Parallel Worlds and the Multiverse in Popular Media – Rhymes With Geek
Originally written for RhymesWithGeek.com
With DC’s Convergence kicking off in a big way, Marvel’s Secret Wars starting in May and Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity series reaching its conclusion, all eyes are on the Multiverse. An infinite number of Earths, galaxies, whole universes – exactly like ours but slightly different, sometimes in just one minor or major way.
Now Comic Books have been fascinated by the idea of parallel universes for decades, certainly as far back as DC’s ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’ story-line from 1961.
Written as a way of having the then-current (and current again) Flash – Barry Allen – interact with his Golden Age hero and counterpart Jay Garrick, The Flash #123 showed Barry vibrate his frequency and transport himself from his home of Central City to the parallel Earth’s Keystone City, home of Jay. What made this story so wild (and subsequently the foundation stone of a lot of Grant Morrison’s DC work, specifically Flex Mentallo and the aformentioned Multiversity), Barry already knew of Jay Garrick’s Flash, as he had read comic books about him on his own Earth, meaning that this world (later to be known as Earth-two) was fictionalized within the main DC universe in the form of comic books, much like the main DC universe (and beyond) is fictionalized in ours.
That issue opened up the DC Multiverse in a huge way. In fact the overpopulation of various versions of super-heroes over the following 20 or so years led to the seminal 12-issue event Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985, where the multiverse was destroyed and the Earth rebuilt as one single DCU in order to streamline the publisher’s continuity.
Now why does that sound familiar?
Probably because that’s similar to the premise of Marvel’s imminent Secret Wars mega-event (megavent? No). Starting in May, the culmination of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga that began in 2012 revolves around the final ‘incursion’ (collision of two universes) between the main Marvel universe (616) and the Ultimate Marvel universe. Now it’s too early to tell what the result of this story-line will be, but from what we know of so far, it seems a safe bet to assume that characters from the Ultimate Universe will join the 616 (or whatever it ends up being called) and potentially a streamlining of continuity (‘NOT a reboot‘).
Either Way, during Secret Wars Marvel is revisiting all their previous universes and events from years past as part of their Battleworld. Now why does that sound familiar? Probably because that’s similar to DC’s current event, Convergence.
Convergence started as a two month project, separate from current continuity, that would allow DC comics to complete the move of their central offices from New York City to Burbank, California (or band-aid, as Bleeding Cool puts it). All that aside, the result is an 8-issue weekly series surrounded by 40 two-part spin-offs over April and May, the premise being that Brainiac has trapped (under domes outside of the time stream) various universes that have otherwise been cancelled, rebooted or wiped from continuity. Future’s End, New 52, pre and post Crisis and a whole myriad of Elseworlds titles and fan-favorite characters from days gone by are all tied in, providing (one would hope) a massive love letter to the history of DC comics and its Multiverse.
Suffice to say that this year is a great time for fans of parallel worlds.
Of course comic books aren’t the only place to find studies of the Multiverse (although arguably Comic books explore the themes and possibilities fairly thoroughly). I was browsing through Netflix the other day and came across Parallels, a new film from Fox Digital and writer/director Christopher Leone. If you’ve got Netflix I highly recommend it, although it feels like the start of a TV series rather than a stand-alone film (you can read more about the intentions in that regard here). Essentially this film is all about a building that traverses from one alternate Earth to another every 36 hours, seemingly at random, and a group of people getting themselves lost in the multiverse.
Parallels is very similar in structure to Sliders, the Fox/Sci-Fi channel show that ran from 1995-1999. If you haven’t heard of it, Sliders followed a group of travelers that used wormholes to jump (or slide) between different dimensions. It’s been years since I watched it, but it was a lot of fun. Taking the concept and using it to create standalone episodes similar to Quantum Leap, the group in Sliders were stranded in the multiverse, hoping week after week as they traveled between Earths that their next slide…would be the slide home.
Going back a few years, Fox’s TV show Fringe also delved into the ideas of alternate Earths, to spectacular effect. I’m a huge Fringe fan, and its central mythology revolved around the idea of parallel Earths in a cold war with each other behind the scenes of everyday life (some might say a Secret War…). That’s a severe oversimplification of the themes and ideas that get developed during the series’ 5-season run, but once you start delving in you can see for yourself how the show presents situations and events that are rarely found outside of comics.
This is not even scratching the surface of Parallel universes in media. Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Buffy, hell even Community uses alternate Earths to illustrate not only how different our world could be with just a minor change, but what it’s like to travel between these worlds.
It’s a brilliant and fascinating science fiction trope that’s permeated through comic book fiction as much if not more so than time travel, and I can’t wait to see how it gets used by the Big Two over the coming months.