Nerd Labs: Issue #7 - The Marvel Multiverse Explained
Hello True Believers!
One of the most confusing things for new comic book readers is the idea of the "multiverse." I know that when I first started reading comics, I was completely lost by this concept. Why is Ultmate Spider-Man a young black boy, while Amazing Spider-Man is a young white man? Why is Uncanny X-Men part of the main Marvel Universe, but X-Men Noir is not?
It took quite a bit of digging for me to unwrap and understand this large concept. While learning about this, I was also introduced to other ideas that Marvel has used over the years in conjunction with the multiverse. It was a little overwhelming at first. So the point of this blog is to open up this concept in simple terms, so that any new reader will be able to understand it. That being said, there are some aspects that I am still working with, so some of my information may be incomplete, or slightly off. If you are a seasoned comic reader, and understand the multiverse, please feel free to leave a comment below. As always, this is meant to open conversation, and help those who are new to the community and literary form.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the multiverse is to think of it as a series of timelines. An analogy that I read once was that the multiverse is like a tree (now the picture makes sense, right?). The timeline moves along like a tree growing, and every time a choice is made, a branch grows for each possible choice. Then each branch grows out until another choice is made, and again, a new branch grows for each possible choice. This goes on forever. That's one big Groot!
What this means is that there is literally an infinite amount of possible universes in the Marvel Multiverse. For example, there is one universe where Peter Parker became a villain, one where he was killed by the Green Goblin, and one where he is a pig named Peter Porker... Yes, I'm serious.
The reason Marvel has used this concept is that it allows them to change their characters in subtle or drastic ways, without having to change the mainstream Marvel Universe. For example, there is a universe where Marvel heroes and villains are present in 1602, in England. Obviously, this world cannot coexist with the mainstream Marvel Universe, where these same characters are acting in the present day. Thus, a separate universe (timeline) is required for this to make any sense at all. The multiverse allows them to do this.
Now, it is important to understand that the events in one universe DO NOT effect the events of another universe in most cases. Peter Parker was killed in the Ultimate Universe, but Parker is alive and well in the mainstream universe. This is because they are completely separate from one another. It is possible for characters to travel to other universes, and there are even characters from alternate universes that are currently living in the mainstream universe. For example, at the time I am writing this, there is an event occurring called "Spider-Verse" where many different Spider-Men from many different universes are meeting together to fight against a common threat.
Each universe is given a number that they can be referred to by. These numbers get complicated, and only a few are commonly memorized by readers. I will give you a list of some of the most prevalent, largest, and interesting ones. You can see a semi-complete list here, and you can look at some of the crazy stuff that's out there.
Earth-311: Marvel 1602
Earth-616: Mainstream Marvel Universe
Earth-811: Days of Future Past
Earth-928: Marvel 2099
Earth-1610: Ultimate Universe
Earth-2149: Marvel Zombies
Earth-90214: Marvel Noir
Earth-199999: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Marvel has also stated that there will be more universes coming in the future because every time a choice is made, a new universe is created. This is genius because Marvel now has free license to do whatever they want with these characters. If the idea they try doesn't work, they can just ignore that universe. But it also allows them to carry on the successful ideas, without changing the rest of the universes' continuity.
What is truly interesting about all this is that it all ties into a real world theory called the "Many Earths Theory." Just as with the Marvel Universe, this theory states that there is an alternate dimension for every possible form of earth. These dimensions are created every time a decision is made, where the choice or choices not picked result in a dimension where they were. It gets a lot more complicated than that, and starts to bring in quantum mechanics, and frankly I am not smart enough to understand, let alone explain these finer points.
Perhaps the most well known part of the Many Earths Theory comes in the example of the "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment. There are various versions of the experiment, but it essentially boils down to this: a cat is placed in a box with a mechanism that should kill the cat. However you are unable to see inside the box, so there is no way for you to be certain that the cat is dead. Until the second you open the box, the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead. This is the point where two alternate earths are created, and you don't know which one you are living in until you open the box and discover Snowball's fate.
It is a bit strange and counterintuitive to think this way, but the Many Earths Theory has gained some traction in the scientific community, and is still "on the table" in the world of quantum mechanics and physics.
Its pretty crazy to think that our four-coloured adventures draw inspiration from some of the highest intellectual forms of science and technology!
As always, thank you so much for reading!