Right, Bloggers, I’m all rested up…so let’s square the circle!
Or cube the sphere, or whatever.
How shall we begin? Maybe with the idea that Aarkus was the secret founder of K’un L’un? Must be tough, to lay down a track in history that a viewer of alternative timelines can’t trace…so how do you sneak such a thing under such a person’s nose? How do you begin to introduce yourself as a causal element, when you’re not supposed to be there?
Let’s begin with an argument.
What makes statistical processes work out as they do? Like, for example, what makes it so all the possible paths light can take between Point A and Point B “average out” into a straight line? In our world, it’s far from crazy to say: “nothing at all makes this”. It’s just called a geodesic, right? And Andrew could very easily explain to you how all paths and rules about paths descend from nothing but pure entropy. One day, in fact, I hope he does explain this to you…because it’s a lovely little bit of theory! But I am going to pit a much more unlovely bit of theory against it, and say that there’s a reason why this might not work in the MU, for pretty much the same reason that explaining Asgard as a version of Snow Crash isn’t necessary. Well, two reasons really.
The first reason is pretty obvious: that the comics get written first. That is, events in comics are prior to explanations of events in comics — in our own real world, the explanatory mechanisms of Maxwell and Feynman (for example) supply us with the reasons we see just what we see, and not something else, but in comics that stuff is the icing, not the cake. We would see what we saw regardless of having mechanisms to explain it; it just so happens that some real-world principles get in there! But this doesn’t mean any story is actually based on them, and indeed if any were they would be rather unfit subjects for a discussion of Phil. of Fic., because that ISN’T what’s interesting about the operation of physical principles or cosmological signifiers inside the fictional reality, that “well of course they’d be in there otherwise who’d believe the story”! But what’s interesting is that “believing the story” is pretty much a given, yet the mechanisms and signifiers mechanize and signify even though they’re unnecessary. The ability of the fictional universe to become complexified by explanation is where the Big Magic lies, here…in our own world explanations tend to simplify, but in fictional worlds of our creation they tend to do the opposite. Hey, the real world’s complex enough, you know? It doesn’t need any extra help. But the world where Captain America punches out Hitler, that one’s real simple…and it doesn’t need any help either, and yet it has it.
The gamma bomb turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk!
But, really…what the hell would a “gamma bomb” be, anyway?
Just a nuclear bomb that lets off a shitload of gamma rays when it goes off?
But if you think about it, that really doesn’t make a whole lotta sense, for it to be that…and besides, everything Bruce Banner builds afterward is like 200% weirder than that anyway. So what’s a gamma bomb? Is it a fallout-free bomb? Is it a hyper-destructive bomb? Is it a bomb that doesn’t need any fissionable material in it, what the hell is it, is it just a cheaper bomb or something?
Sorry, off-topic. One day!
But not today. Because today’s for “what if the answer to that question was an interesting answer?”, and the answer to that, is that…
There must be some reason it would be an interesting answer!
You know, instead of an uninteresting one?
But my point is: you get Hulk comics anyway. Because in our world there’s not room to fit a cigarette paper between “explanations” and “reasons”, but in a fictional universe these tend to get (intriguingly!) decoupled. And is this why so many explanations in the MU are so lacklustre? Because they’re explanations that have wandered particularly far from “reason”? If these posts have attempted anything, they’ve attempted to drag the MU’s explanations and reasons closer together again…basically by insisting that a superhero universe must answer to the same kind of symbolic analysis as any other work of fiction. Within the publishing record of Marvel comics, much as within science itself, there is always competition between theories and their proponents, so many of the explanations that the MU is rife with reflect a sort of professional territorialism within this very large and very old collaborative enterprise. Chris Claremont’s work (just for example) has cosmological ambitions that are greatly at odds with those of Jim Starlin’s, and the only joint they share is their equal descent from the Principal Authorship of Jack Kirby. Perhaps it’s small wonder, then, that they so often try to sever that connection? Wittingly or no, that Chris Claremont wanted Wolverine and the Phoenix to ignite “the next Big Bang” through their “passion” also means he wanted to replace Kirby’s cosmological imprimatur with his own — to load up the sandbox with his own influences, which include far more of Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley than they do of A.E. Van Vogt and Cordwainer Smith.
