10.) COMMUNITY – ‘THE DARKEST TIMELINE’
NBC’s Community opens our list, with an alternate reality that has (thus far) only existed for about three minutes of TV time.
So what makes it worthy of inclusion? Well, it was a memorable three minutes, as Troy going downstairs to get pizza in this past fall’s season three episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” proved to be much more fateful than you might think.
A chain reaction led to what Abed would later dub the “darkest, most terrible timeline” of the several alternate realities presented in that episode — Pierce is dead, Annie is in a mental institution, Shirley is a drunk, Jeff lost his arm, Troy lost his larynx, and Britta… has a blue streak in her hair.
It was funny (and surprisingly high-minded for a network sitcom), but its true influence is in what came later: What was essentially a throwaway gag became a rallying cry for fans and press when the show was placed on an indefinite hiatus this past November. Countless observers concluded the news must signify that we are indeed living in the “darkest timeline,” and rabid viewers applying felt goatees to their Twitter avatars (and sometimes, their own visages) in a sign of solidarity and protest.
9.) MUTANT X
How do you get Havok out of the shadow of his big brother Cyclops? Move him to his own reality of course!
From 1999-2001, Havok was the leader of the premiere super hero team of mutants, albeit on an alternate Earth. In a comic written by Howard Mackie (who is currently seeing a resurgence in DC’s New 52), Alex Summers from Earth 616, the main Marvel Universe, nearly died, at precisely the same moment as Alex Summers from Earth 1298 was shot and killed. Our Havok’s spirit went into theirs and helped him survive (yay comics!) and found himself as the leader of that world’s mutant heroes after the X-Men were killed/made into vampires, dubbed “The Six.”
Storm was a vampire, The Beast was The Brute, a frog/lizard/demon instead of an ape/cat person, Warren Worthington III breathed fire, and Havok was married to Madelyne Pryor, even having their own kid! Oh, she was also crazy and killed Spider-Man’s clone and Green Goblin and possessed the Beyonder. Oh clones, you so cray.
What really made this series awesome, however, was that Havok was the full-on leader of the premiere hero team in this universe. He got to be the team leader over a Captain America. He got to show the world what he could do, taking down universal level threats ultimately nearly alone. This series showed just what Havok could do without Scott Summers looking over his shoulder, and for fans of the character, it was fantastic.
Unfortunately there’s no real hope of going back to the Mutant X earth. But those issues, should you track them down, are full of a lot of fun, and a lot of straight up nuts, ideas and interpretations of the Marvel Universe’s classics.
8.) FRINGE – ‘OVER THERE’
The Fringe Division of the FBI examines events and crimes that happen on the fringe of the science we all know. Science fiction becomes science fact as the team tries to make sense of the nonsensical and explain the unexplainable.
The Fringe Division of the FBI “Over There” is a high-level branch controlled directly by the Department of Defense and is alternately respected and feared, and is the frontline in a coming war with the reality that, they are convinced, is slowly destroying them.
That’s the surprising real plot to the Fox science fiction seriesFringe, which is centered on the concept of alternate realities, keystones, cause-and-effect, and just how wrong things can go because of simple decisions. Since introducing the idea of the alternate world known just as “Over There” (not to mention such wonderful names for doppelgängers as “Fauxlivia” for Olivia and “Walternate” for Walter’s alternate), things have gotten even crazier. Now we have a new 3rd reality that has its own fourth “over there.”
Fringe doesn’t only borrow alternate realities from comics (amongst other sci-fi/fantasy in other mediums of course). A race of bald beings sworn to only watch the major events and players throughout time known as Observers take in everything happening in all these realities… and step in to help our heroes, breaking their vow, from time to time. Sound familiar, Marvel fans?
Regardless, “Over There” in Fringe is one of the coolest alternate universes around for one simple reason: copious amounts of zeppelins.
7.) SUPERMAN: RED SON
Truth, justice — in Soviet Russia.
The 2003 miniseries Superman: Red Son presented one of the simplest, yet most engaging high concepts in comic book history: What if Superman, long a symbol of American pride, was raised in the Soviet Union instead of a farm in Kansas?
Writer Mark Millar — the man behind Wanted and Kick-Ass — was joined by artists Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett for the story, which replaced the Man of Steel’s trademark “S” shield with a hammer and sickle, and incorporated bits of real history along with the superhero fantasy.
Red SonBatman & Dracula: Red Reign) and a world where Superman never made it to Earth (JLA: The Nail).
6.) BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER – ‘DOPPELGANGLAND’
You know what they say, “be careful what you wish for.” Unfortunately Cordelia didn’t think that one through too much on this Season 3 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fortunately, her foolish word choice created one of the best alternate timelines ever. It created the timeline where Willow is a Vampire, and Vampire Willow was so awesome she got her own focused episode, Doppelgangland.
Thanks to Vampire Willow, we got lines like “Bored now…” and “I think I’m kinda gay!” (significant because Willow does, in fact, figure out that she’s gay later in the series). We also saw Willow come out of her shell, and cemented Anya’s role in the scooby gang significantly via this pair of episodes.
