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Refugee from Time

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Characters that are tied to a particular period of history and tend to remain tied to it even as the passing of real time would tend to make them die of old age, or the passing of Comic-Book Time would tend to shift them to a later period. It is essentially the hardest aversion of the Sliding Timescale applied to just one character, normally occurring when the time period becomes highly emblematic of the character or is needed to provide a strong point in their characterisation.

This trope is invoked every time you see an adult in their forties, fifties, or sixties complain about the music the kids are listening to these days. The original fans of rock and roll, even assuming they were all fifteen back when rock began, would be in their seventies as of The New '10s and anyone who grew up listening to punk rock in the late 70s would think today's music tame by comparison.

This causes problems of logic for when the Refugee From Time ends up inside a Sliding Timescale. By all Fridge Logic the person should be older or even dead, they may at one point follow what should be the time and then flip back to pick up some attributes from another time. At some point the character may have started aging naturally before they realised that it wasn't going to hold. (For example, the backstory of Magneto from Marvel Comics involves being in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Each new iteration shifts his age down, with Applied Phlebotinum providing excuses for him to be magically or scientifically rejuvenated.)

Occasionally a significant cultural event will become such an important marker that its appearance in fiction seems to completely detach it from the normal timeline and have it follow around any character it can find. Woodstock would have to have been held within a TARDIS to cover all the fictional characters that have claimed to be there. Wars are another matter. Rather unfortunately the regular appearance of wars give writers the chance to continuously update their veteran characters.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lupin III: The eponymous thief, Arsene Lupin the Third, is the son of Arsene Lupin the Second, who is the son of Arsène Lupin. While the grandson exists in Comic-Book Time, the grandfather is not as lucky, as he was written in the early 1900s. Early 1900s.

