ARF: Alternate Reality Fatigue

ARF: Alternate Reality Fatigue

Lately, I have to admit that I am suffering from an ailment called ARF or Alternate Reality Fatigue. “What is that?” you might ask. Is this a type of post traumatic stress disorder?

Well, I like to think of it more as a Post Modern Stress Disorder. The big comic events this summer are Convergence (DC Comics) and Secret Wars (Marvel). These are big event storylines, and are each publisher’s attempt to create fresh new stories with properties that are decades old. Stories of different versions of our favorite heroes in different worlds and dimensions all colliding into a new story telling reality. These are new versions of your classic heroes. Not so new as you wouldn’t recognize them, but maybe a slight spin on thing.

No longer do we need to know 50 years of stories to get the storyline. It’s all going to be accessible to and perhaps was even made for a new generation, but without, at the same time, alienating the demographic that has spent the most money. This demographic being the dudes in their forties, who are still reading comics and spending too much money on them (ahem). The new Secret Wars is the fun, summer blockbuster. This is a new take on all the stories but there is some part of me that doesn’t care.

When Marvel announced the Secret Wars storyline I shrugged. Somehow, when the time traveling alternate reality story lines become more prevalent then the actual regular story lines, it becomes the norm and for me, loses its thrill and excitement. Part of me longs for the old stories. New stories about heartache, defeat and coming back from all odds; character stories that I feel a nostalgia for. The death of Gwen Stacy in Spiderman comics happened 40 years ago and has there ever been a story in the Spiderman mythos that has resonated as much as that one? The new remixed post modern take of heroes who had a different pivotal moment in a story and everything changed is interesting to a point, but for me they’re not as interesting as regular character development.  Its as if the “what if” storylines have become the mainstream and just good old story driven comics are the weird fringe comics.

“What if”s” were a series originating in the 70s that told a dramatic retelling of stories if the main plot point didn’t happen. “What if Pheonix lived?” “What if Invisible Girl of the Fantastic Four married the Sub-Mariner?” Usually the stories ended with the apocalypse. These “what if” stories have become the norm.

Look at the success of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. This Eisner award winning comic has not one cosmic moment. It’s simply a great story. There is no future Hawkeye coming back in time, no evil version of Hawkeye from another dimension here to kill him before he makes the biggest mistake in his life… you get the idea.

I recently picked up the free comic book day version of Eric Larson’s Savage Dragon.  I haven’t been a steady reader of Savage Dragon for many years, but this recap issue talked about the last ten years of continuity, alternate dimensions; time travel and whatnot. It made me feel like the comic was completely inaccessible. Is this the same feeling a ten year old kid feels when he reads the X-Men today?

I don’t watch the show The Flash but I hear it’s great. What struck me was the fact that apparently, the next season is going to have to do with time travel and Earth2, and alternate realities. Is this what people want? Wouldn’t it make sense to hold on to this storyline, tease it out, use the time travel thing when everything else is stale? It seems to me that the writers are going to the time travel ace in the hole too soon.

When the original episode of Star Trek, “Mirror, Mirror” came out it was mind-blowing. I don’t know, I wasn’t born yet. But it blew my mind when I saw it on channel 11 as a kid. One of the reasons it was so amazing was that it was weird and different. Due to a transporter accident, Kirk is sent to an alternative version of the Enterprise where the crew is evil. This takes the already weird concept of a future where humans are in space to explore rather than conquer and the ship is manned by a crew of men and women of different nationalities working together with aliens, peacefully. This was written during the 60s when strife in America was at an all time high and families were being torn apart by war and society. Star Trek gets even weirder by showing an alternate dimension where Starfleet is evil. It was mind blowing. And it was over forty years ago. And of course Star Trek revisited this mirror universe several times on several of their future series, books.

Today in this post-modern world, these types of stories are normal. Take an old story and tell it again in a new way, with a modern twist. But really its just shuffling the cards and dealing the same deck, maybe this time sideways or upside down. It’s really not pushing the genre, it’s trying to sell the same old idea with new wrapping paper.

Scientists are even saying that if the universe is infinite there exists another you somewhere doing exactly what you are doing or one you who made a slightly different choice along the way. Perhaps in this alternative reality, comics are being created that tell new stories and at the heart of the story are the true struggles of a hero. Or maybe mainstream comics are all romance comics.


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