Who is Rip Hunter? A guide to Arthur Darvill’s first time-travelling role since Doctor Who

Is Rory prepared to step into Rip's boots?

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The news that Doctor Who alumnus Arthur Darvill has been cast in the Arrow/The Flash spin-off is enough to make fans happy, but the fact he is playing another time traveller is too good to be true. But what time traveller? And why? And when?

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Who is Rip Hunter?

He’s a time-travelling superhero from the DC comics universe (the home of Batman and Superman) who first appeared in 1959. A genius, he invented the ‘Time Sphere’, allowing him to travel back and forward in time at will. Hence his sobriquet: ‘The Time Master’. (Not Time Lord.)

Originally his stories were quite pulpy, in a Dan Dare/Flash Gordon style befitting the innocent ‘Golden Age’ of comic books. They were isolated adventures where he would travel to a time period, punch a few bad guys, get the girl (sometimes that girl was Cleopatra) then head home. Later, Rip became more of a guest star than a lead, cropping up in other titles to warn Superman et al of catastrophic dangers in the future. He’s most often seen palling around with Booster Gold, another time-travelling superhero from the future.

Incidentally, Rip’s real name and date of birth is a secret, lest his time-travelling enemies find out and scrub him from history. It’s the ultimate form of ex-directory. 

(Do you kids know what ‘ex-directory’ means? From the days of landline telephones and the yellow pages? God we’re old. What we wouldn’t give for a Time Sphere…)

What are his powers?

What, being a time-travelling genius isn’t enough for you? You’re not easily impressed. Well, other than that, he’s an ordinary man, albeit one skilled in martial arts from throughout history and carrying a ton of gadgets.

However, his unofficial power is sorting out the knotted storylines that often entangle comic books. Rip himself has two competing backstories. Depending on when you read about him, he is either from the present day or the far future. It’s not known which version the TV show will use. 

With hundreds of superheroes, each with their own stories and backstories, plus time travel and parallel dimensions to manage, every few years comic book writers feel the need to hit the reset button and simplify matters. This is usually done through a company wide, cataclysmic storyline involving lots of superheroes from different books. 

Hunter played a key role in two such company-wide events: Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis. He often styles himself as the ‘guardian of the timeline’, ensuring history follows the correct course without undue meddling.

This Cassandra-like aspect of Rip seems to be an influence on Arthur Darvill’s version. The Flash has already started including time travel in its storyline and, according to the Deadline report, Rip will “hide the strains of being responsible for history itself behind a facade of charm and wit.” 

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What is the weirdest Rip Hunter story?

Maybe the one where he had to rescue Batman from getting lost in history. Batman was a pirate.