    Comic Books 
  • As time went on, it became more and more of a stretch to believe that a youthful-looking woman like Black Widow (introduced in 1964) could be a veteran of the Cold War. Writers eventually got around the issue by retconning her into possessing slowed aging.
  • Captain America:
    • Steve Rogers' abilities will always be a result of the World War II Super Soldier program. The character actually lasted a little into the '50s, fighting commies. When he was brought back in the '60s, it was decided Cap had been frozen towards the end of the war, and all appearances since then had been a fake. The freezing has been convenient for writers since then, as they can just expand the number of years he was frozen as needed to have him unfrozen in the modern era: around 20 years originally, more than half a century for the Ultimate Universe, and almost 70 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    • Mark Millar originally considered averting this, doing what has been done with other Marvel characters and shift the war he is associated to something more modern note  when he was creating The Ultimates. Then he realized that the World War II imagery and the sense of gravitas and historical realism was too much to give up. One might also wonder if the relatively uncontroversial war against the Nazis makes it easier to give Captain America his moral centre than the far less popular Gulf Wars.
  • The Punisher:
    • Frank Castle is always a Vietnam vet no matter how many years have passed. He has died and come back to life twice (once when he became the Angel-Punisher, and once with the Franken-Castle scenario), with both returns de-aging him (the Angels needing him in peak condition and the process naturally aiding his health respectively). As of 2011, The Punisher's origin has officially been updated to make him a Gulf War vet. Given the dirty and unpopular public image of the Vietnam War, and the importance of this to Punisher's characterisation, an update to another unpopular and ultimately failed war makes sense.
    • History of the Marvel Universe (2019) introduces to canon Mark Waid's concept of the Siancong War, a decades-long series of conflicts in Southeast Asia that was always taking place about 15 years ago and can be substituted for any real life war in that region, and states that any references to the Vietnam War should be taken as references to this fictional conflict instead. Accordingly, Frank's background was updated within that issue to the Siancong War, as well Iron Man's origins, which had until then been previously updated to The Gulf War and later The War on Terror; War Machine's backstory, who was also originally depicted as a 'Nam vet and is tied to Iron Man's origin; and even Mister Fantastic and The Thing, who were World War II vets for the first couple of decades of the Fantastic Four's publication history until that war slipped too far into the past for it to make sense.
    • Subverted in The Punisher MAX, where Frank was in Vietnam and thus pushing sixty at the end of the series. Unfortunately, the artwork rarely, if ever, shows this.
    • In a rare aversion, however, the Netflix adaptation of Daredevil and the subsequent Punisher spinoff makes him an Afghanistan and Iraq vet instead.
  • Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos are, like Cap, always WWII vets, but while Fury got some Super Soldier Serum-Lite (an annual injection of the Infinity Formula) that keeps him biologically the same age, there's no such explanation for the other Howlers, most of whom have also been shown in the "modern" era. (Referring to the main Marvel Universe.)
    • In Fury: My War Gone By, there is no explanation for the fact that he looks far too young to have been in WW2, just "I don't seem to age" (the other characters, who were young when the Indochina wars started, are all realistically aged by the end of the series).
  • Marvel Comics' original The Invaders. There are explanations for why the characters have survived to the modern time, but the series itself remains tied to World War II.
  • Over in the DC Universe, the Justice Society always fought in WWII (although some of its more popular members, such as Superman or Wonder Woman, have been retconned out in various ways), so usually there is a plot device to have had them not age in the decades between the end of the war and the beginning of the "modern" age. This sometimes causes problems in regards to their non-super supporting cast, though only Post-Crisis (when they were placed into the same sliding-timeline-only universe as their JLA cohorts). Pre-Crisis, the JSA members all aged in real time on Earth-Two (while Earth-One, like the current DCU, has a sliding timescale). Thus, Earth-Two's Batman and Catwoman had a daughter in the late 50s, who grew to adulthood by the 70s stories she debuted in. As the Huntress.
  • DC's Rex The Wonderdog remains a WWII US army detection dog with intelligence and reaction time improved by experimentation. This works since Rex later drank from the fountain of life and became The Ageless, and it helps explain why a dog is easily recognized and has so many connections.
  • It has become an established part of Scrooge McDuck's past that the character took part in the Klondike and Yukon Gold Rush — currently more than a hundred years ago. Don Rosa fixed this problem, at least in his own comics, by establishing that all his McDuck comics take place during the late 1940's and early 50's. Thus Scrooge could very well have taken part in the gold rushes as a young man. Some other McDuck authors follow this, but others ignore it and set their stories in the present. The first episode of DuckTales (2017) to mention the gold rush lampshades this when Huey is curious how old that would make Scrooge, and handwaves it as the result of magic (Scrooge spent years in a dimension where he didn't age, while Goldie drank from the Fountain of Youth).
  • In X-Men, Magneto's backstory is so entrenched in Auschwitz by this point that writers struggle with keeping him as a Holocaust survivor and still keeping him and his contemporary Charles Xavier up to date. There have been attempts to retcon this, but they always Snap Back in the end. The solution seems to be giving Xavier and Magneto anti-aging treatments periodically.
  • The Simpsons Comics: Radioactive Man started out fighting Nazis in the 1940s (as his Golden Age counterpart, "Radio Man"), but by the time he was finally reunited with his long-lost parents in 1996, he was still only about 25 years old rather than the 80-something years he should have been by that point — and, of course, his mother and father would most likely have been centenarians at the youngest, but in 1996 they were still middle-aged. (Justified in the mother's case, as she was turned into a cyborg by the Nazis and is thus presumably semi-immortal.) RM briefly lampshades this: "Gee, I've been in my twenties for a long time. No wonder I never get any birthday presents."
  • The Kate Kane version of Batwoman is already showing signs of this, as her origin is so tied to the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" era of USA policy regarding homosexuality in the military, which ended in 2011.
  • Buck Danny and his usual wingmen may be the biggest offenders in Franco Belgian comics, not having aged a day since they joined to fight the Japanese in WW2 and are still flying today (Buck himself never gets promoted past colonel, as this would prevent him from flying a jet).
  • Le Petit Spirou was originally the younger Spirou, which explained why the setting was much older (the local priest's vestments were mostly seen pre-WW2, his grandfather was a WW1 veteran). But as time went by, the timeline was bumped up as well, to the point where the kid and adult Spirou more or less exist in the same timeframe.
  • In the 21st-century reimagining of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter "Star-Lord" Quill is very much tied to The '80s, having been taken as a child at the time and not coming back to Earth for decades. (He's a Disco Dan for 70s music as well due to having a tape as one of his few mementos.) Yet he seldom shows his age as the years tick on. Even in Guardians of the Galaxy (2021), for instance, he looks relatively youthful despite pushing 50 if it takes place in the year of release. Appropriately enough, even in his original incarnation, Peter was tied to a specific birthdate: February 4, 1962, for a different reason.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy, astonishingly, still occasionally makes reference to fighting Nazi spies like Prune Face and the Brow during the second World War.
  • Inverted in Doonesbury, which does not use a sliding timescale: every character ages in real time, except for Uncle Duke, who has been around 45 years old since the 1970's. None of the other characters seem to have noticed this, and it's never been explained.
  • Curtis's father still hates all the "rap stuff" the title character likes, despite by current standards he should have grown up on hip hop.
  • Similarly, Jeremy's parents in Zits are firmly children of the sixties; this gets harder and harder to reconcile as time goes by (his mother would have had to have given birth to him in her mid to late 40s by now). Maybe they're New Age Retro Hippies.
  • Walt Wallet of Gasoline Alley, a still spry elderly man, was born aroud 1900 and is a World War I veteran. The last Real Life veteran of that conflict died in 2012. To be fair, other characters have noticed how unbelievably old Walt is; when he made a joke about knowing where the Fountain of Youth was, he attracted a mob of people who were willing to buy cups of water from him at $20 a pop.
  • Brad from Luann was an aimless layabout until watching the events of September 11th, 2001 inspired him to become a firefighter. However, he's still in his mid-20s and the events of that time are more then 20 years ago, yet he still cites it as his motivation to get off the sofa and do something with his life. Soon that date will be older than he is.