Not that I would ever ask Claremont to apologize for his influences, nor even for promoting the interpretations that flow out of them. Starlin does it too, and so does Englehart. Ditko is practically the G.K. Chesterton of Objectivism, for heaven’s sake, and I don’t have a bad word to say about him! But some of these explanatory schemes are tearaways from “reason”, and they occasionally make what I consider rather serious attempts to establish their own symbolic code in resistance to the code of literature: Claremont’s ruminations about how he’d like to write the end of the universe, for example, are perhaps not too different in terms of sentiment from Bendis’ half-apologetic observation in What If, that he is the one writing the story and you’re not, and so it seems they may both partake of the school of the Cosmological Cuckoo, even if one of them never got quite the chance the other did, to just make any of the changes he ever wanted to. And, you know, I should stress once again that, no matter how I beef, Bendis is not the worst example of anything…for example, it’s not him but Geoff Johns who’s probably the most notable of these symbolic cuckoos, even going so far as to propose, like an action-figure-obsessed Newton, an alchemical spectrum of emotions that include things that aren’t really emotions…and okay, he isn’t in the MU, but is it my fault he makes such a good example of the stubborn-mistake artist? In many ways it’s almost like a strange return to Aristotelian science, wherein explanations are substitutes for answers: earth and water and air and fire, but no real atoms to be seen anywhere. Elements without chemistry. And in a way this is all quite straightforward, because — in this first reason for why statistical processes might require outside justification in the MU — the chemistry really is an add-on, and the elements really do come first. Because the first thing is to have superhero adventure stories, and the second thing is to have them make any sense….right?
Superficially, okay, yes. But not everything is superficial, here, because the real world does get into the MU, and it gets in two ways. One, because all fictional realities “inherit” constraints and characters from their parents whether their creators specifically intend them to or not; and two, because in the case of the MU there was a specific intent to have some sort of chemical necessity implicit in the presence of elements, that aligned with the character of science in the real world.
And this brings us to the second reason for statistical processes needing justification in the MU…which is, barely possibly I admit it, also a reason for why they need justification in the real world. And that is simply that to imagine a manifold is to imagine some basic conceptual characteristics of one. Hey. Descartes would be on my side, you know! Extension, and boundedness…are these not the most basic assumptions that we must make, when we so much as dream of a continuum within which our patterns may be placed? Can “causality” simply arise out of nothing at all? In the real world, astronomy suggests that the universe is balkanized: broken up into different bits that have nothing in common except a pre-Inflationary past. And without that past, would the different domains of the universe not simply have gone their own way, falling as atomic rain through Time, each with their own isolated character? Lucretius imagines a pleroma not too much different from this, and solves the problem of causality with the clinamen — a first random cause — you may be familiar with it as “human bean juice” — but we don’t really believe in that these days, or at least we don’t believe in it as something that could have an organizing and causality-producing effect outside the Inflationary Epoch of the universe. For those of you who don’t know the story, it goes a little like this: once all the matter that would become the universe was drawn tightly together in a tiny ball, in which everything was intercommunicating. The speed of light crossed between you and me and him and her and everyone — we were all in the same boat. But then suddenly the universe blew up into a massive sphere, all at once, and this inflation separated most of us. I could still find you, and maybe you could still find him, and possibly I could still find her, but we couldn’t find each other all together, and past you and me and him and her there were a multitude of others that had been pushed even farther away from us, with the speed of light no longer having time enough to link us all up. That’s why today you can look thirteen billion light-years off in one direction and see the cosmic background radiation doing its thing…then look another thirteen billion light-years off in the opposite direction, and see the CBE over there doing the same thing too…
…Even though in total that’s twenty-six billion light-years, and the universe is only about thirteen billion years old, and light can only travel so far in a year, and so those two parts of the sky have never been in contact with one another!