5.) EARTH 3 (CRIME SYNDICATE)
On Earth 3, everything is backwards. Alexander Luthor is the greatest (only) hero in the world. Characters that look familiar are certainly not the people you expect them to be. Superman becomes the ruthless killer Ultraman. Batman is Owlman, the brilliant strategist who uses his skill to help his team rule over all. Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Superwoman and more doppelgängers populate this world, and as the Crime Syndicate of America are the world’s greatest villains.
Earth 3 is great for the other ultimate power fantasy: if you had ultimate power and no conscience, what could you do? Seeing evil versions of our favorite heroes (at least in doses) is always fun, and has led to some truly classic stories by the likes of Grant Morrison and Dwayne McDuffie.
Will an Earth 3 and CSA exist in some form in the New 52 multiverse? The question is really just “when” not “if.” Of course, with the Court of Owls and a “Talon” running around in the New 52 Earth, we could be seeing some of those old ideas leaking in already in an all-new way.
4.) AGE OF APOCALYPSE
Legion thought he knew the best way to make his father, Professor Xavier, proud — traveling back in time and killing the megalomaniacal mutant Magneto.
Only problem is, he actually ended up killing Professor X himself, meaning he never founded the X-Men — and the world itself greatly suffered in it.
Part of a proud line of dystopian futures in the Marvel Universe, the world of “Age of Apocalypse” was grim, with the ancient mutant Apocalypse bending much of the world to his whim. Magneto actually ended up founding the X-Men in this timeline, who struggled to fight the good fight against seemingly insurmountable odds.
The Age of Apocalypse took over all of Marvel’s X-titles for four months in 1995, with each getting a new title and new numbering before reverting back to their old positions at the conclusion of the story.
That alone makes it one of the most sweeping alternate realities in comic book history, but it’s also proven to endure, with several follow-up series in recent years leading to a new ongoing title set in the timeline, Age of Apocalypse, that debuted this week.
3.) STAR TREK – ‘MIRROR MIRROR’
The “Mirror Mirror” episode of Star Trek laid down a lot of the ground rules for parallel universes in pop culture, way back in 1967.
Thanks to a malfunctioning transporter, the Enterprise crew find themselves on a dark “mirror” world, where they encounter much more sinister versions of themselves.
Beyond being one of the most fondly remembered episodes of one of the most revered science-fiction franchises of all time, this episode gave the world a great gift: Mirror Spock’s goatee, as the facial hair has since become a visual shorthand that “goatee = evil twin,” parodied in “Wayne’s World,” Community and much more.
2.) EARTH 2
Yes, a brand new Earth 2 is on the way, but the concept of Earth 2 has been around for quite awhile. Paradoxically, Earth 2 has typically been populated by older heroes, or simply had superheroes around for a longer period of time than Earth 1 or New Earth (or New 52 Earth, perhaps).
The world of Earth 2 let all the Golden Age heroes continue their relevance despite the younger, hipper heroes like Hal Jordan, and Barry Allen. Home to the JSA and a second generation that had already aged as well, Earth 2 was a place where Batman could have a grown up child of his own, or even die for good.
The problem with the classic Earth 2 is it opened DC up to more Earths – an infinite number in fact. It required a Crisis to bring them all together and make sense of it all again. Now, Earth 2 is returning, but things on this version will be different, just like things are substantially different on the new “main” Earth. One thing’s for sure, it will still be a place to showcase events and drastic changes to characters readers know and love that could never happen in the “real” DCU, and isn’t that just what an alternate universe is for?
1.) ULTIMATE UNIVERSE
The Ultimate Universe started in 2000 as essentially the Marvel Universe readers were familiar with, but built from the ground up and for modern-day audiences: Peter Parker became Spider-Man due to genetic engineering instead of radioactivity, for instance, and the world was more diverse, with Nick Fury African American instead of Caucasian.
In the past 12 years, though, the Ultimate Universe has taken on a unique identity very much its own, due to two major events:Ultimatum and “The Death of Spider-Man.”
Ultimatum saw Magneto make the type of major strike he usually only threatens, with several major characters — including Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine and Magneto himself — dying during the course of the series.
“Death of Spider-Man,” as the title implies, saw the death of the Ultimate Universe’s Peter Parker, and led the way for a new Spidey — the half-African American, half-Hispanic Miles Morales.
Now with a world that’s been rocked by devastation and a brand-new Spider-Man, the Ultimate Universe is less a streamlined version of the classic Marvel Universe and more of a place where anything can happen — readers know that the “real” Peter Parker won’t ever die for good for a variety of practical reasons, but in the Ultimate Universe, no shocking twist is off the table.
The Ultimate Universe has further earned its spot for being a breeding ground for new talents and a showcase for Marvel’s biggest names: Brian Michael Bendis was a relatively unknown back in 2000 when Ultimate Spider-Man launched, and now he’s one of the very biggest names in the industry. Mark Millar’s work on Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men helped bring him to superstardom. The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman spent years on Ultimate X-Men. And that’s not to mention the likes of Brian K. Vaughan, Bryan Hitch, Jason Aaron, Mark Bagley, David Finch, Mike Carey, Stuart Immonen, Jonathan Hickman, Adam Kubert, Warren Ellis, Leinil Francis Yu, Jeph Loeb, Art Adams and many, many more.