    Fan Works 

  • In Something Fresh, the first Blandings Castle novel, P. G. Wodehouse stated that Lord Emsworth had been at Eton in the 'Sixties (that is, the Eighteen-Sixties). Assuming he was as young as possible (13) in the very last year of the decade (1869), this would still mean that he would have been 122 years old at the time of the publication of the last book, Sunset at Blandings in 1978.
  • The secret agent Quiller was mentioned in the first book written in 1965 as a veteran of clandestine service during World War II. In the last book written in 1996 Quiller Balalaika, he's still a secret agent. He's been an active (very active, as he beats up young guys constantly) for over 50 years.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One review of thirtysomething and similar shows that complained that if the characters had actually been hippies in The '60s they would have been fortysomething by the time the show aired. The "surprisingly young person who allegedly went to Woodstock" seemed to be a trope well into the 90s actually. Note that around the time of the Woodstock festival, being a "hippie" was (paradoxically) starting to become quite fashionable, and many magazines aimed at younger teenagers who were still too young to truly rebel encouraged them to wear the stereotypically hippie clothes. It's quite plausible that many of these kids identified themselves as hippies, even if they did not yet understand exactly what the hippie lifestyle entailed. As for "being at Woodstock," well, anyone can lie.
  • Even though Alex Trebek shaved off his iconic mustache in 2001 (briefly growing it back in Fall 2014, and then briefly growing a beard in 2018), Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketches still depicted him with the mustache.

  • Kind of related, though song lyrics can't normally be updated: the song "Hotel California" becomes even creepier as the time period implied by "We haven't had that spirit here since 1969" increases. And even more so when you listen to the full lyrics and realize that the eponymous hotel can be taken as an allegorical version of Hell.
  • Again, 1969: "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams was written by two people. Jim Vallence wrote a nostalgic piece that was going to be just called "The Best Days Of My Life" until someone looked at a line and said Throw It In. The piece was always going to have that nostalgic tone but the audience ages and attitudes would change slowly. Bryan Adams on the other hand, has now started stating that the '69 was always meant to be about the sexual position with it meant to be bleedingly obvious. This feels a bit more like a shoehorn to keep the lyrics relevant and make it a justified Refugee from Time. Although for Adams, who was only 10 years old in 1969, its entirely possible the song means to him precisely what he says it means.

    Video Games 
  • Zangief's entire character in Street Fighter II is tied to the Soviet Union. His motivation for entering the World Warrior tournament is to prove the strength of the Soviet Union to the world and his ending even has the Soviet President at the time (Mikhail Gorbachev) being helicoptered into the arena in order to congratulate Zangief on his victory. His later appearances from Street Fighter IV (which was released years since the Soviet Union was disbanded) and onward tend to downplay this aspect of his character.