Because since if they’d never been in contact they should be different, and yet they’re not, then that means they must once have been in contact…which means that sometime in the early universe all of spacetime took a massive jump UP in volume, before which everything was connected and intercommunicating all together, and after which it wasn’t.
Hey: it’s just a theory.
But it does solve the problem. Because in the pre-Inflationary times, one random fluctuation could have instilled emergent pattern into everything, all at once…but once everything got balkanized, it no longer could.
But, sorry…that’s just side-matter, really, because the main topic is “why not just unconnected atomic rain”? Why assume cause and effect can even exist?
What is cause and effect, that it should exist?
One answer — just off the top of my head, mind you — is that symmetry applies, when we’re talking about “spaces”. Get a manifold as blank as you want, and its internal extension will still have a symmetrical character, or you might as well say it’s two manifolds, or fourteen, or a million zillion, all depending on how much stuff you want to cram in there. Descartes got there first: the two most basic categories in the universe are Number and Relationship, and you can’t reason your way past these. Again: just a theory! But if it were true…
Then that would mean statistical processes don’t come out of nothing at all, but instead out of some — yes — Cosmic Principle. Oh dear, I’m afraid I may have done some violence to Andrew’s point of view along the way here, he is probably even now fuming about how when he explained it to me the first time, he went out of his way to cover all this, Plok…!
But on the other hand, it is comics we’re talking about, where explanations and reasons can all too easily get completely divorced from one another, and so all this is really in the name of “thinking about comics”, so I believe he’ll forgive me. Also, I couldn’t explain the whole thing, because it’s his thing!
Let’s shyly jump topics.
The current dogma at Marvel is that the Asgardians are simultaneously a) descendents of the original Atum, first child of the “Elder God” clique of Gaea, Set, and Chthon…as well as b) extradimensional aliens from a pocket universe. But as well as not working too swiftly together, neither of these explanations stands particularly well on its own either. The Elder God Clique is problematic to say the least, sitting as they are rather uncomfortably in the mouth of the origin of all things…Gaea the “life-force”, Set the spirit of evolutionary competition, and whatever the hell Chthon is supposed to symbolize, all complicate any other tale of origins that could be told, but most importantly for our purposes there is nothing to keep their significance from being altered at some future date, except for editorial policy, and this makes for crap cosmological elements. The Serpent Crown exists, the Darkhold exists, and Gaea has been met…and that’s all perfectly fine!…but past that we only have their word for how the Earth was created, and they may not be Beings, so they may not have the kind of memory we’re used to seeing in Beings. I mean, what are they, they’re “emergent consciousnesses”, right? They don’t have bodies, they don’t have brains, their intelligence is really just the perfume of a corporate entity…why should we expect them to be on top of “what really happened” through an exercise of the same kind of attention that we’ve got? Particularly when they really don’t seem all that bright. In a similar way, though it’s a bit outside the scope of this essay (yes: there are things that are outside its scope, thank God!), the account of creation that Mephisto gives in Jim Starlin’s Infinity Epic isn’t just untrustworthy because it doesn’t square with the “Elder Gods” thing, but because it doesn’t really square with anything else either…does Mephisto really know his own origin?
Hey: if he’s just a prismatic fragment of an original consciousness, can he really know it?
The theory of the speciation of Gods comes bundled with many questions such as these. But at least the speciation of Gods makes them special, which is something the “extradimensional aliens” bit fails to do! Yet at the same time, Jack Kirby’s technique was often to make the Gods into aliens, even as his technique was also to preserve Godly “specialness” by injecting them with cosmic forces of possibility unexplainable by even the best Marvel “science”…so aliens, yes, but hardly “mere” aliens! And as with all of the MU, enlargements on Kirby’s pattern that fail to take into account its character tend to become laboured. Placing Odin and Thor in a line of descent from the Demiurge, no matter how you want to do it, ends up giving them only a hand-me-down specialness…it isn’t a bad concept at all, but its results aren’t very impressive…while making them subject to Arthur C. Clarke’s damnable “Law” hands them down nothing really at all, making of Odin just another Annihilus, and Thor just another Blastaar. As things stand, then, the Asgardians (not to mention the Olympians) have no particular pride of place in the cosmic scheme of things…and not much of a role to play in it that would set them apart from human beings anyway. And as a consequence, they start to look perhaps a little parasitic, don’t they?
