Strip Talk #11: Alternate universes expand story

Lyn­d­sey Hicks Mosley, editor-in-chief

Alter­nate uni­verses. As a comic book afi­cionado, you can’t live with them or live with­out them. Any ink fan knows his or her’s alter­nate his­tory of events for their char­ac­ters, places or eras. And if you don’t, there’s no way that you can’t find out by doing a lit­tle reading.

What is fas­ci­nat­ing about alter­nate uni­verses is really what I want to know. I sup­pose it’s that char­ac­ters can exist in two places with dif­fer­ences but basi­cally be the same per­son. The real­ity of alter­nate uni­verses is that there is always a prime ? a main per­son, place or thing ? and the alter­nates are always some vari­a­tion of the main.

Take, for exam­ple, Marvel’s Earth des­ig­na­tions. The comic book main Earth, des­ig­nated 616, is the prime. Dif­fer­ent real­i­ties are given to the mul­ti­ple X-Men arcs such as Age of Apoc­a­lypse, Days of Future Past and Mar­vel Zom­bies, or to the dif­fer­ent movies and the Ulti­mate ver­sions of char­ac­ters. This retains the abil­ity to tell a dif­fer­ent story about the same char­ac­ters and it not inter­fere with estab­lished canon.

The same con­cept applies to DC’s Cri­sis on Infi­nite Earth’s arc, which estab­lished that there were dif­fer­ent Earths, cleaned up plot­lines and elim­i­nated some char­ac­ters in the 1980s. Now, DC doesn’t go nearly as far Mar­vel does with the mul­ti­ple Earth des­ig­na­tions and what-ifs, but the saga did explain char­ac­ters’ ori­gins and cleared up quite a few ques­tions about where and how some char­ac­ters died or came back.

The best ver­sion of an alter­nate uni­verse is the afore­men­tioned Mar­vel Ulti­mates series. Ulti­mate ver­sions of char­ac­ters in the Mar­vel uni­verse can be rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent or have only one thing change in their past that com­pletely makes them a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. For instance, one of the most well-known changes between Ulti­mate and reg­u­lar ver­sions of a char­ac­ter is Col. Nick Fury. The Ulti­mate ver­sion of Fury is black but the reg­u­lar ver­sion is white. That’s how you can have a movie that has David Has­sel­hoff play­ing Fury and another with Samuel L. Jack­son play­ing the character.

Another well-known exam­ple is the fact that Ulti­mate Colos­sus is gay, while the reg­u­lar ver­sion is not. Both ver­sions were once upon a time involved with Kitty Pryde, but Ulti­mate Colos­sus later announces his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion to the X-Men family.

Alter­nate uni­verses can be a cheap trick to lengthen out a non­sen­si­cal story. How­ever, they can also be a great way to tell the other side of a tale. Don’t write off the better-told attempts because they may just be hid­ing some­thing new and bold.

Lyn­d­sey Hicks Mosley is editor-in-chief of Gam­ing Insur­rec­tion. She can be reached at

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