I was thinking about the timeline of DC Comics’ Earth-51 (home to the Great Disaster in Countdown to Final Crisis) and trying to wrap my head around what the past and present might mean for a world that’s been created and destroyed twice in as many years, and realized that some of the time paradoxes make much more sense if you consider that there’s more than one kind of time.

Real-world time is, as you’d expect, the time that passes between when two stories are published. For example, it’s been 45 years since Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug. 1962).

In-story time is the time that passes within a story. So even though it’s been 70 years since Superman first appeared on the newsstand, it’s only been 10–15 years since his debut within the DC Universe.

The tension between these two leads to a strange, fluid take on time, which has its own issues.

But then you get into time travel and cosmic retcons, and in-story time can’t quite explain things. Continue reading

After reading the “Who cares what Earth this takes place on!” intro to the Justice League: New Frontier tie-in comic, I started thinking about the whole Earth-1, Earth-616, etc. thing. The confusion over Earth-1 vs. New Earth in DC (something which overshadowed discussion of the actual story in the first issue of Tangent: Superman’s Reign) highlights the question: just how important is it to label these fictional universes, anyway?

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

A few multiverses that come to mind are DC’s, Marvel’s, 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.

I read Shadowpact #2 last night. So far the book does read better than Day of Vengeance, probably in large part because Bill Willingham can set his own schedule instead of the must-be-6-issues policy of the Infinite Crisis lead-ins.

One of the villains struck me as familiar, though: an albino swordsman with a magic sword, apparently allied to a sinister god-like being, who has picked up the nickname, “the White Rabbit.”

Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer #3Maybe it’s just the timing—just a few days ago I read a comic about Elric, an albino swordsman with a magic sword, allied to a sinister god-like being, with the nickname, “the White Wolf.”

Michael Moorcock's MultiverseActually, I was first reminded of Count Zodiac from Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse, largely because Zodiac is based in the 20th century, rather than an ancient sword-and-sorcery landscape. Count Zodiac is one of at least three versions of Count Ulric von Bek*—the others appear in The Dragon in the Sword and the trilogy that begins with The Dreamthief’s Daughter—and, like Elric, an incarnation of the Eternal Champion.

The Eternal Champion in all his forms fights for the balance between order and chaos, and often finds himself fighting for order while indebted to a lord of chaos. At least two versions** of von Bek are albinos who wield the Black Sword (Ravenbrand, rather than Stormbringer), and while I don’t recall Ulric himself being linked to a demon the way Elric is reluctantly linked to Arioch of Chaos, the von Bek family has ties to Lucifer going back to the Hundred Thirty Years War. Continue reading