, a complex story all on its own, partially adapted in WandaVision.
In the course of Immortus's employment with the Time Keepers, the villainous Time Twisters subdued the Keepers and secretly replaced them, then ordering Immortus to capture Wanda Maximoff instead of killing her to use her status as a Nexus Being to ensure they could never be defeated by the Time Keepers. In the end, Scarlet Witch rejected the power granted by Immortus as part of the scheme despite what it could have meant for her children, and the Time Twisters were defeated, with Immortus trapped in time as a battery for their chronal energy.
Immortus later escaped when the actual Time Keepers returned and sent him to recruit an army of Avengers from throughout time to defeat Kang, who was threatening the entire timestream by declaring war on the Time Keepers and their jurisdiction. These events formed the landmark story Avengers Forever, which went on to have larger ramifications for the core Avengers title of the time.
Oddly, despite starting out as allies of Thor, and having ongoing dealings with Asgardians for many years, neither the TVA nor the Time Keepers have really encountered Loki at all. Their only very brief comic book encounter (so far) involved Loki helping Wolverine escape arrest at their hands.
Loki did serve as an Agent of Asgard for a time, however, acting as Asgard's secret enforcer as penance for his misdeeds, which could be an inspiration behind Loki's TVA adventures in the MCU show.
The TVA and Time Keepers in the MCU
Since the TVA and Time Keepers haven't actually debuted in the MCU aside from the Loki trailer, and since there are nearly limitless possibilities for ways to pull from comic books thanks to the TVA's dealing in alternate timelines, it's almost impossible to guess all the ramifications bringing the TVA and Time Keepers into the MCU at large could have.
Still, even considering just their surface-level comic book connections, there's plenty to chew on.
First off, there's the inclusion of Owen Wilson's Mobius M. Mobius, one of the most prominent TVA employees, and a fun tribute character to the late, great Marvel Comics creator Mark Gruenwald (who created the Time Keepers). Then of course there's the inclusion of the Time Keepers themselves, which opens the door to even more potential comic book connections.
As an agency with apparent access to all time and space, the TVA could serve as a bridge to bring Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool to the MCU (since we know he's on his way). The comic book connections are there, and who wouldn't pop for seeing Loki and Deadpool go quip-for-quip?
And of course, the TVA's first big story arc came in Fantastic Four, another franchise destined for an MCU debut who may benefit from having a window in from another universe.
On the Time Keepers' side, there's the obvious connection to their enemy Kang, who will be the villain of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (played by Jonathan Majors). And of course, there's Kang's older self Immortus, an agent of the Time Keepers.
With WandaVision touching on stories that directly involve Immortus and the Time Keepers, and Wanda herself set to appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, along with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige's comments that Loki would also tie into Multiverse of Madness, there are a lot of potential story implications to chew on just from pointing out the associations given the comic book history of all involved.
And then there's also Spider-Man: No Way Home, which has its own multiversal implications and connections to the Doctor Strange sequel.
Since the Time Keepers are an essential part of Avengers Forever, that also adds a bit more fuel to the potential of an MCU Avengers movie featuring versions of Earth's Mightiest Heroes from around the multiverse or the timestream (maybe making way for someone like, say, rumored returning actor Chris Evans to make a cameo?)
We also have to mention the upcoming She-Hulk Disney Plus streaming series starring Tatiana Maslany in the title role. Considering She-Hulk's history with the TVA, there's every reason to believe they could show up there too.
Finally, there's the Thor of it all, with the god of Thunder's historic connections to the TVA and Time Keepers – the start of which coincided in comic books with Thor's brother Balder (a potential candidate for actor Russell Crowe's unnamed role in Thor: Love and Thunder) taking the throne of Asgard. Since the monarchy and leadership of Asgard may be in play in Love and Thunder with current ruler Valkyrie seeking a queen as part of the plot, even that could bring in the TVA or Time Keepers.
Time, as they say, will tell.
(see what we did there...)
Kang and Immortus figured a lot into the comic book history of the TVA. And they both figure prominently in Newsarama's look at the greatest time-traveling comic book villains of all time.