Whether we’re talking Boom Tubes or retcons, there’s plenty of jargon in our geekcentric little world. The PoP! Stars are here to ensure you’re not left scratching your head, saying “It’s All Geek to Me.”
Multiverse - n. The simultaneous existence of multiple parallel worlds wherein events have taken different courses and people, places, and subsequent events have evolved uniquely as a result “If DC and Marvel each have their own multiverse, isn’t it theoretically possible that they exist within each others’?”
I addressed the existence of and even general nature of multiverses when talking about Marvel’s main continuity, that of Earth-616. Still, this is a concept that bears revisiting on its own merits, as it’s a fairly common concept throughout science fiction. From Star Trek to Sliders to IDW Publishing and beyond, the idea of multiple divergent timelines and alternate realities (we’ll get to the difference here in the weeks to come) is a popular one among writers. It gives them the chance to take risks and make changes they otherwise couldn’t – without irrevocably changing our favorite characters. Ever wonder what it would be like if Superman were a communist or Batman a vampire? What if Captain Kirk were evil or Spider-Man had lived in the 1600s? Heck, even Darkwing Duck existed within a multiverse that included our own. Trippy, right?
Recently, DC comics have even found a way to do what few other publishers have dared. They’ve established their latest animated foray – Young Justice – as existing within the confines of their mainstream multiverse as one of their many “earths” – Earth-16 to be exact. In doing so, they’ve made the show canon while still allowing it creative divergence from the comic book universe we’re all familiar with. It’s a brilliant move and one the Big Two should have thought of much sooner.
Still, I’ve always found the idea of a multiverse, while creatively rewarding, to be a bit hard to swallow and down right detrimental in the long run. The alternative to divergent timelines is the “Back to the Future” school of logic whereby changing the past rewrites a single primary timeline. Obviously, not the ideal situation for a comic book company looking to offer “what if” and “elseworld” type scenarios. But consider this: if a divergent timeline exists for every possible deviation and “road not taken,” then every single day, a nigh-infinite number of new worlds would be created. Maybe I’ll wear khakis today, maybe I’ll wear jeans. Oops! Two worlds! Do I have time to brush my teeth before leaving for work? Now we’re up to four. Given the butterfly effect (which implies the potential impact of even the most mundane occurrences) every decision every human being makes would have to result in alternate realities. Not brushing my teeth today because I’m in a hurry COULD lead to the complete and total collapse of western civilization somehow. Trust me.
Moreover, consider the in-universe implications of a multiverse. The hero of Earth-prime, faced with the greatest evil ever known to man, makes a noble sacrifice to vanquish the demon. The land is free! Just one problem… two Earths away on the sliding scale of reality, our hero has practiced poor oral hygiene and – as a result – is busy getting a root canal when the Big Bad strikes. Not only does his Earth fall to the forces of evil, but now the villain has set his sights on the “core” universe, where the hero of that Earth’s sacrifice will prove to be in vain as Earth-prime is conquered nevertheless. But no fear! On Earth-Crest, our hero has perfect teeth AND a perfect track record, and he’s traversing the Earth’s of the multiverse, thwarting evil at his every turn. It’s never over. There’s always the possibility that somewhere out there, there will be a greater threat or a nobler hero. Victory is all but meaningless.
A multiverse is a great creative outlet, don’t get me wrong, and some of my favorite stories come from divergent timelines and alternate realities. But in the end, simultaneous alternate realities can prove to be a real quagmire of plot-holes and possible easy-outs. DC tried and failed to do away with theirs, and I doubt Marvel will ever even be so bold. Maybe it’s for the best, so that stories like the Age of Apocalypse can live on. But sometimes? Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off in a world where salvation or sublimation are only a trans-dimensional portal away.