Issue #8 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
In The Beginning There Was. . .? How Comic Universes came to be.

If you've read a few comic books from the big two, then you're sure to have noticed that Metropolis, Gotham City, and Opal City are all a part of the fictional DC universe, yet do not appear in the equally fictitious Marvel universe. Ditto for the heroes and villains who inhabit them. Why?

The answer to this small question is a big something called a "comic book universe". So the question becomes how did these comic book universes come to be?

Well, let's go back six decades or so (anyone got one of the Flash's old Cosmic Treadmills handy?) When comics began back in the 1930's and 40's, comic book heroes rarely interacted with one another. Most comics were merely anthologies of heroes and villains engaged in fisticuffs. The most significant exception of course was "All Star Comics" (1940), which brought several heroes owned by DC together, so that they could fight the ultimate villains, 'the German menace' of WW II.

During the superhero resurgence of the 1950's the crossover became a big marketing ploy. It seemed reasonable to assume that the crossing over of one hero into another's comic book would increase sales, because the fans of both the heroes would want to read about it, correct?

Everyone knew Batman lived in Gotham City, and Superman in Metropolis, and that through their interaction, a broader, larger common set of 'universal' rules evolved. For, if green kryptonite affected Superman in his comic book, then it had to affect him in all comic books that he appeared in, that is, that DC published. And so, in effect the DC 'universe' was slowly created.

The same process created the Marvel universe in the 1960s.

[Of course, as time went on, problems arose. Inconsistencies abounded, as editors did not coordinate with one another very much back then. Sometimes these mistakes were rectified, and sometimes they were ignored. Eventually, in DC's case this lead to "Crisis on Infinite Earths". Take a look at Issue # 2 of this series for more about the Crisis. . .]

But, to be truly cosmic, the comicbook universe needed to be quite large. Thus belligerent alien races and menaces were created, like the Khunds, and the Skrulls. True heavyweights, the cosmic classed villains also abounded, such as Darksied, Galactus, and Mordru. Gods, both earth centred and star travelling, such as Thor, High-Father and the Celestials exist. Magic, both white and black, and its practitioners, Dr. Strange, Dormammu, Dr. Fate and the Lords of Chaos were created to do battle with one another.

Extensive timelines have been laid out. The DC universe is in its 4th/5th era, Marvel is set in its 2nd universe. Vandal Savage is about 40,000 years old, Rama Tut is about 4,000 years old, a slew of Septuagenarian heroes and villains were active during WW II, Dargo/Thor hails from the 24th century, the Legion of Super Heroes is set in the 29th century, and so on.

So, what began as a marketing concept grew and grew, until today, we have comic book universes.

Only one question remains: Are they necessary?

From a legal standpoint they are. For example, the incredibly small print found on the title page of a typical DC comic book reads, in part, "All characters featured in this issue, the distinctive likenesses thereof, and all related indicia are trademarks of DC Comics." This is meant to stop you or I from hiring an artist and publishing our own Superman comics, which wouldn't do much for DC's continuity, "brand name recognition", or their overall sales.

Additionally, to have the characters from DC and Marvel traipse about in each others books would cause chaos. Why, sheer number of secret subterranean bases used by villains across such a combined globe would doubtless cause the very surface of the earth to collapse.

Seriously though, doubling the number of heroes and villains, and all their interactions onto a single earth would be practically unmanageable. Imagine: A villian attacks New York. Spider-Man tries to stop him, but can't. The X-men fly in and do battle. But what about the Justice League? What about Green Lantern? What about all the other heroes from each universe that either base themselves in New York or can reach there easily? Why did or didn't they help? Continuity starts to slip away as the whereabouts of over a hundred heroes need to be kept track of. . .So it's just another good reason that the universes are nicely compartmentalized.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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