    Western Animation 
  • On South Park, Jimbo and Ned are supposed to be Vietnam War vets. This was a bit iffy when the show started in 1997, but possible - most Vietnam vets served in the mid 60sand the last US combat troops left in early 1973. But nowadays the pair should be in the seventies while they still look about 50.
    • A flashback in "Die, Hippie, Die" shows Sharon and Randy as young adults during Woodstock (1969). Even at the time (2005) this made little sense, as it would have made them at least in their mid-50s. With the show continuing into 2025, they should be in their mid 70s by now.
    • Parodied in the episode "WTF", when ten-year-old Stan dresses up as the Professional Wrestling character "Stan the Man," who is a Vietnam veteran.
    • Pip is a mild case Played for Laughs, as he uses a bunch of "Victorian orphan" tropes despite living in modern America. (He was thrown in entirely because the creators both hated reading Great Expectations.)
  • The Simpsons:
    • You have Grampa Abe Simpson, who will always be a World War II vet, and Seymour Skinner, who will always be a Vietnam vet. By now, Grampa should have died of old age and Skinner should be older than Grampa was at the start of the show.
    • Montgomery Burns has Victorian-era memories that must make him absurdly old at this point. Burns' age is yet another case of Flanderization on the part of the Trope Namer. In the 1990 episode "Simpson and Delilah", Burns tells Homer that he's 81 years old, which would place his birth date in 1908 at the earliest. Burns's age was then exaggerated in later seasons; by the mid-'90s he was usually stated to be 104 years old. While this is of course an age that most people never reach, it's still not downright absurdly old. At that point in the series, flashbacks to Burns childhood were usually implied to take place in the late 1800s, which made sense since the episodes aired in the 1990s. The thing is though, that even in the episodes airing now in the 2010s, Burns still seems to be a child of the late 1800s. Since he also appears to be old enough to have vivid memories of the time, this would probably make him the oldest person in the world today.
      • One episode, "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story", has him listing his birthplace as Pangaea, the supercontinent that broke up about 200 million years ago.
      • In "The Color Yellow", he revealed that his father was a Confederate slaveowner. Possible, since there have been cases of elderly Southern men who took very young brides.[[note]]For reference, the latest-known child of a Civil War soldier, Irene Triplett, lived from 1930-2020]].
      • In another episode, Mr. Burns momentarily forgets his PIN, only for Smithers to remind him it's the same as his current age. Mr. Burns quickly types in two digits, hesitates, types in another, hesitates longer, and then another. It's possible the first two digits were zeroes, but if not, it suggests Mr. Burns is thousands of years old. Another episode has him stating outright that his age has four digits, but of course there could be a decimal point between two of them. The Season 8 episode "The Springfield Files" explains that Mr. Burns undergoes treatments every Friday to extend his lifespan and cheat death for another week.
      • The local villain Montgomery Burns seen here terrorizing children in a 19th century woodcut.
      • Even as early as Season 2, not long after the "81" claim above, Burns made reference to watching a boxing match featuring Gentleman Jim Corbett (whose last fight was in 1903), and a joke in the Season 3 episode "Homer at the Bat" had him plan out a softball team of ringers while unaware that one of his players has been dead for 130 years.
    • As real time passes, it becomes more and more of a stretch that Disco Stu was old enough to appreciate Disco music during its heyday.
    • Averted with Homer and Marge through a retcon. The episode "The Way We Was" firmly establishes that Homer and Marge were in high school in the 1970s, and "I Married Marge" reveals that Marge got pregnant soon after she and Homer saw The Empire Strikes Back during its original theatrical run. Both of these episodes were aired in 1991, when such a timeline made sense. But since the show went on for years and years after that without any of the characters aging, Bart couldn't have been conceived in 1980 anymore... so the 2008 episode "That '90s Show" retconned the earlier timeline and showed Homer and Marge as still-childless youngsters in the early 1990s. However, just one year later "Take My Life, Please" went back to the previous timeline and it seems that timeline has stuck, regardless of the fact that Marge and Homer would clearly be in their 60s-70s by now.