Matt Smith is not leaving Doctor Who. Why is that important? It shows that Smith is instep with the popular culture right now, especially as far as The Doctor’s role within that culture is concerned. Granted, having only become acquainted with the Doctor over the last few years, I’ve only recently come to realize how far his influence has been reaching for awhile now (Bill & Ted and Buckaroo Bonzai I’m looking in your direction). But it seems that everywhere you look in comics (and beyond) right now people are legging it through realities.
Peter David has done it several times during his epic run on X-Factor, including the mindfuck horrorshow insanity of “They Keep Killing Madrox!”. In Uncanny X-Force the team had to go back to the Age of Apocalypse, while Mike Carey created a pocket reality before leaving Legacy. But that’s small scale compared to what else is going on at Marvel. Hickman spent a great deal of time during his Fantastic years telling stories about the council of Reeds and letting the audience accompany him through an always shifting milieu of infinite possibility. Greg Pak has been quietly writing the most fun and most readable X-book for six issues now with X-Treme X-men where a band of reality displaced X-men travel the multiverse with an Xavier head in a jar, killing evil Xaviers. More like “They Keep Killing Xavier!” amirite?
Now Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four has dropped and by the end of the issue the team is ready to go on a Magic School Bus-esque ride through time and space because learning. And though Hickman and Epting’s New Avengers hasn’t come out yet, from the looks of it people are going to be multiverse hopping. Just like in Fraction’s Defenders. Just like in Thunderbolts. And reaching across the aisle Mike Carey’s Unwritten has been playing fast and loose with reality hopping through worlds of literature and soon comics as well as the title crosses over with Fables. Nick Spencer brought readers on a yet, unresolved Infinite Vacation where the Westworld type of idea is taken to it’s 21st century sensible conclusion, take some R&R in an alternate reality.
This is hardly something new for the 616 Universe however. In fact, as far as Marvel is concerned, it begins with the 616 Universe. The naming of and creation of that is, from the pages of Captain Britain under the helm of Dave Thorpe, Alan Davis & Alan Moore. Of course Marvel and Mark Gruenwald also gave us Squadron Supreme, a study in alternate realities and what happens when superheroes decide they can run the world. This was all done while Apollo and the Midnighter were still just twinkles in a young Warren Ellis’ eye.
I know what you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with anything?” Well I’ll tell ya. I don’t know. But I know it means something. Is it a reaction to our scary and getting scarier actual reality? We want to see what other ways existence could be because if it’s worse we’ll feel better and if it’s better maybe they’ll let us stay? Fringe, there’s another one. It’s everywhere in the culture now. If there’s a multiverse there’s no such thing as death because if I’m dead here, maybe I’m still alive in the reality with nothing but shrimp or the reality with no shrimp at all.
Fringe might be the most recent universe hopping sci-fi show to blow minds on the small screen, but it’s following a well worn path, police boxes aside. Star Trek gave viewers Mirror, Mirror back in ’67, where an evil alternate reality crew switches places with our heroes. In Next Generation there’s so much time stream and reality bending that it’s enough to make me want to try to save Tasha Yar, one last time. Darkwing Duck was my own introduction to the alternate reality concept, with his villainous double, Nega Duck. Darkwing also entered the other world through a cake in the back of a cake shop, which I know is a reference to something, but I do not know what. Oh and then of course there was that entire show dedicated to reality jumping…or SLIDING (dramatic music). Sliders ran for five years and had nothing to do with tiny hamburgers. It had everything to do with trying to get back to your own reality and having to slog through a myriad of weird, messed up and crazy ones to do it. Like Quantum Leap but the world is the body! I hope they used that line to sell the show. Buffy did it, who could forget “The Wish”, though that’s getting into divergent time lines, which is a whole other metaphysical bag of worms, but still connected enough for me to mention in passing.