I mean, what the hell are they really good for?
Kirby, on returning to Marvel, blew the doors off of this problem by creating the Eternals — same general pattern, only they did have a reason to be there, even though at the same time they were just aliens…or more accurately, the instruments of a cosmic alien design. But stirring Kirby’s burning ardor for the cosmic back into the MU after it had already begun to cool proved problematic too: I’m fond of saying that the story of the Eternals might have fit neatly into the still-developing MU around about the time of FF #70…but nearly a decade on from this peak era of expansion into novelty, the macro-narrative of the main line was already beginning to experience innovation as a resistance to its expansion, rather than that expansion’s driver. And it would be a little while yet before this tendency became obvious — at the time, one-shots and limited series in “spotlight”-type magazines, set in no particular universe, were still thriving — but as always Kirby was quite a bit ahead of the curve: the independent bubble of the Eternals was under pressure to “pop together” with the main line almost at once, though it was clear that their two different histories of the Cosmic could never really be made to coexist. And of course, they still can’t…
And we just pretend they can.
Interestingly, it isn’t just Kirby. Ditko’s far-out imagination would prove disruptive to that ever-congealing orderliness of the MU as well, when he cheerfully dropped a little piece of Shade The Changing Man into an FF Annual…the saga of Dragon Lord, interdimensional wanderer! Who had obviously never heard of any Watchers or Living Tribunals, and who most especially would just give a blank stare even today should he be told of the existence of a Time Variance Authority, because he exists in a milieu where any such bureaucratic layer would be an element so alien as to simply not parse: seeing as how he came out of nothing more complicated than Ditko’s desire to draw some weird shit, maybe with a bit of that Dragonrider stuff smeared on top of it that the kids seem to like these days. One sees this occasionally with the older talent, that they are just not plugged in to the younger generation’s weird cosmological pudicity…concepts of branding and of sandboxes and of the successful branding of sandboxes do not seem like such big deals to them, much less ends-in-themselves, and as far as crossovers with other properties go they seem not to be able to distinguish between a “proper” crossover and an improper one, for the same reason. And in a way this is a bit like Bendis and his ilk, who don’t care much for such things either…but the difference is, Bendis et. al. don’t care about messing as they will with stuff that’s already there, so long as the branding is only in place…whereas the older creators would rather do something new, and let the branding look out for itself. Over at DC, Kirby and Ditko both felt free to create entirely new elements both inside and outside the official DCU cosmology/chronology…Kirby meant for the Fourth World to be fairly compatible with the events of Superman comics, and Ditko made Rac Shade to stand alone in some completely foreign dimensional space that need not look to the shared universe for contextual weight. Back at Marvel, however, Kirby found himself between a pointlessly-insistent Scylla and a slightly brain-damaged-seeming Charybdis, as his Eternals apparently could not be permitted to exist without being bolted onto the mainline MU, even though it didn’t fit, but meanwhile any damn thing with an original flavour to it he threw into his Captain America run just seemed to appear and then disappear without causing a ripple of editorial complaint. The “strange adventures” of Captain America and the Falcon were all but MU-continuity free, under Kirby’s pen, as he turned that series into a delightful SF/horror romp…yet in the Eternals nothing would do but that the Hulk had to show up, or he had to draw a Thing face into a crowd scene. Branding! Apparently it could not now be done without. Yet despite all this, the Eternals never did meet the Inhumans or the Silver Surfer as long as Kirby was in charge of them, and their universe was plainly one in which even though Marvel comics were evidently sold on newsstands (and were evidently enormously popular!), they were all just fictions anyway…
…And meanwhile Dragon Lord simply came in and went out, and we didn’t speak of him again.
