Everybody loves alternate universes — TV's Fringe proved that meeting different versions of the same character is always fascinating. But when it comes to superhero comics, though, every big storyline is about universes colliding. Here's why the superhero publishers are running the multiverse into the ground.
Right now, DC's Convergence is in full swing. Marvel's Secret Wars begins in a few weeks. And both of these events promise that nothing will be the same, that all of existence is doomed.
And the thing about events like Convergence or Secret Wars is that their subject matter, the respective universes of Marvel and DC being faced with tumultuous upheaval, has gotten kind of blasé at this point. it's something we've read about time and time again. Admittedly at least this time around DC aren't quite going for the "it's the end of everything" angle the way Marvel are, but they're certainly no strangers to Crises that affect their entire universe , infinite or otherwise.
I've written about the need for smaller-scale storytellin g in pop culture before — but the problem with Convergence and Secret Wars isn't just a matter of excessive scale. It's more to do with the fact that these events are all about mining the nostalgia of long-term fans for events and storylines past.
These big multiverse events aren't just about showcasing radically different versions of familiar characters, but also about going back to stories that have been told already. Convergence picks characters from classic DC storylines like Flashpoint or Kingdom Come, while Secret Wars retells versions of past marvel arcs like Siege, Age of Ultron or Armor Wars.
It doesn't help that in the case of both companies, these events also come so closely after series that recently dealt with multiverse concepts: Multiversity, in the case of DC, and the Spider-Verse event for Marvel.
The whole point of having these multiverses is how they offer a sandbox for creators to play with. Want a new twist on a familiar character? Set it in an alternate reality that sits alongside the "main universe." That is multiverse storytelling's greatest strength, that freedom to tell a wide variety of stories that are still connect to the main "whole" — not being used as an excuse to relive old storylines fans are already familiar with.
And meanwhile, both Convergence and Secret Wars are imposing a hiatus on many of DC and Marvel's current ongoing comic books. And Secret Wars isn't just bringing an end to every current ongoing Marvel comic, it's replacing them with 40 new series to read between now and the end of the year — in the same way that DC's Flashpoint event led to the "New 52" lineup of rebooted comics a few years ago.
If you're new to reading comics — something happening more than more as people who watch the movies and the shows want to learn more — the complexity of the Multiverse idea is already challenging enough, let alone the sudden upheaval in terms of what's actually coming out on shelves in stores. It suddenly becomes even more intimidating to try and get into comics.
It doesn't help that neither big company has been particularly great at clarifying the details of what's actually happening in Convergence or Secret Wars. DC have been a little clearer with Convergence, but suffice to say there's a reason Marvel's putting out a faux-newspaper-guide-thing to try and tell you what the hell is happening to their comics line up just before Secret Wars hits. The amount of navel gazing elements, as well as the metatextual extent of getting all these alternate realities involved, could be incredibly confusing for a newer reader to try and parse.
These events in particular are very insular stories, aimed at the long term fan, coming at a time when more people than ever are enjoying comic book adaptations and finding themselves looking to get into comics.
Imagine you're new to comics, but like the MCU and just binge-watched Daredevil — and you decide want to read more about the Man Without Fear. He has a current ongoing series, that's being paused because of this big event that is happening, which is happening because of this thing you don't know about, this other thing you don't know about too, and now everything's exploding and it's the end of everything because reasons. While you're at it, where the hell is Daredevil, the character you wanted to read about? Sorry, come back in six months when we're done reshuffling everything.
You can have a big comic book crossover event that isn't about universes colliding and reality being rewritten (again). Marvel and DC themselves are no strangers to events like that — hell, the original Secret Wars crossover wasn't even about the destruction of all reality, it was just about the heroes being plucked out of their own realities and forced to fight each other. They don't have to delve into the inherent complexity of the Multiverse as an idea to get characters to crossover with each other.
Valiant's new event for this year, happening around the same time as Marvel and DC's events, is a great example of something smaller scale yet important to their entire stable of characters: it's about looking into the future of its character's existences , rather than the entire Valiant universe going kaboom, or dealing with an event that encompasses every aspect of their comic's history. Contrasted with Secret Wars and Convergence mining Marvel and DC's respective pasts, it's refreshing to see an event that chooses to look at a universe's future instead.
There's nothing wrong with the idea of visiting alternate universes, or showing meetings between alternate versions of beloved characters — but this shouldn't just be used as an excuse to rehash old ideas with a new coat of paint, over and over.