Alternate realities, alternate time lines, may be different, but are they really? I suppose that if the time line still exists, even if the events that created it are “fixed” then it’s now an alternate time line. At least as far as the X-Men family of books are concerned. How many different nightmare futures have been predicted for the team and how many characters have returned from said futures, only to remain even after their time line has supposedly been avoided? The movie going public is going to find out soon enough when Days of Future Past makes it’s way to the big screen. This might be the first comic book movie to deal with alternate realities and fractured timelines but it’s certainly no stranger to cinema. From Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, we’ve seen people play with possibility, time and the fabric of reality itself.
Whatever the reason that we’re currently fascinated with the existence of the multiverse, one things for sure. And that is DC doesn’t get to come along. Enjoy your 52 ill-defined bits of headache inducing “continuity” (here on out referred to as “cantinuity”) and banal explanation of the way things are now. Everywhere else people bask in the infinite options of creativity unbound, but DC can stick to Wonder Woman smooching Superman and the latest Bat-atrocity.
It wasn’t always like this for DC. They used to have a rich sparkling multiverse and while it may have been confusing and unwieldy it was spectacular in it’s messy, manic brilliance. In fact DC beat Marvel to the multiverse punch by decades, starting with Flash of Two Worlds and going on to Crisis on Earth 3. Both tales boldly and bravely tossed caution to the wind and took the plunge, expanding minds and possibilities for comics, genre, story telling, pretty much all the great things that are wonderful. While today’s universe hopping, time jaunting stories seemed to be aimed at pure adventure, these early visits to sideways worlds helped settle continuity quirks and created ways for creators to play with a bigger toybox of characters, regardless of the current universe or time period.
If I was going to explain the history of the DCU and the multiverse within both of our heads would explode. Suffice it to say that it would get bigger and then smaller, then it would disappear almost entirely, but not before barfing out the new DCU like a frat boy during rush week. Also like a frat boy during rush week, it didn’t make any sense. The reboot tool, emphasis on tool, was something called Flashpoint and in it Barry “I Don’t Know Why They Brought Me Back Either” Allen erased 70 years of DC history because mothers.
But just because DC has erased something amazing, doesn’t mean they can’t replace it with something ham-fisted and embarrassing. Earth 2 is back and just like everything else in the “Insert Company Slogan Of The Minute Here” DCU it’s been, wouldn’t you know it, rebooted. Earth 2 and Worlds Finest provide fans a way to experience a facsimile version of the boundless joy of yesteryear, but in a shorter, less exciting and more expensive way. So you can see new versions of old characters in a separate place for no reason. See before they had to put the JSA on Earth-2 because they were the old timey characters and it didn’t make sense for them to stay young and daring as the 20th century wore on. But now they’re over there because reasons and like a 3D Magic Eye Book if you put too much work into trying to figure out the reasons behind any of the “creative” decisions since the DCU rebooted in a glorious wet fart of capitalism and marketing, your brain will implode. It’s a fact. Look it up. That’s why you don’t see those Magic Eye booths at the mall anymore. Brain implosions. It happens.
There was even a time when we had two John Constantines for some reason. Despite all of the “Don’t worry about it” company line that was being bandied about for a time whenever a nervous Hellblazer fan would approach Milligan and co about the possibility of losing our John, the powers that be decided that it would be better for everyone if John was a more sanitized, commercial, marketable character and less of an interesting, realistic, enjoyable one. That dual Constantines was bizarre and in a way, it’s good that it’s over, though it’s a shame it’s ending like it has. The Vertigo Constantine would still remark here and there about his adventure with Swamp Thing or some throwaway remark reminding you that this character has mixed it up with superheroes and is in the DCU. But then there was the other John Constantine, the new, fresh, clean, dull John Constantine. Now this is a character that has had his share of evil twins, but this was something different. And like most of the bits and pieces of the nu-52, it doesn’t make any sense.
Matt Smith is a smart man. A smart, handsome, funny, talented, handsome man. He knows what people want right now and what they want is everything else. Sideways trips through backwards worlds and upside down dimensions where everything is right side up. Our popular culture has been building it’s love affair with all of the realities that aren’t, shouldn’t or can’t be and it seems like we’re just getting warmed up. At least in this universe.