How much better would it have been, if we only had! Roamer of the trackless wastes of what looked an awful lot like Limbo, he merely arrived one day in the Baxter Building, carrying with him an implication of much wider spaces and much wilder jungles, from a completely different storytelling domain. It couldn’t be followed; no one but Ditko even cared at all about it, and it just didn’t even come close to fitting in with the temper of the times. How stimulating, to imagine Dragon Lord blinking at Cable, or Immortus, and saying “sorry, I just don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, I’m from the next town over…” Or holding a Cosmic Cube, and saying “so what’s this thing supposed to be for?” Hey, at this point in its development, the MU could probably use a Tom Bombadil…
But it still doesn’t have one, and it’s at least in part because the publishing realities that dictate physical laws inside the fictional world don’t just make it harder for completely new “bubbles” outside the main line to be created — old ones may be resurrected far more easily! — but they’re especially hostile to new bubbles that can plausibly insist that the main line must pop together with them, rather than the other way around. Kirby’s name, and Ditko’s too, and Stan Lee’s for that matter, are still magic in the fictional reality: no can fully explain their stories away into nothingness, for the same reason that no one ever suggests that if a story contradicts an FF comic written by Tom DeFalco then it must be false. For in the real world, the reputations of artists still matter to the audience, and the publishing company can’t control that…because the talent for work still matters! So you can find it in The Matrix, as you can find it in The Matrix’s predecessor Tron: no matter who holds the copyrights and the trademarks, the User still has power.
And did we really never wonder why?
Maybe we just never really believed it. It just sounds like a nice thing to say, doesn’t it? The writer has power; the reader has power. But we don’t really believe that, or at any rate we may believe it but we don’t believe it is the case; there are just too many examples of large malicious companies and apathetic trends of the marketplace conspiring to deprive writers of a dignified retirement…there are just too many times that we’ve been told the Avengers is a possession of Marvel Comics and they can do what they like with it. Bendis even says it: “I understand how you feel, but I’m the one writing the comic now, and this is how I feel”. And you know…
…He’s not lying!
But it’s important to remember that just because he isn’t lying, doesn’t mean he’s necessarily relaying accurate information. I could provide as many examples of how Jack Kirby’s name still has power within the MU (as well as without it!) as you could, but what’s immediately before us is a) the example of the Kirby Atoms, which are still the only entities that can drag later embellishments — even infelicitous ones! — back into agreement with original cosmological principles, and b)…
…The example of the Eternals, that little bubble spawned inside the main line, which nevertheless was not of it. Machine Man and Arnim Zola (both Kirby creations written perhaps most effectively by Ditko after Kirby had left them behind, since they were Not The Same As The Old Stuff), both served to enliven the MU by giving its writers, simplistically, more characters and situations to play with…but the Eternals, as a storytelling platform that through editorial interference eventually acted to include the main line within itself, didn’t render new characters and situations to be played with, so much as it rendered an incompatible context to be dealt with. After Kirby’s final departure, the first, most obvious, and in hindsight most painfully mistaken effort to deal with the Eternals consisted of trying to “heal” Ikaris & Co. into the MU by retconning them into having occupied a central position in that history from the very beginning. It has yet to really work…
…And most unfortunately, it pushed the Gods out, even though they did work. These things do look simple, but there’s still a science to them, which is why we have a thing called Phil. of Fic. at all…and Kirby’s talent is still every bit as “magic” as his name, so the idea that the MU would be able to painlessly subsume the continuity of the Eternals into its own, for no other purpose than to see continuity perfected, was an effort just begging to be blown apart by a Godelian bomb in a baby carriage. Hey, the same sort of thing happened to Galactus in the pages of Steve Englehart’s Silver Surfer, you know, when he tried to eat the Elders Of The Universe…!
And it probably bears mentioning that Steve Englehart, though obviously possessed of a name not as great as Kirby’s, was still magic enough himself to have been plotting a way to put the Eternals in proper cosmological order at around the time of The Evolutionary War! And I consider it likely that whatever he was planning probably would have worked…but then, you know…
Editorial got rid of him.
