Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #138 (July 1994)

The Punisher and Archie Andrews? The Punisher and Batman? Eighteen years ago the thought of these cross-continuous parings would have had me doing cartwheels in anticipation for entirely different reasons than why I look forward to reading them today.

You see, eighteen years ago, I was the self-appointed nation’s foremost authority on the subject of fictional reality in comic books. “Fictional reality” is the oxymoronic name I coined for a literary world’s phenomenology: its history, its science, its cosmology, and how that cosmology is systemically related to other literary worlds’ cosmologies. The system I came up with was called the Omniversal Theory and I published a treatise, a primer, two issues of a journal, and six newsletters devoted to the subject. My expertise in the matter enabled me to get my foot in the door of the comic book profession, and to this day the paychecks I get for my freelance writing are made out to the company name I invented for all my fictional reality publications, Alternity Enterprises. Many of the contributors to the journal, Omniverse, and the newsletter, Alternity Reports, went on to become professionals in the comics industry even as I did.

What we all shared was an interest in (and in some cases a passion for) reading the comic books as if they were literal accounts of actual events in another universe, then theorizing from those stories what the natural laws and physical phenomena of the stories’ universe were. This went beyond consistency-checking from story to story (what’s been called continuity). This established the framework by which the fabric of continuity hung.

I won’t tax your attention span with the copious details of Omniversal Theory, but I will lay a few major definitions on you. A universe is a region of common, contiguous reality. A multiverse is a group of universes containing related phenomena. The omnivores is the sum of all multiverses. So how’s this structure work in practice? Let’s start with a known universe as a reference point – the Marvel mainstream universe. We know more than a hundred universes related to it, and this part of the Marvel multiverse – virtually every issue of WHAT IF (first and second series) – starts with the Marvel mainstream universe, but at some pivotal event something different happens and a divergent reality results. All WHAT IF universes then are demonstrably related – we saw them break off from a common stem.

Now let’s consider some universes which will take a little more detective work if we are to determine if they’re part of the Marvel multiverse. First, the Squadron Supreme’s universe. We examine the history of the Squadron’s world and we find certain similarities: Power Princess’s people, the Utopians, are a Free experiment on humanity like the Inhumans (posing the question, “What if the Inhumans had not discovered the Terrigen Mist?”), Hyperion is an Eternal (posing the question, “What if all of the Eternals had vanished except one?”), and there are Skrulls common to both universes, as well as an individual by the name of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond. On the basis of just this much evidence, one would be warranted to conclude that the Squadron’s world is in the Marvel multiverse.

Now how about the New Universe? Well, according to the books, until July 22, 1986, the world was exactly like the one we readers are living in – no alien visitations, no Atlantis, no subterraneans…hmmm, we’re already finding some serious differences between the New U. and the M.U. here. Add to the mix that there are no Watchers in the New U. and our Watcher never even heard of the place, and we get some pretty strong indications that the two universes are in different multiverses.

For this type of exercise, you can compare any two literary universes – Star Wars and Star Trek, Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, Robin Hood and Red Riding Hood – and though careful analysis of phenomena make a case for whether the two literary worlds are in different multiverses, different universes in the same multiverse, or (gasp) in the same universe.

Which brings us to the Punisher and Archie Andrews. Same universe? Different universe? Different multiverses? You decide. Here’s some tips, though.

  1. Never let style be a determining factor. Style is a reflection of the transcriber, not necessarily the figures or events being transcribed. Two writers could tell essentially the same story, one playing up the humor, the other the pathos and angst, and it would be difficult to determine which one was more objectively “true.” Similarly, a stylized artist and a naturalistic artist could render the same story and there would be no real way for us to tell which one was more objectively “accurate”.
  2. Never attempt to prove commonality of of universe by the “so-and-so met so-and-so who met so-and-so” method. Simple meetings between personages prove nothing other than the existence of dimension travel. I used to have arguments with the late great E. Nelson Bridwell of National Periodicals. ENB was a firm believer in the “meeting-as-proof-of-coexistence” postulate. He used to recite me such long strings of “crossovers” that by his reckoning, probed Biblical figures shared the same world as Warner Brothers cartoon characters. To him, there was only one literary universe and everybody was in it, the contradictory backdrops and divergent histories be darned!

Okay, so while you’re working on the Punisher and Archie thing, I’ll address the Punisher/Batman meeting. No, they’re not from the same literary universe. There’s no Gotham City in the Marvel Universe. Case closed. But I’m still looking forward to the paring even if, like in previous Marvel/DC crossovers (namely, Superman/Spider-Man, Hulk/Batman, X-Men/Teen Titans), there is no explanation of how these combatants from diverse cosmos (cosmoses?) came to be where they can meet You see, both universes have any number of cosmic jokesters powerful enough to fudge the borders of reality long enough for such anomalous get-togethers to occur.

Have you come to a conclusion about whether Archie and the Riverdale High gang are located in the confines of the Marvel Universe yet? I haven’t. I haven’t read enough Archie stories that dealt with matters of cosmology to determine if they contradict what’s known in the M.U. I will note, however, that there is a section of New York City’s the Bronx called Riverdale. My third grade daughter goes to school there. And if we have a Riverdale, you can bet the M.U. does, too.

Ahh, fictional realities. I sometimes miss my theoretical days. I’ll have to thank Archie, Bats and Punny for reminding me of them next time we bump into each other at Mr. Bridwell’s gravesite.

–Mark Gruenwald