In early issues of The Defenders, Steve Gerber created a cult-classic character known as the Elf with a Gun, later named Melf. On multiple occasions, he appeared and killed a random civilian with no connection to the rest of the storyline. These characters and events were never explained.
Years later, J.M. DeMatteis wrote a storyline to retroactively explain the Elf with a Gun, saying they were Time Agents of a mysterious Tribunal.
However, years after that, Peter David wrote a story (Incredible Hulk 370) in which Dr. Strange called the events in the DeMatteis story a “cosmic hoax,” making the truth about events and the characters of the DeMatteis story now unclear.
Years after that, Gerber wrote a story with another Elf, known as Relf, nephew of the original Melf, who seemed to have no connection to the DeMatteis Time Agent characterizations of the Elves.
Thus the Time Agents’ self-descriptions may or may not be true (depending on how one interprets Strange’s very ambiguous comments about the cosmic hoax), but they do seem to be different from the Melf and Relf versions of the Elf with a Gun.
This page is about the DeMatteis Time Agent Elves, who seem to be their own entities. Relf, the original Elf with a Gun, and his nephew, Relf, have their own separate pages.
Major Story Arcs
Luann Bloom, Kyle Richmond’s nurse, thinks the Defenders were involved in his apparent death. She is contacted by a Time Agent Elf, number 334A-W (later named 3217.9), who says he has information on what happened. However, it is a set-up.
Once he gets her in his car, it turns into a Model T Ford and they are suddenly driving in the country instead of New York City. They go into a barn and start traveling to the end of time. There, the Time Agent introduces Bloom to the Tribunal, for whom he works.
The Tribunal is a group of cosmic entities that work as antibodies for the universe, fixing problems as they happen upon them. At one point in the future, they found out that Earth had been destroyed by a strange event around our point in history.
The Tribunal created the Time Agents to investigate what happened. They were modeled off of elves, since they exist in many cultures’ mythologies. The Time Agents, who all look alike, visited many eras before zeroing in on the 1970s and ‘80s. There, according to the Tribunal, they abducted several individuals with time-displacement guns, which look like human pistols, in an attempt to stop the future calamity. (These are the people who were seemingly killed by Melf in early Defenders issues.) However nothing worked.
They also sent a robot to spy on the Defenders, who they could tell were involved in the future problem. This robot, Luann Bloom, malfunctioned and forgot it was a robot until the Time Agent brought it back to the Tribunal.
They finally realized that the problem centered on the original Defenders—Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor, and Hulk. If they stayed together, they would eventually happen upon an alien ship and accidentally cause the aliens to all commit suicide, including their race’s prince. The prince’s father, the king of a warrior empire, would later track down the body of his son and destroy the entire Earth in order to properly dispose of the body according to his race’s traditions.
Once the Time Agents discover the source of the problem, one of them (agent 3217.10) kidnaps the original Defenders before the alien ship lands and brings them to the Tribunal, far in the future. He and his brother then help the Tribunal explain the problem to the Defenders, usually in a fairly caustic manner. Agent 3127.10 also narrates parts of the story directly to the reader, breaking the fourth wall.
Eventually the Defenders agree to break up in order to keep the catastrophe from happening.
However, some years later Dr. Strange tells the other Defenders that he looked into the whole thing later on, and discovered that it was all a cosmic hoax. This was never explained in detail; it is unclear whether the hoax merely involved the story of the crashed alien ship, or whether the Tribunal and/or Time Agents are not even who they said they are. (When they were first taken into the future, Strange did use the Eye of Agamotto to examine the Tribunal. According to the Eye at the time, the Tribunal was who it said it was.)
The Time Agents’ story is also complex because the people they are said to have abducted are mostly (but not entirely) the same people seemingly killed by the original Elf with a Gun, and in fact the Time Agent/Tribunal storyline was originally written to explain both the Elf with a Gun appearances as well as some shadowy appearances of a mysterious commission that was also never otherwise explained. However, not only was the Time Agents/Tribunal storyline later called a hoax, thus calling into question whether the Time Agents were really the same as the Elf with a Gun (who was named Melf), but the supposed nephew of the Elf with a Gun, named Relf, showed up some time later and seemed to be unconnected to the Time Agents. Therefore it seems that Melf and Relf are not the same kind of Elves as the Time Agents.
The Time Agents are often sarcastic trouble-makers, misogynistic, and cruel. For instance they take joy in harassing Luann Bloom and eventually turning her off. The Tribunal is often impatient with them, threatening to send them back to the gene pool where they would be melted down.
Differences between Melf and the Time Agents
Melf wears green and has red hair and a red goatee. He carries a revolver. The Time Agents wear red and have white hair and goatees. They carry semiautomatic pistols.
Powers and Abilities
The Time Agents are able to travel through time. They do so at least partly through advanced technology from the Tribunal, but may also be able to do so using innate powers.
They have various forms of advanced technology, including time-displacement pistols that can send other people through time without their consent, even powerful beings like Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer.
They also have undefined other strange abilities of a fairly high level. For instance, one Time Agent was able to send a psychic summons to Namor, Hulk, and Surfer, in which he pretended to be Dr. Strange. Even the Surfer was unable to detect that it came from the Time Agent instead of Strange.
They are able to instantly learn a time period’s languages, history, and culture.