Time travel ain’t easy. If it were, everybody would be doing it. With all the paradoxes to avoid and all of the conflicting theories on just what can and cannot be altered, it’s best for nerds to look past the present and into the future when it comes to their escapist fiction of choice. Guys like The Doctor and Bill and Ted’s buddy Rufus make it look simple, but the very notion of traveling to another time period without undoing reality is worth a nod in itself, really. So, rather than list the most chrono-challenged voyagers, let’s look at those who are simply the least good.
10) Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Rocky and Bullwinkle
The stars of the far superior half of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, Mr. Peabody and his adopted son Sherman helped mend frayed elements of the past to ensure historical accuracy. Or did they? Never mind that the principle of this show defies science, these two essentially acted as fascists! Think about it. They used their WABAC machine to shape the past how it was “supposed” to happen (i.e. however they damn well saw fit). Not content to simply shape history, Mr. Peabody was diabolical enough to summarize his efforts with bad puns and broadcast them to the world. This tyranny continued for nearly 100 segments before time was seemingly restored. We can only assume Doctor Who stopped the despots or that they were killed in a collision with Bill and Ted’s phone booth.
9) Cable and Bishop, X-Men
Because X-Men comics require copious amounts of confusion to function properly, they have not one, but two gun-toting heroes sent to the present from bleak futures! The son of Cyclops and Jean Grey (or is it a clone of Jean? Or is it Phoenix? Maybe Jean’s ghost?), Cable hails from a world ravaged by the villain Apocalypse and get this, he’s the only one who can stop this future from coming to pass! Bishop comes from a future where mankind is at war with mutants and sentinels are everywhere and, yep, he too is the only one who can stop this nightmare from coming to pass! Since their debuts, neither character seems to have succeeded in preventing much of anything. With every passing crossover, this fact is usually blamed on chronal flux, shifting timelines, wearing too many damn pouches and other anomalies. Excuses, excuses.
8) Philip J. Fry, Futurama
Fry’s slacker status is the precursor for nearly every accidental thing that happens to him. He traveled to the future via suspended animation. Once there, the first thing he does is surround himself with the delightful misfits at the Planet Express. Given the gross incompetency of the entire Planet Express crew, it’s no wonder Fry would eventually succeed in traveling to the past several times. In what is perhaps his biggest time snafu, Fry travels to the year 1947 where he accidentally kills his grandfather and um?gets to know his grandmother. Like biblically. There’s a lame song out there about becoming your own grandpa, but Fry actually achieved this unholy anomaly.
7) Gosalyn, Darkwing Duck
Darkwing Duck’s daughter Gosalyn was a rather impetuous girl whose crime fighting exploits provided the “Terror that Flapped in the Night,” with undo stress. After all, she usually succeeded in helping DD during his more clueless moments. However, Gosalyn’s impulsive streak eventually landed her in an escaping villain’s malfunctioning time machine. She arrives in a future inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns where a psychotic DarkWarrior Duck rules St. Canard with an iron fist. Awesome, right? Problem is, Gosalyn successfully navigated her way back to the past, preventing a substantially cooler future from occurring.
6) Doc Brown, Back to the Future
The inventor of several time machines, and a buyer of black market uranium, Doc Brown should have been the star of Back to the Future. Sadly, with his youth behind him, Doc became something of a mad scientist. He had the flux-capacity to build his own working time machine, just no pizzazz. That’s why teenage novice Marty McFly constantly showed him up and saved the day. It also didn’t hurt that Marty usually had Huey Lewis blaring in the background of his life and Doc Brown had to settle for orchestrated motifs. To his credit, Doc gets Marty out of a few scrapes in the Back to the Future trilogy, but his dementia ultimately catches up with him in the animated series that followed. Seriously. He let’s his dog drive his “Time Train.” Ugh.
5) Kang the Conqueror, Avengers
Kang’s story is more or less a cautionary tale against spreading yourself too thin. In his efforts to, you know, conquer, Kang’s most persistent threats aren’t the Avengers?they’re different versions of himself. Plagued by his older self, Immortus, his younger self, Iron Lad, a homoerotic Egyptian persona, Rama Tut, and a son named Marcus, Kang is a victim of nurture triumphing over nature. That’s what he gets for drawing his costume inspiration from the Cyber Men.
Unlike a lot of time travelers, Homer Simpson responded relatively quick to being whisked away to another time by a modified toaster. Remembering the advice his father gave him on his wedding night, he’s careful not to disturb the past. After a few unfortunate trips to a prehistoric age, Homer tries his hardest to avoid the butterfly effects of his actions. Sadly, his love of donuts causes him to miss his best chance for an ideal future and he settles for a reality where his family eats with reptilian tongues. Fortunately for him, this happened out-of-continuity in The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror V.”
3) Dr. Doom, Fantastic Four
Instead of traveling back in time to, say, smother baby Reed Richards and the rest of the hated Fantastic Four in their cribs, Doom instead relies on his time platform to do things like attempt a Megoville takeover and romance Goth chicks from the past. In a recent Avengers story, Morgan le Fey was easy prey for Doom (chicks dig bad boys) and in exchange for his sweet Doom lovin’, she instructed him in the dark arts. Picture it now, Doom cuddling after a hot, magic session. Or don?t. That’s kind of why he’s on this list.
2) Carmen San Diego
Not content with global crime sprees on CD-Rom, a PBS quiz show and a Fox Kids animated series, the mysterious, crimson-clad vixen hopped in a stolen time machine to commit robberies across history. Just imagine how valuable the original Liberty Bell would be! Or Cleopatra’s toothbrush! Needless to say, the justice-minded ACME sent time agents to track Carmen down and track her down they did?every afternoon on PBS for two seasons. What’s pathetic isn’t that Carmen almost always got caught, it’s that it was middle school students doing the catching. What good is a master criminal who can be stopped with history trivia? Sorry Carmen, without Rockapella on your trail, nobody gives a shit.
1) Skynet, The Terminator
This evil supercomputer proves, with all certainty, that navigating the corridors of time is a crapshoot. Case in point: its cyborg assassins. Terminators? More like Just-sort-of-delay-the-inevitable-inators. In the first Terminator film, the T-1 cyborg assassin gets sent to the past, but get’s blown up and fails to prevent the conception of its future nemesis, John Connor. Terminator 2 see’s Ah-Nuld save the day, but even in victory, the T-1 must meet a molten demise with the Connor’s T-1000 assailant. T3 is more of the same, two of Skynet’s cyborgs fight one another for the future of mankind and both go ka-splode. Essentially, Skynet is only good at achieving robotic stalemate. Why, even after activating in T3, Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles retcons those events away by existing in an alternate timeline, further delaying complete mechanical holocaust. The final nail in Skynet’s coffin is none other than Batman himself, Christian Bale, who plays John Connor in the upcoming Terminator Salvation. Face it Skynet: Time is not on your shiny, metal side.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.