While Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV have been talking about how they are amazed with how many people have signed up to their Substack operations, Jonathan Hickman has just gone ahead with the work, talking about the structures behind his multi-creator series Two Girls, One Cup. Sorry, I mean Three Worlds, Three Moons. Or 3W3M. And in his opening stanzas about his very conceptual storytelling universe, what he briefed the other writers on the series, Ram V, Al Ewing, and Tini Howard, he seems to be drawing some parallels with the comic industry itself. Or am I reading too much into this?
I am going to be using words like 'good' and 'evil' in here, along with things like 'science' and 'magic' as placeholders — these will not be the terms used in the actual stories. It's okay at this point to think of them like that, as that's roughly what they are placeholders for, but this is an alien culture we're talking about, and when you're 'in-story' good/evil and science/magic tend to short-circuit readers in a trope-y kind of way. We don't want to do that.
Which given current criticism of Substack for venture-capital funding transphobic hate speech, that's very handy, I guess.
Thematically, the grand story that we're telling here is about the coming rebirth of creativity (again, it's okay to refer to this as 'magic' right now) in a universe that has become overly-structured, systematic, cynical, and cold ('science'). Perhaps much like our own.
Would this be a Marvel Universe or a DC universe, Jonathan?
The mythology of this universe is cyclical. There are grand cycles of 'science' and 'magic'. Both can be — and are — 'good' and 'evil'.
There are good people on both sides, I hear. Oh and he has diagrams.
Here's the thing. I love a Jonathan Hickman comic book. The idea of taking a sense of design aesthetic and plugging that into the actual plot or storytelling structure for comics is the kind of thing I've loved since Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis, and especially when Alan Moore started dropping it into the likes of Watchmen, Big Numbers and From Hell. But when you actually see the diagrams, my brain closes over and I'm back in an old school friend's house as he tries to explain polymers. He came top of Cambridge that year, I did not. Basically, I can take these kinds of things when they are followed by a Colossus/Nightcrawler DNA crossed mutant swinging a sword, to illustrate it, and this Substack so far is lacking in swashbuckling.
Our story take place in last century of the 'science' cycle of an alien solar system. Cycles are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years long and work like this: As an ascendent cycle approaches its apex, it reaches maximum acceptance as an ideology/belief system and is therefore susceptible to excess and corruption — and so, it becomes the most 'evil' version of that system. Contrary to that, when cycle reaches its lowest point, it is at its most rare — and idolized — form and is the most 'good' version of that system. There are both 'good' and 'evil' actors for both systems at all times, but the proportions of each tend to reflect the overall current corruption of each system.
As comics become more successful, and the industry, they become evil. and are at their most good when they are just people scrabbling around with a pen and pencil without cinematic universes? Jonathan Hickman continues;
This corruption leads to the reason/purpose for why a system must be overthrown (as well as the emergence of its opposing system) and therefore why all of this is cyclical and will never stop being cyclical.
Is Substack overthrowing the role of Marvel and DC Comics? So how evil and corrupt is Substack? All just part of the cycle?
So the question is why — beyond telling a story about the rebirth of creation — are we setting our stories in the death throes of a science cycle and not at the actual point of change or the birth of it? Good question.
Because that's where comic books are?
We want it far enough away from the previous cycle that the last 'magic' cycle reads to the characters (and therefore the readers) as 'lore' or 'mythology,' and not yet real. We want this mythology — the actual rebirth — to read as a personal journey that is experienced and therefore needs to take place at a looming inflection point.
Like when someone drops a whole tonne of venture capital cash on signing up comic creators to do their next big thing with them? Is Substack the new CrossGen, Jonathan Hickman?
We want — if this is successful, people like it, and we reach narrative escape velocity — to have the ability to portray the changeover as a societal shift: The actual collapse of an old age and the beginning of a new one. Which will give us a really big place to go.
With Founder Level funding. At which point thew newsletter gets all Dune-like.
This solar system has a sun much like our own (roughly the same age and color), but instead of only having a single planet inside its goldilocks zone, this system has three habitable worlds which also have three habitable moons (which is what all our mythology/iconography is built around)… This basically revolves around two concepts. The Three Worlds, Three Moons making up the six elements of the universe (three major, three minor), and the cyclical duality that all life is trapped in. These two concepts will go on to make up the majority of all numerological, religious and political divisions in society and will be reflected whenever we're creating anything that's organized, systematic, or institutional. (So, everything should have either a cyclical/dual nature, or some base 3 organizational structure [like 3 plutocrats rule over 9 senators, who then rule over 27 regional governors…that kind of thing]).
And a lot more diagrams. And the different worlds aspects really started to make me think of CrossGen as well.
There are eight planets in this star system. The inner and outer planets are separated by a super dense (much denser than our own) asteroid field, and our worlds exist inside a generous goldilocks zone (we'll get into actual distances and planet composition later, but for now, assume that the map below is a general representation, but not to actual scale).
And then we get to the different worlds and moon and what separated them. Such as the liquid and moonless world of Akva…
At the heart this world, is KHOR. This is the glowing cold fusion/magically conducive 'goo' that powers everything in the solar system regardless of which cycle (science or magic) we are in. This planet is the most accessible place to find this stuff (it does exist on one other, outer planet in this system — in fact, it's more abundant there than here, but for now this is the easiest place to acquire it). It can be captured/distilled/refined when it bubbles off the planet's exotic goo mantle and cools in the surrounding liquid (this is an INDUSTRY).
Dust, Force, Spice, Mysterium or… comics?
The planet has two nations/governments — both are theocratic, and of a single religion with with two major sects (like Sunni/Shia or Catholic/Protestant, but more in practice or in line with Buddhism — but honestly, let's be open to throwing all those references away in the hopes of something cooler. After all, to quote some asshole writer, 'We have new gods now.'). While these two nations are NOT technically at war, they are in constant conflict based on the wildly erratic yields of Khor (it works like solar flares — there are periods of high activity and low, which directly affects the level of conflict).
I mean… Marvel and DC Comics?
Both sects engage in the mining and excavation of Khor, but each individual sect only services one of the other two planets (so they each have an exclusive trading partner).
Penguin Random House and Lunar?
And because Khor is the most important resource in the universe — and fighting over it is actually against their religion — each of the theocratic governments are able to easily lure bravos, mercenaries, and soldiers of fortune to fight in proxy battles over the mining of it.
Exclusive comic book creators, aligned media reporters, Marvel zombies, DC fanboys… gossip columnists?
There's more, but you get the idea.
I think I'm starting to. And with further worlds and moons having monarchies, criminal investments and control, political activists and more… I just wonder where Batman fits.