By Patrick Gerard
"If you can't kill it, join it. When you get older, you're gonna see the warning signs. Mark Zuckerberg is Fidel Castro in flip-flops."
The line comes from a season five episode of Dan Harmon's cult TV (now web) series Community. It was artfully delivered by Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks as he gave in to a totalitarian social media craze in an episode of the show. However, the line could also be applied to the comic book industry whenever a new trend sweeps in, as the old guard rushes to embrace new normal.
Some fifteen years ago, Grant Morrison argued that although he preferred paper comics, digital would eventually transform the landscape and that descendants of books like Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's Impulse would take root in the 2010s, paving the way for the "super-hero sitcom". Today, Morrison's frequent collaborator Cameron Stewart helped kick off the trend with a reinvention of Batgirl that seems to honor that prediction. It's glamorous, funny, and perhaps a bit too self-conscious of what it's setting out to do at times but the "Batgirl of Burnside" era seems to be spawning imitators while also being part of a legitimate movement to transform the modern super-hero, a movement that Marvel's punk dubstep remix Spider-Gwen is also a part of. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers seemed to be a prior stab at the idea in some ways. Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Bandette at IDW might be considered a more immediate precursor to the new wave hero. There's definitely an ethos at work which is visible in the work of multiple creators.
With our book Ungrounded, artist Eryck Webb and I have probably discussed two influences more than any other: Jack Kirby and Becky Cloonan. It's a mash-up book about a physicist given super-powers by the Egyptian deity Thoth (rendered in a Kirby-esque style) who befriends an otherworldly flying polar bear, a wealthy treasure hunter with a jetpack, and government werewolf bitten by a zombie vampire. In their debut outing, they deposed North Korea before James Franco and Seth Rogen (people may have missed that), hung out with the band Barenaked Ladies (who were great sports about their inclusion), discovered that the U.S. has 60 states (ten of which are represented by stars on every flag printed in invisible ink), and more or less took on a genocidal Fredrick Wertham, who lived in an upside down flying city with a few thousand Liverpudlian ninja gorillas. (Our Kickstarter for the latest volume, with guest stories by Brian Augustyn and Tom Peyer, is live through March 11th and could certainly use a hand hitting its goal.)
When I was at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, I discovered that I still had a standing invitation from Eddie Berganza to pitch and I worked up a spinoff of the (then-unreleased) Multiversity. I quickly deciphered the organizational structure of the DC Multiverse map (which I got at Morrison's Multiversity panel).
As I illustrate here, the DC multiverse is situated on four axes. Apokalips vs. New Genesis, Hell vs. Heaven, Nightmare (Chaos) vs. Dream (Order), and Skyland (which contains all of the polytheistic god-realms) vs. Hades (all the polytheistic netherworlds). In addition to having a moral polarity, these four axes all define the earths located on the map and you can infer characteristics of these earths based on which celestial realms they're adjacent to. The Bizarro Earth-29 is adjacent to the Nightmare realm. The blood drenched vampiric Earth-43 is shown as being in the sway of Hell. Earth-30 (Red Son) is morally gray and closer to Order than Chaos. Earth-47 is home to the Love Syndicate of Dreamland and is morally gray while being closer to Chaos than to Order. Earths are also defined by neighborhoods and Earth-47 and Earth-23, for example, both have a Prez Rickard as a boy president in their history and a black Superman. Nearby Earth-16 a youth-driven culture as well. Earth-51 is in the sway of New Genesis near the Marvel Comics-themed Earth-8 as an indication of Kirby's benign influence. All of this I intuited from looking at the map back in August or so of last year and began charting the earths to my knowledge of DC Comics history before the majority were announced.
I wanted to act quickly on this set of observations, particularly the four-axis model of the DC Comics cosmology, and fuse in some of the energy I was seeing with the preview art from Stewart and Babs Tarr's Batgirl. I commissioned my artist collaborator Webb to illustrate a pitch of a team of young heroes who each represented youth caught in one of the conflicts.
For Heaven vs. Hell, I reimagined the Peter David Matrix incarnation of Supergirl as a champion of the Pax Dei in the spirit of Zauriel, drawing on Qabbalistic sources as well.
For Skyland vs. Hades, I reimagined Mars Boy (a Silver-Age Superboy character who was a suitor of Lana Lang's and an Egyptian living on Mars), drawing in motifs from All-Star Superman's Ultrasphinx.
For New Genesis vs. Apokalips, I reimagined Glorith, the time bending sorceress from Legion of Super-Heroes, as a goth priestess in a Metron-worshipping cult who now acts as a predecessor to DC One Million's Hourman (also a protege of Metron).
For Dream/Order vs. Nightmare/Chaos, I did a double reimagining. The Silver-Age Superboy had a counterpart named Hyperboy, who fought space crime with his super-powered parents. I imagined his home now broken by divorce and him taking on a punk edge while working for the order-obsessed Controllers as a Darkstar, a kind of space judge. Except in my take, he regards his cosmic duties like the average teenager might regard a job at the mall food court.
Not only were each of these characters aliens but each was an alien from a different universe.
Finally, to tie the group together, Eryck and I imagined the Supergirl of Earth-23 as the heart and founder of the team. Kara Zorel (no hyphen per the Earth-23 convention) is a social activist and an artist who studies theatre at university, picking up the discarded bits of retro 70s Supergirls as a university student and an actress and placing them in the context of the socially conscious corner of the DC Comics multiverse. This is a Supergirl who knows all the lyrics to Rent by heart. She likes lattes if the coffee is sustainably harvested. She's a protester and a "social justice warrior" who would be easy friends with Stewart's Batgirl or Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez's Spider-Gwen.
Together, these cultural legacy heroes would have formed the foundation of Infinity Incorporated, an inderdimensional bootstrapping start-up company. The team would share the name and some of the concept with the vintage 1980s "Legacy Heroes" version of the team, with plans for them to pick up an all-new Jade and Obsidian (children of Green Lantern) in their travels, while going up against the fascist private security firm known as the Intergangbusters. The big twist here is Infinity Incorporated not only literally incorporates "infinity" (no hyperbole in the name here) but is actually presented as a small business, owned and operated by our heroes.
Alas, it was not to be as I was informed that DC has other plans for its multiverse, after pitching a few editors on the concept and passing the art around. Still, it's always fun to imagine.
If you liked this, I hope you check out and back the Kickstarter for all-new Ungrounded stories by Webb, Augustyn, Peyer, and me. It runs through March 11th.
Patrick Gerard is a freelance writer with an eclectic string of publications and very nearly two master's degrees, one in oral traditional Storytelling and one in Business Administration.