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It’s the End of Many Worlds – Multiverse Threats

Two of the biggest events in comics right now are the “Time Runs Out” story arc of the Avengers and DC Comics’ Multiversity. Both of them are about events that cause a multiverse to come under threat of extinction. In general, there is a lot of alternate timeline and alternate world storylines at Marvel and DC right now. So how did it become so popular to destroy not just one comic book universe, but many?   Although there is a long of Marvel and DC copying each other, this seems like a coincidence that both of these stories are occurring at the same time. The writer of Multiversity is the eccentric and popular writer Grant Morrison, and he has been reportedly working on this series for many years, likely at least five years. Although “Time Runs Out” is the most high profile element of the multiverse ending in Avengers, writer Jonathan Hickman has been building to this point for quite some time. The “Rogue Planet” issue (Avengers #24.NOW) is where this really kicked into gear.   multiverse   It’s interesting that Hickman choose to make a multiverse such a major part of his Avengers storyline because it has long been more closely associated with DC Comics. Due to having both the Golden Age and Silver Age versions of many of the most popular heroes, DC devised the strategy that they were both real versions – but on separate earth in different universes. This first was introduced in 1961 in the landmark Flash #123, where Gardner Fox reintroduced the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick).   Over the decades, DC developed more dimensions and universes. Some of these were due to business decisions. In the 1970’s, DC acquired many of the characters from Fawcett Comics, most notably Captain Marvel/Shazam and Black Adam, and put them in their own universe. Eventually, the company decided that its multiverses were too complicated, the continuity was too complicated, and perhaps most importantly that they wanted the characters of different universes to interact. The solution was 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.   multiverse   Crisis on Infinite Earths was notable for DC continuity and has influenced many of the “Crisis” events that would come later (Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis). It’s a relevant series to discuss here because the storyline of Crisis on Infinite Earths (written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez) is a clear touchstone for both Hickman’s Avengers and Morrison’s Multiversity, although in different ways. The premise of CoIE was the multiverse is collapsing and the earths of the different worlds are overlapping. This leads to heroes from different universes interacting. Ultimately, there is only one earth and one universe at the end of the event, where all of the heroes exist.   In many ways, Hickman’s multiverse uses the same scenario as CoIE. The Avengers discover a multiverse and that it is collapsing, threatening their earth. This leads the Illuminati to try to prevent extinction, even if it means destroying others worlds. This causes a schism between Captain America (who doesn’t believe in these methods) and Iron Man and the rest of the Illuminati. The adventures of the Illuminati have been chronicled in Hickman’s New Avengers.   multiverse   Though Crisis on Infinite Earths seems like a definite influence on the Avengers and New Avengers work of Hickman, he has also been exploring the notions of different universe for quite some time. Pax Romana, a series published by Image Comics in 2007 with writing and art from Hickman, is a story about a research team that travels into the past, though there are also different universe elements to the story.   While Hickman’s storylines in Avengers and New Avengers are somewhat similar to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is linked to the older series differently. Multiversity is not a similar story so much as it is in the similar spirit, exploring the different corners of the multiverse, an area that has been relatively undeveloped so far since the company-wide reboot of the “New 52.” However, the premise of Multiversity is similar in that it involved a catastrophic event that could spell the end of the multiverse, an event that heroes have to try to prevent.   multiverse   So why is the idea of a multiverse so popular these days? For many years, DC thought it simpler to have one earth that housed all of their heroes, basically from Crisis on Infinite Earths until Morrison reinstituted the idea in Final Crisis in 2008. Marvel hasn’t worked extensively with company-wide multiverses. Although there are many storylines involving alternate timelines and alternate earths, it is usually not as widespread as it has at DC.   I think that the appeal of stories involving a multiverse is similar to the reason that time travel stories are popular. They allow creators to “mess” with characters in ways that are not normally allowed in continuity. Alternately, it allows comic companies to dramatically alter their continuity. Additionally, a threat to many worlds and universes has an enormous scale and dramatic factor that companies look for in mega-events.   multiverse   It will be interesting to see how the changes in Hickman’s Avengers last over the long term. Avengers #35 showed a very different world. Similarly, I imagine that Morrison’s adventures in other universes aren’t just for fun. Multiversity will likely have some lasting repercussions on the main “New 52” universe. The status quo and change are constantly competing pulls in super-hero comics, and multiverse-based stories are a great example of how that happens in practice.


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