Cataloging a Multiverse

How important is it to label fictional universes? Does it matter that Young Justice takes place on “Earth-16,” while the universe of Batman: The Brave and the Bold doesn’t have a number? Is Earth One a good label for a self-contained Superman or Batman series? If an editor writes “Earth-1” instead of “New Earth” in Tangent: Superman’s Reign, should it overshadow discussion of the actual story? Do they need to be precisely separated, with each story identified clearly as belonging to one universe or another, or is a more general classification enough?

And once you’ve decided to catalog them, how do you label them?

A few multiverses that come to mind are DC Comics’, Marvel Comics’, and Michael Moorcock’s.

The multiverse of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle is extremely fluid, with details changing whenever he wants to tell a different story. Just looking at the Elric stories, there are three or four origins for Stormbringer, and as many for the Melnibon√©ans and their pact with Arioch. There are several versions of the 20th-century Count Ulrich Von Bek (depending on whether you include Count Zodiac). Worlds are less like parallel lines and more like streams that can run together, mingle, and separate again (kind of like the briefly-used Hypertime as used by DC).

DC and Marvel, on the other hand, favor a discrete structure in which each universe can be precisely identified. This may have something to do with the focus on continuity as a key element of comic-book storytelling, and would explain why, for instance, Marvel has made an effort to number what seems to be every single alternate reality they’ve ever published.

Approaches to numbering:

  • Sequential. DC started out like this, with Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-3, etc.
  • Random. Current DC multiverse, except for the first few we saw at the end of 52 which were based on worlds from the original DC multiverse (Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-5 from Earth-S, Earth-10 from Earth-X). Marvel’s main continuity, Earth-616, was reportedly picked at random (though there is some disagreement on this point).
  • Referential. Things like choosing Earth-S for the worlds of Shazam or Squadron Supreme, or Earth-C for Captain Carrot. Earth-97 for Tangent (which appeared in 1997) and Earth-96 for Kingdom Come (which appeared in 1996) would also fall into this category (but see the next point).
  • Systematic. Taking referential labels a step further, using a consistent scheme. Marvel derives most of its designations from publication dates.

Personally, I prefer to just name them. “The Tangent Universe” or “New Frontier” or “Supremeverse” gets the idea across more directly than, say, Earth-9.

What do you think is the best way to identify alternate universes?

Originally posted at K-Squared Ramblings.


8 thoughts on “Cataloging a Multiverse

  1. Kyer

    I really don’t care one way or the other as long as they consistently mark the books by the designated universe. That way I can stick those books together without randomly picking one up, reading in a few pages and going…”Wha? Oh, yeah…he’s bald in this one…” Or something.

  2. Lee H

    The serial numbered universes in Marvel comics is really just something the Handbook guys do. Joe Quesada and Tom Brevoort have expressed preference for just saying things like “the Marvel universe”, “the Ultimate universe”, “the 1602 universe” etc.

    I basically want to punch the screen whenever someone types “616”.

  3. DailyPOP

    It can be very alienating to someone who is trying to get into a comic or cartoon to be told that this one is different. I know that the DC Animated Features frustrate some people who are familiar with the comics or animated series because they exist outside of both continuities. I really think that DC is missing a trick by practically reinventing the wheel each time they release a new Batman or Superman project on DVD. These should be the most readily accessible characters in comics, but the animated films are all over the place and for no good reason that I can see.

    I like the Justice League Earth 2 film, but it’s unnecessarily confusing as it is based on an entirely new version of the JLA and has bits of the old cartoon embedded in there since it was initially a bridge to JLU.

    The same can be said for Young Justice. It has no relation to the comic book of the same name, the current DC Universe, the animated Teen Titans or Justice League cartoon. It doesn’t bother me, but I can see why it would put off some people.

    1. Kelson Post author

      Believe it or not, there are people who make a distinction between Earth-Two and Earth-2. And the debate over Earth-1 vs. New Earth when Tangent: Superman’s Reign was published did happen, though the link’s long-since dead.

  4. Kyer

    I still wish they’d called DCAU Young Justice “Young Justice Earth-16” if only help the newbies over at fanfic sites differentiate between the comic and the cartoon.

    Any chance at all that Wally will be in Multiversity? Otherwise I don’t much care…by main concern now is what sort of travesty they are likely to have put on Jay Garrick and Alan Scott in their new Earth 2.

  5. Thunderbolt_005

    I’m with Kyer. Jay of Earth Two, Bruce of Earth One, and an assortment of Supermen… but no Wally?! Come on DC here is a good oppertunity to expand the Flash-verse (more money for you)!

  6. Kyer

    God, yes, Wally! *waves four crisp linen-paper Lincolns at DC* I have money! (She does. Her attempt to purchase the Marvel Daredevil hardcover by Mark Waid fell a-kilter when the store muffed her order something royal and the Wally Flash Omnibus isn’t until April. She is comic book less for the month and needs some good news, dang it.)


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