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.”
Alternate Reality - n. Any parallel world existing beyond a property’s primary reality ”In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode Mirror, Mirror; viewers were treated to an alternate reality wherein the usually noble crew members of the Enterprise supplanted by far more ruthless and primal doppelgangers”
Divergent Timeline - n. A specific form of alternate reality, divergent timelines are based on specific events in history having unfolded differently from that which our protagonists are familiar with
The difference between divergent timelines and alternate realities may seem minor, but in truth, they often function in far different capacities. Divergent timelines are more often used in the context of single stories; aberrations in the space/time continuum to be repaired. True alternate realities, born of no clear circumstances, tend to have the longer lifespans as ongoing presences.
A perfect example of the differentiation is Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. What single event could be used to explain the vast differences between the Ultimate U and the 616? Consider that Nick Fury exists in both realities, but is of two different races. What historical event would cause that? And that’s only one variance… Dr. Doom, the Green Goblin, and Juggernaut – all three are vastly different in the Ultimate U and all for vastly different reasons. To track the Ultimate U back to a point in history where it was identical to the 616 seems improbable if not impossible.
The contraposition to this – the divergent timeline – is a much simpler sort of alternate reality. Consider the “present” in which most of Back to the Future II takes place. It is a divergent timeline created by Biff Tannen’s abuse of knowledge from the future. Every aspect of that alternate reality can be traced back to the one single event having occurred differently. Similarly, the Marvel Zombies universe (as seen in the header image) stems entirely from the single act of contamination and is otherwise virtually identical to our own.
So let’s look at something like Flashpoint: it is, theoretically, meant to be a divergent timeline caused by the Reverse Flash, Eobard Thawne. What, then, would Thawne have done to so drastically change the entire world? What change in Barry Allen’s past would have resulted in the death of Bruce Wayne as opposed to Thomas? Are we really meant to believe it’s all some grand study in the Butterfly Effect? It is, on its face, sloppy story-telling. Perhaps as the tale unfolds, however, all will become clear. Until then, we’re left to ponder how such a uniquely different alternate reality could have spawned from the machinations of one man’s bid for revenge.