Apr 14, 2015
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 49: 1602 #3, December 2003
There's a couple of parts of this comic in which we get an inkling that the 1602 world isn't just an experiment in displacing the characters of the Marvel Universe, but actually a part of that very same universe. "...I merely watch," the text of the final caption box on the first page, is the blatant clue as to the narrator's voice, and the back of his head shows up in a later panel. That Uatu makes his presence known makes 1602, at the very least, a possible What If world, which, by this point, have been acknowledged as part of the Marvel multiverse.
These questions of multiversality (or, to quote Morrison, multiversity) offer some interesting ways of coming at superhero comics. Leaving aside for a moment that a newly-published theory is actually positing interaction between parallel universes, in many ways, especially for the last decade or so, we've seen rampant tacit interaction between parallel comics universes. There is a long history of multiverses and alternate realities in superhero comics, stemming from the "imaginary stories" of the fifties and sixties all the way to Morrison's current meditation on the concept in Multiversity. Interesting shorthands have been created that allow writers to deal with multiverses, the notion of "the Bleed" being perhaps the most useful, and most used. These veins of the multiverse not only separate the various dimensions, but also parse the universe in terms of the biological, a metaphor with which we are fundamentally in tune. And while this notion, and its genesis in the differing vibrational rates of alternate Earths (see Flash v.1 #123) primarily finds its origins in DC Comics and their eventual offshoot Wildstorm, Marvel writers, Jonathan Hickman notable amongst them, have taken up the concept in the Marvel Universe(s). The Bleed, or the veins of the multiverse, become a concept in numerous multiverses from different publishers, and thus become a metaphoric link between economically disparate fictions. Thus we see a version of the Sentry show up in Final Crisis, gathered together with other versions of Superman (along with a version of Supreme), or we see the Avengers take on a barely concealed version of the Justice League in a recent issue of that series. These veins allow us to think superhero comics not as disparate fictions attempting to grapple with the mythic resonances of these kinds of characters, but as parts of an organic whole, combinations and permutations moving toward some kind of solution. Whether or not the solution even exists is beside the point. It is the movement that matters.
Not that this says anything about the comic in question, really. This issue, at least, combats the problem I was thinking about yesterday, that of the novelty of revelation carrying the story more than the narrative itself. Things happen in this issue. Major events propel the plot forward and characters are developed in such a way that they are made distinct from the archetypes from which they are drawn. Not too distinct, mind you, but enough that we can see the way in which the different time period manages to change the surfaces of the characters at the very least. But I still can't get away from the idea that this story would not be nearly as well-regarded if it didn't feature the Marvel superheroes. Only three issues in and I'm already getting ready to set it aside and read something else before finishing the series. But I did say there'd be music by next weekend, which means the series needs to be finished, in which case, I'll see you again tomorrow, direct from the 17th century.