Thursday, October 07, 2004


Oh, the problems of the Marvel timeline.

I’ve mentioned that I like John Byrne’s work a lot, but that I have a tendency to be disappointed with him as of late. Someone (I have no idea who to give credit to) suggested that this is due to the fact that he is still punishing us for the “failure” of Next Men, but to me the issue started a bit earlier (and I think the “A Flame about This High” columns serve as an excellent glimpse into the womb of his current online persona – more on these thoughts later). However, Spider-Man Chapter One was, in my opinion, the low point of his career. Byrne had touted for years his theory that “Marvel time” worked by the following means: one year their time equals seven years of our time (dog years or so – I’ve heard different estimates), but that the current universe drags the timeline behind it (and I quote) “like the chains of Marley’s ghost.” This means that Reed Richards didn’t take the illegal spaceflight in 1961, but (as of now) about 1998. In a few years, as this reasoning goes, the Iron Man suit with have been invented post 9-11, and the Punisher will graduate from the first Gulf war to the second.

I can’t tell you how stupid I think this is. This idea arises as a solution to a problem that does not exist. Who cares that in the Marvel universe it’s only been 5 years since Vietnam, or whatever. So they elect a president twice a year. I. Don’t. Care. Byrne’s solution imposes a definitively more malignant solution than any potential implication of the problem. (Aside – I realize that probably the biggest actual problem that arises is about what to do with the movies. The Punisher movie puts him in the gulf war, and it kind of works, but jettisons a lot of the jungle imagery from Frank Castle’s history. I miss it, but it is probably not a big deal to audiences, so that sounds like a good solution – change the movie as much as you need to to make it work. They didn’t have to mess with the time period in Spider-Man or X-Men at all.) Byrne can operate under any assumption he wants, but by publishing Chapter One, the theory was imposed on the Marvel Universe. It has been blatantly ignored on an irregular basis (see the Born mini-series), but some damage has been done.

So what do we do with the future chronology? Is the future pushed ahead of the present by the expanding timeline, altering as it goes along? This could potentially explain some of the inconsistencies between this and the previous 2099 incarnation. But still, shouldn’t there have been some attempt to at least establish whether the other 2099 stuff ever happened, or whether this is a completely alternate future?

With relation to how the timeline functions, the specific example that I find the most interesting is the issue of Punisher and Electra’s grandson. It is 95 years from now till then (13 and a half in Marvel time), with the Punisher and Electra now, what, in their mid to late 30’s? (anyone have the new Marvel Universe Handbooks to give a definitive answer?) So either they have 13.5 years to fall in love and have then raise a forty something year old daughter and for that daughter to have a coming of age son (if you say “John Byrne was right!”), or Electra will be having her baby at age 60.

It’s interesting to compare this 2099 project, with its one shot/end of story approach with AiT’s Demo. Both set up a premise that could be used to launch a series (building a small cast of characters and an open ended situation), give them some sort of crisis point at the end, and give it a sense of kind-of closure with a resolution that suggests a direction rather than being a real ending. Demo is supported by a consistent artist, while each of has different artist likely for the sake of timing (getting it done), but also giving each one shot it’s own look. But while Demo manages some imaginative things each issue, this seems like a scramble to rub together enough quick ideas to fire up a universe. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that Kirkman is writing entirely too much at this point (I think I’ve read 13 of his books in the last month). But what really kills me is how joyless this whole enterprise is. All the books except for Mutant were flat out depressive. I mostly enjoy Kirkman’s books, but I think he has to slow down at this point.


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