Legends of Tomorrow: Is Rip Hunter Evil?

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During the pilot episode for DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Rip Hunter narrated that the Time Masters, the body to which he had pledged his allegiance, had abandoned him in his moment of need.

This, it's explained, is why he found the Legends and started his team, traveling back in time to change history.

As a longtime DC Comics reader, that all sounded...very familiar.

First off: who are the Time Masters?

In the comics, they're a group of time-travelers and adventurers, whose vibe is very much Allan Quatermain/Indiana Jones. Like the Fantastic Four, the original Time Masters were a quartet who shared ties of family and friendship and who moved through time, had adventures and often interfered with things. Rip Hunter led a team which, among other things, helped to evacuate Atlantis as it sank. They also do battle with The Illuminati.

Arguably more familiar to fans of the TV show would be the Linear Men.

Led by an aging Rip Hunter who has cyborg parts, the Linear Men were first introduced during the 1991 Superman story Time and Time Again, and their goal was to make sure time happened as it was supposed to and guard it against tampering. There were only a half-dozen Linear Men or less, but they for the most part tried to act dispassionately; a famous scene from their history shows Waverider (who is, in the comics, a person rather than a ship) debating whether to save Superman from his fatal fight with Doomsday and ultimately deciding that time must go on without his interference:

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There were, in fact, often stories where Waverider would want to use his powers to make the universe a better place, and Rip Hunter himself would be the one to put him back on track.

It was during his Linear Men days that writer/artist Dan Jurgens established Rip Hunter as a taskmaster, uncompromising in his view of what needed to be done to protect time from being corrupted. The Linear Men would be the foundation for the next iteration of the Time Masters: Hunter would take the Linear Men philosophy and apply it to the "Time Masters" name, teaming with Booster Gold (Rip's father) and a revolving cast of helpers that included Booster's twin sister Goldstar, a small army of Blue Beetles and alternate-universe versions of any number of superheroes and villains.

Probably the biggest challenge Hunter and company faced during the Linear Men era was the Zero Hour crisis, and here's where things get really interesting.

After Superman's death, one of the four people who rose up to try and be the "next Superman" was Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman. He gained the faith of Washington D.C., and used it to sully Superman's name by launching a deadly attack on Coast City, killing millions and eradicating the city. Even after he was defeated, Green Lantern Hal Jordan would return home to find nearly everyone he knew and loved was dead. It drove Jordan mad, and in his grief and madness he decided to use his power ring to reacreate the city. When that didn't work, he decided he would take the power directly from the Guardians of the Universe -- a dispassionate, officious body to which he had pledged his allegiance -- and use it to reboot the universe.

Yes, rebooting the universe is certainly a far stretch more dramatic than what Rip Hunter is trying to do on DC's Legends of Tomorrow, but at its core, there's a similarity there that's more than a little jarring. When he told the team of his "betrayal" at the hands of the Time Masters, I heard Hal Jordan's Zero Hour #0 monologue echoing in my head: "I used to be the errand boy for the Guardians of the Universe. It was a thankless job. I knew that. I had never asked for anything. The one time that I did, I was denied."

It's equally jarring that, while on a mission to change one of the most dramatic events in human history, Rip is frequently chastising the team for making minor alterations to a time that he admits doesn't want to be changed, and will likely course-correct.

In Time Masters: Vanishing Point, a comic said to be one of the primary inspirations for Legends of Tomorrow, it was revealed that Rip had imprisoned Matthew Ryder and Liri Lee -- his fellow Linear Men -- after Waverider's death. The betrayal nearly drove them to evil when they were freed from imprisonment by Black Beetle, Despero, Per Degaton and Ultra-Humanite, a team calling themselves the Time Stealers.

A former member of the Time Stealers was Rex Hunter, a man who had tried to be a Time Master and washed out because he disagreed with the way Rip and the others ran the show. He thought the Time Masters should be more proactive, and ultimately when he was drummed out of the organization, he ended up in a conflict with his mentor -- Rip.

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Of course, it's worth mentioning that recently, DC's Legends of Tomorrow cast an actor to come on and play Rip's mentor -- somebody who wants to talk sense into him now that Rip has split with the Time Masters over his idea that they need to be more proactive.

By DC Comics standards, the TV version of Rip Hunter is basically a supervillain. Will the show reflect that, or will the sentimentality of TV and the fact that he's fighting for something that's hard to argue against trump what's "good" for the timestream?