It’s an interestingly checquered history, isn’t it? Somewhere, in yet another Elsewhere outside the light-cone of this discussion, there is probably something to be said about the mission of Marvel Editorial over time…how it changed, and why, and what the effect on the fictional universe was. For myself, I’ve always perceived it as a fairly aggressive urge to dumb-down, but I don’t know if it’d be fair to call it that and then leave it at that…Marvel, after all, has had some stale periods before. After the FF went to the Beehive, how uncannily cemented did the idea of the hyper-evolved creature leaving Earth because it was too small for him become? I don’t mind telling you that there was a time there when, even as an impressionable young reader still caught up in the wonderful strangeness of it all, I seriously began to roll my eyes at this device…as it became to Seventies Marvel what “but he died…a HERO” became to Sixties Marvel. And, you know, then there’s the Overloading Villain and the Critical Mass, but some things are tropes and others are just tics, and much is forgivable except (I guess) only what is a bit harder to forgive. Overloading Villains and Critical Masses sort of did betray a character of MU physics that managed to hold, over time, eh? A poetic physics, but there’s not too much that’s poetic about every third person taking off to find a new destiny out among the stars for about five years straight…
Or longer, but we won’t get onto that little hobby-horse of mine today, instead we’ll just note that although various types of food can be wonderful indeed, it’s still rare to see a poetic recipe.
Yes, it wobbled a bit. But until Avengers: Disassembled, it was still fairly stable, so what I find the most interesting about the continuing mission of Marvel Editorial is…I dunno, perhaps how it contributed to the eventual Marvel Crisis we’re living through right now, rather than what it was doing on its own time and under its own terms? If fictional realities do have “robustness”, and if that robustness is defined by all their possible alternate tracks of Never-Was, it is still true that from our perspective these alternate tracks are still stories, and they still require writers to come into existence…so if you prune your writers, then don’t you also prune your possible alternate universes, and if you do that don’t you run the risk of making your main fictional universe less robust? It’s more than a bit of a stretch, I grant you…but my biggest beef with Avengers: Disassembled remains that it seems to fail on the level of imagination, if you know what I mean. Does it really take a shit-ton of imagination to just write it so all the heroes get beaten, and fail to save the day? Obviously that was never more than the opening gambit for the Bendisverse, the starting position, but I still wonder…
…Did it have to be done that way?
Or was it just the easiest way.
Jump back, and down, to Starlin: who made up a whole bunch of “cosmic” entities that didn’t fit then, but today fit even less well. Given that in the Gruenwaldian scheme the Titans are just displaced Eternals, how likely is it that among them would appear the “mutant” Thanos? Ohh, Thanos, I must say I tire of him these days…he may be a classic villain but he’s got a terrible reason, and his reason’s not getting any better as we sit here. Why did you ever notice, Bloggers, that Thanos is utterly in lack of anything one might call a personality?
But leave that aside for now, because we’re going to talk about some different Gods. Also Starlin contributions! As you probably predicted, it’s “Master Order” and “Lord Chaos”.
So where do these bastards fit in?
Our good friend Richard Bensam expressed the view in email that Chaos and Order aren’t what you might call “real”…because they merely represent Eternity’s inner monologue.
“Should I do this? BUT IT’S A BIT PLAIN.”
“Should I do that? BUT IT’S A BIT CRAZY.”
I agree with him, for the most part wholeheartedly. Except that I depart from him on the point of it being the inner monologue of “Eternity” alone. And, I suppose I disagree with him on where the conversation is situated? Consider if you will, the absolute Oneness of Eternity! That concept that in itself puts forth, establishes. anoints, the word “absolute”.
So what happens in the world of the divergent universes, where there are infinitely many Absolutes, all different?
Where does “absolute concept” go then?
I would suggest that it doesn’t go anywhere, but that it does get abstracted. You can’t have “many different Absolutes”, that’s an amazing contradiction in terms. So if there are many iterations of Eternity…
…Then the “eternality” of Eternity must escape to some higher plane, or simply cease to be.
