Rolling Stone


Multiple worlds are a boon to storytelle­rs — and a comforting thought as ours goes to hell


whether you, yourself, live in just one of an endless array of alternate universes is, apparently, a topic of actual debate among physicists, even sober ones. But when it comes to fictional worlds, multiverse­s are taking over, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which, come to think of it, might have to change its name), most recently with

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to the brilliant indie film

Everything Everywhere All at Once, in which infinite Michelle Yeohs grapple with life’s infinite tragedies.

The appeal of the idea to storytelle­rs and their corporate patrons is obvious. How else would you get Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland to all play Spider-Man in the same movie? How else would you be able to cram Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier from 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies into the MCU? On one hand, the concept opens the door for wilder storytelli­ng; on another, it allows for endless iterations of the same characters and a doorway to painless reboots. There are always more Spider-Men out there.

The many-worlds concept has long been a sci-fi staple, and in comic books was originally best known via Marvel’s rival DC, beginning with a legendary September 1961 Flash story called “Flash of Two Worlds,” which introduced the idea of an Earth-1 and Earth-2, each with its own set of heroes. By 1985, DC editors became convinced that its many alternate worlds — including one where the Nazis won World War II and at least two where all the superheroe­s were cartoon animals — were too confusing for new readers. DC downsized its cosmos with the apocalypti­c miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, only to shrug and reintroduc­e the multiverse later. Meanwhile, the idea also popped up in the usual nerdy venues, from Doctor Who to Star Trek to the underrated 2000s series Fringe.

But multiverse­s have never been so mainstream, and it’s hard not to connect the concept’s spread with a prevailing sense in recent years that, here on this Earth, we’ve slipped into what

Community called “the darkest timeline” — that, in the face of cascading calamities from Trump to Covid to climate change to Julia Fox, we are in the worst of all possible worlds. Which, in turn, creates a powerful yearning for the possibilit­y of better ones.

The trend isn’t slowing down. There have already been two separate multiversa­l Spider-Man movies: 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, which got there first, and last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. Next year will bring a sequel to the former movie, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. And over in Warner Bros.’ DC Comics cosmos, The Flash, due in 2023, will belatedly drag the cinematic versions of the DC characters into their own multiverse, with both Ben Affleck and a 70-year-old Michael Keaton popping up as incarnatio­ns of Batman.

And for Warner Bros., which is dealing with Flash star Ezra Miller’s endless series of arrests and scandals, the multiverse may be a salvation: Execs there are almost certainly at work scouring various realities for one where Flash can be played by a less problemati­c actor.

 ?? ?? Poly’s all the rage: Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once
Poly’s all the rage: Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

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