Go then, there are other worlds than this...1 of 12
Fiction has long been obsessed with the concept of alternate realities and parallel universes. After all, what's better than one fascinating fictional world? Another that's even more far-out and fantastic!
2015 saw the two largest comic book companies, Marvel and DC, make alternate realities the focus of their blockbuster summer crossovers. Marvel is currently using Secret Wars to consolidate its many variant timelines into a single, unified Marvel Universe, while Convergence undid DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths, bringing back the many realities that DC did away with in the ‘80’s.
And, with Marvel’s Ant-Man using the Quantum Realm to open the door to other realities on film – a door that may be crossed in the upcoming Doctor Strange, and a return to Grant Morrison’s reality-spanning series Multiversity in his recently announced comic book Multiversity Too, alternate realities are once again becoming a hot topic in comic books and genre fiction.
So, with all that in mind, we’re celebrating ten of the best alternate realities in all of fiction.
Albert Ching contributed to an earlier version of this article.
COMMUNITY - 'THE DARKEST TIMELINE'2 of 12NBC's Community opens our list, with an alternate reality that has only existed for a few minutes of TV time.
So what makes it worthy of inclusion? Well, it was a memorable first three minutes of existence, as Troy going downstairs to get pizza in 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 dropped by NBC before being picked up for a sixth season on Yahoo Screen. Observers concluded the news must signify that we are indeed living in the "darkest timeline," and rabid viewers applied felt goatees to their Twitter avatars (and sometimes, their own visages) in a sign of solidarity and protest.
Evil Abed eventually made his way briefly into the "Prime" timeline, and a memorable moment (there weren't many of them) in Season 4 saw the timeline revisited.
MUTANT X3 of 12How 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 series written by Howard Mackie, 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 comic books!) 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 – it didn’t even appear as one of the many realities of Secret Wars’s Battleworld. But those issues, should you track them down, are full of a lot of fun, and a lot of straight up wacky ideas and interpretations of the Marvel Universe's classics.
FRINGE - 'OVER THERE'4 of 12The 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 series Fringe, 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 doppelgangers as "Fauxlivia" for Olivia and "Walternate" for Walter's alternate), things got even crazier. We eventually saw a new 3rd reality that had its own fourth "over there."
Fringe didn'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.
SUPERMAN: RED SON5 of 12Truth, 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 Son was one of DC's many "Elseworlds" stories, which have provided many intriguing alternate realities, such as Batman as a vampire (Batman & Dracula: Red Reign) and a world where Superman never made it to Earth (JLA: The Nail).
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER - 'DOPPELGANGLAND'6 of 12You 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.
EARTH 3 (CRIME SYNDICATE)7 of 12On Earth 3, everything is backwards. Alexander Luthor is the greatest (and 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 doppelgangers 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.
In the crossover Forever Evil, the Crime Syndicate resurfaced in the New 52 as denizens of a world that was destroyed by a mysterious entity, revealed as the Anti-Monitor, who conquered most of the DC’s prime Earth before being defeated by Lex Luthor and a cabal of other villains.
AGE OF APOCALYPSE8 of 12Legion 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 for 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 an ongoing title set in the timeline, Age of Apocalypse, that has since come and gone, but stayed around long enough to actually spawn spin-offs and another crossover of its own. A version of the “Age Of Apocalypse” timeline recently returned as part of Secret Wars, and elements of the story may be present in next year’s film X-Men: Apocalypse.
STAR TREK - 'MIRROR MIRROR'9 of 12The "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.
EARTH 210 of 12Yes, a brand new Earth 2 now lives on in the New 52, but the concept of Earth 2 has been around for quite awhile. Paradoxically, Earth 2, despite it’s secondary numbering, was populated by older heroes in the old versions of the DC Universe, or simply had superheroes around for a longer period of time than Earth 1 or New Earth.
The world of classic 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 – a Crisis that was recently undone by DC’s crossover Convergence.
In the "New 52," Earth 2 was home to an older Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, all of whom died heroically saving the world from the forces of Darkseid and Apokolips. Now a new generation of heroes, led by a young Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, and other classic heroes reinterpreted as much younger versions, are building a new society on an unfamiliar world in the wake of Convergence. While it takes much of the old Earth 2 and flips it on its head, it still offers a fresh take on the DC Universe to let fans see it through multiple viewpoints at once.
ULTIMATE UNIVERSE11 of 12The 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 14 years, though, the Ultimate Universe has taken on a unique identity very much its own, due to three major events: Ultimatum and "The Death of Spider-Man," and Cataclysm.
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.
In Cataclysm, the main Marvel Universe's version of Galactus came to the Ultimate Universe and merged with their Gah Lak Tus and nearly destroyed the world, killing thousands including Captain America.
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.
Of course, with the advent of Secret Wars, the Ultimate Universe is no more. However, some of its best elements, such as Miles Morales, will find their way into the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe continuity the way some of the best elements of Earth 2 remained after Crisis On Infinite Earths.
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