Not so with Death, not exactly…or, is it? As the personification of Entropy, and thus the force of change that’s opposed to Eternity, Death already embraces many haphazardly different outcomes…yet Eternity is already not permitted to escape Death by abstraction, since Eternity already is an abstraction, and Death has abstracted itself into personification on a higher plane as well just to remain in opposition…
So, why not one more time? “Chaos” and “Order” are just Death and Eternity by different names…but in the change of names, at least this time, part of their mystery may be revealed. Because they cooperate, don’t they? Inside the mainline universe, where Death and Eternity are never seen (because we are inside them) the oppositional quality of their relationship holds firm. On a higher plane, where there is Change without Time and Story without Setting, they are embodied…yet still Jung’s promise, that the principle of opposition itself becomes the principle of harmony, has not been fulfilled. However, in the span of the divergent universes, where Eternities and Deaths are so common as to be meaningless — oh look, here’s the universe where Eternity wears a sombrero, here’s the one where Death is fat — they cannot enact their roles. Their abstract nature has been emptied, as they’ve been refashioned into materials for divergent-universe production. In the mainline MU you should not expect to see Order, because Eternity IS Order! Death IS Chaos! And between them there’s Galactus, and that’s really all there is to know.
But, the divergent universes — if the theory is correct — also make what’s in the Universe Proper, and the manner of that making is in the calculation of amplitudes, of which Death and Eternity are the sum…
…But then, of course, they’re also inside the things being summed.
I’ve talked a little about perfume, here: things that look like entities, but which are merely the perfume of vast, often mundane, networks of association. Not really Beings, and Eternity is certainly not a Being but what he is constituted of is real, real in a way that abstract principles never can be. Death, for her part, is the perfume of the real as well: shit happens, as time and chance enter into all things. But what are the flowers that make the perfume of Chaos and Order, are they “real”? Even harnessing the power of the very last timeline in the Universe only puts twigs at the tips of branches on the Tree of Never-Was, and the control is dicey. But Death and Eternity, Chaos and Order, are in every cell of the bark and the wood. So in a world without Cosmic Personifications, perhaps we don’t need any reason for the way statistical processes work out, but inside this fictional reality we probably do…we probably need balance-keepers who disdain the power to change reality at a swoop, in favour of creating a world in which eventuation and causality truly proceed…
But then, what’s another word for “balance”?
Symmetry, maybe, and so possibly we can learn something about our own world, enjoy some unusual thought-experiment, by contemplating this fictional reality we’ve created. Is it enough, to just say “symmetry exists”? Our universe, too, could have as easily been an undifferentiated particle rain, nothing making Relationship anywhere, and nothing having Number. If you chase down the…er, the cogito of Einstein’s most famous portmanteau (and one day I will get to saying something about “portmanteau physics”, I swear I will!), it’s just this: imagine a universe with only two particles in it, and imagine how between them they define and describe space and time. Without distance to cross, nothing has a rate; without a rate, no distance has a measure. “Spacetime” is really the most wonderfully mystical idea to come out of science, isn’t it? All hail Queen Spacetime in her ultrablack gown, our glorious Unification of Phenomena! The Empress of Equivalence! Conqueror in long-ago days of the cruel and capricious King Particle, and the very Absolute of Abstraction itself!
(That gown is maybe looking a wee bit threadbare these days, though…)
Where are we?
Close to the end, at long last. Imagine all the Mystic Realms presided over by…uhh, no one in particular in the mainline MU, but in the zone of divergents Master Chaos and Lord Order are everywhere, because the Mystic Realms can be What-Iffed too. So maybe sometimes a magician gets confused, and finds him- or herself slipping not into the infinite dimensions of mainline magic, but into the infinite dimensions of divergent-zone magic? They look the same and they smell the same, but the only difference is that Lord Chaos and Master Order are there…
And one more thing: the In-Betweener.
