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WandaVision Brought the Multiverse to Marvel

That’s all business-side multiversing, but I think some of the in-story kind is on its way, too. I have nothing but my own speculation here. Disney’s Star Wars arm has promised a krayt dragon–sized bolus of content over the next few years, mostly on the strength of The Mandalorian, Disney+’s ace series. Shows with characters like Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Lando Calrissian have all been announced, and a new movie, too—Rogue Squadron. (That movie will be helmed by Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins. Just like Spider-Man Version One director Sam Raimi taking the director reins of the next Dr. Strange movie, crossovers happen in our universe, too.) This is typical metacrisis-inducing stuff. The universe gets more complicated, and it starts to undergo mitosis.

But I’m kvelling most about Ahsoka, set to star Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, who first appeared on the animated Clone Wars. Before Dawson played her on Mandalorian, the last time Ahsoka showed up was on the cartoon Star Wars Rebels, and part of her story involved a magic time-traveling, multiverse-spanning nexus called the “world between worlds.” If you look closely at the official logo for the new show, that faint ring around her name looks to me like the WBW. So, I’m not saying; I’m just saying.

Buy whyyyy, you are pleading. Why complicate a perfectly fun bunch of sequels with the strictures of continuity and apocrypha? Nobody tries to explain why James Bond gets a new face every few years (though to be fair they spend quite a lot of time [and relative dimensions in space] explaining why the same thing happens on Doctor Who).

Crossovers and by extension multiverses solve storytelling problems specific to big shared stories. People like when their favorite characters meet. It’s the narrative version of making your dolls kiss. (“Action figures” are dolls. Deal with it.) This history goes back to the birth of comic books at least—the first crossover, according to the invaluable Evolution of the Costumed Avenger by Jess Nevins, was when the Wizard teamed up with the Midshipman and the Shield in March of 1940. The next month, the two best-selling stars of early Marvel Comics met—the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (not the Fantastic Four one, but an android whose body, in canon, ultimately became the present-day Vision).

Seven months later was the biggie, though. That’s when DC introduced the Justice Society of America, which included Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and basically every other superhero you’re going to be seeing in the next decade of DC movies.

Now, today we might think of these as mere team-ups. But back then, it wasn’t clear that all these heroes lived in the same city, could fly past each other on missions, mistake each other for enemies, fight, then join forces to fight the real villain. Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis weren’t a train ride away from each other. How could they be? They were both New York, basically. You couldn’t get there from there—until you could, because the writers said so, and what was a multiverse collapsed into a single shared universe.

The idea of a curated, shared universe didn’t really get crystalized as a concept until the 1960s, when Stan Lee was running Marvel. It’s controversial how much of a writer Lee actually was, but even his detractors agree that he was doing concept work on multiple books and characters, all interrelated. And at DC, the Justice Society of comics’ so-called golden age, and its rebooted iteration a couple decades later as the Justice League, were team-ups to end all team-ups until the golden-age heroes started meeting their rebooted selves, when the modern-day Flash of 1961 met the Flash of the 1940s—still alive, but living in a (here we go) parallel universe. That started a tradition of crossovers that DC called “crises.” Because when universes bump into each other, it’s always a crisis. Worlds are threatened! Megalomaniacal aliens are trying to remake reality! All time and space are in jeopardy! Excelsior!

The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

Everything you ever wanted to know about Lucas, Leia, and the eternal resonance of a hero’s journey in a galaxy far far away.

This kind of thing feels especially inimical to the comic book form, where time and space are so malleable. As writers like Scott McCloud have pointed out, a story might on a cliffhanger in one issue and then picks up in the next instant in the next—a month later in real time. The gutter between two comic panels can indicate a jump to the same moment in the same spot, or a million light years away. A single comic panel can happen in an instant or a millennium. A good writer—it’s usually a writer named Grant Morrison, to be honest—can have all sorts of fun with this uncertainty. When Morrison writes multiverse stories, as in his Infinite Crisis, sometimes the characters become aware that someone from another, distant universe is watching their every move through a kind of window that looks down from a higher dimension. That’s you. You are the someone. The implication of any fictional (?) multiverse is that our universe, this one, where you’re reading this article, is one of the parallels. A world where no one has superpowers and aliens aren’t real! Can you imagine?

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