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Spider-Gwen #1 debuted this week, taking place in a world where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. Well there are other differences too I suppose. Ben Grimm is a hard-nosed cop, Frank Castle is an even harder-nosed police captain, and Gwen belongs to a band called The Mary Janes. With Mary Jane.
It’s an “Elseworld” book. Not a literal Elseworlds comic, but an alternate dimension, a self-contained world that we aren’t used to. There used to be many stories that took place in these kind of worlds, both with Marvel and DC, but it seems the appetite for such things has waned. Maybe, with Spider-Gwen and the upcoming multiverse spanning Secret War, we’re seeing something of a return.
And I hope so. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel and DC’s respective main universes, but there are certain advantages to books like these.
The first, and arguably biggest, is that they can break the mold without breaking the mold. The writer can change the entire universe how they see fit without worrying about the complaints and decrying that comes with changing anything about the main continuity. You can make Kingpin a cyborg woman and Cyclops a lizard person. It’s all good! It’s in some far off corner of the multiverse after all.
This also allows the comic to become an interesting read much quicker. Everything is new! Expectations are low! Now you have the thrill of discovering how this new place works! It’s pretty much a new comic book with all the recognition of pre-existing titles. Like the Blade of comic books. It has all the strengths of a Big Two comic without any of its weaknesses.
Well, that’s not completely true either. These multiverse books do come with issues. Ignoring the general “this was just a bad comic book” problem, they can also suffer from getting too close to their source material or growing so large they start to sag under their own mythos. Ultimate Marvel is a good example of this. At this point Ultimate Marvel is its own living, breathing continuity with its own variety of books and events. It’s beginning to encounter the same issues the gigantic 616 world is having due to the sheer size of it.
In the same vein, the range of stories you can tell is another big pull. We’re getting, like, back-to-back events in the main universes now. It’s interesting, I suppose. They’re different, sure, but they’re not really Earth-shattering. Each one follows more or less the same kind of progression. I don’t think the surprises really varied between Age of Ultron and Fear Itself. The wallpaper changes, but the house remains the same.
With an influx of these “Elseworlds” comics, you could tell a whole host of new stories with entirely new unexpected twists. Ultimate Marvel’s Ultimatum event killed off a ton of popular heroes including Spider-Man. The regular universe would never even try to touch that.
That kind of fearlessness naturally lends itself to great reads. The Big Two comics would be a dozen times more exciting if no one was off limits. If everyone can be killed, and they are, no one is safe. In a self contained universe that’s finally possible! It’s what I think is still a big pull when it comes to Ultimate Marvel.
So I hope to see a whole mess of new titles taking place in alternate versions of the Big Two. Maybe a cyborg Supergirl? An X-Men where mutants now far outnumber humans. A Hulk comic where when Bruce Banner gets angry Rick Jones hulks out? A gritty, self-serious Squirrel Girl? Who knows? The possibilities are endless!