Many Galactuses, one per dyad of Death and Eternity! But only one In-Betweener, as there’s only one Chaos and one Order. So what does he represent? Well, all those “little Galactuses” all add up to the Big Galactus in the main line, and that guy’s representation is Possibility…oh, and didn’t I have something lying around here, about recursion…?
Maybe I forgot that bit?
After really intending not to, sigh. So anyway it goes like this: recursion and paradox are twins. Or, more accurately: recursion is a magical instrument that produces two different types of result, one being Complexity and the other being Paradox. Galactus, the symbol of Kirby’s poetical ambition awakening, is “possibility” — storytelling possibility — but that’s also another name for Complexity. “Life”, if you like? The fractal filler between One and Zero, positive and negative, Death and Eternity…the bottomless boundary, the really deep cut. But you can turn recursion around and point it in the opposite direction too, if you like: Order and Chaos, due to their cooperation, do not function as two separate embodied concepts, but instead as one, which is Dualism…and what on earth is “between” Dualism?
Nothing but whatever doesn’t fit, one must suppose. So, why am I saying there’s only one Order and one Chaos, and one In-Betweener, when I have already made such a fuss about there being no “multiversal singularities”? We’re coming to that theory in pretty short order, but first here’s the practice: how would you know if there were many of these highly-abstracted characters, even if you saw them several times? Unlike most of your other Cosmic Personifications, Master Order and Lord Chaos are not particularly attackable in terms of rewriting, themselves…there are no limits on what rewriting can do, but even rewriting needs something to have been written that it can effectively “re-“, and Chaos and Order are really just Principles when you get down to it, with no visible means of support, and with their bases underestablished they’re also correspondingly hard to undercut, a bit free-floating, very tenuously tied to “continuity”. In fact if you look closely, they don’t actually “do” too much, do they? And the In-Betweener is the same way, but add on to his behaviour (what there is of it) this little morsel…that if you stand for paradox it’s nonsensical to claim you can you be prisoned by logical necessity, since not being prisoned by it is pretty much what you do. Hmm, thinking back to the issues of Silver Surfer where Galactus is unable to digest the Elders of the Universe, even though he has stated that in his cosmic role he exists to rectify the imbalances of Death and Eternity…you have to wonder if this would’ve presented much of a problem for the In-Betweener, should he have been so gifted with a digestive tract that possibly lies outwith the Universe, don’t you? Galactus got his cosmic function right, but the situation wrong — Death wouldn’t take the Elders, so they just didn’t die, simple as that. To the In-Betweener, overleaping paradox is a mere nothing, but Galactus doesn’t do paradox so once the math had been done the result was final. Hey, anybody can make a mistake! But to the In-Betweener there are no such things as “mistakes”: he’s the natural environment of mistakes. So the more he doesn’t fit in with continuity, the less difference it makes as he goes on…hmm, so maybe he’s the Tom Bombadil of the MU?
(shakes Cosmic Cube by his ear)
“So what’s this thing supposed to do?”
“Here, you can have it back; I think it’s broken.”
The point being that if there are many Galactuses, then that’s a paradox, which is a problem if Galactus doesn’t do paradox…but if there are many In-Betweeners, then that’s a problem only if it isn’t paradoxical. So how could he have, so simply, “multiple iterations”? That leads to as many problems as it would if he had but one iteration…
Because it’s the same problem either way.
All logical systems break down at the point of paradox: that statement is a good example of question-begging. Religious philosophy reaches its summit in paradox, and finds no more “up” at the peak of the mountain…unless one hopes to leap into the air and be caught by the Sun. Western philosophy, thanks to mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know Christianity, has long made its bread and butter on paradox — if God can’t make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it, then he isn’t really “God” — but it’s everywhere really, and you know Christian theology isn’t even the stuff that does paradox the best? Though these days, turning to Derrida instead of Heisenberg, it seems intent on perfecting its routine at long last…and, sure, paradox is just the name for what kind of results you get when you haven’t described your experiment properly, but surely that’s the point? This experiment here, it really is hard to specify what kind of system it’s running on, hard to say when some bias has intruded or not (though at least we know, bias is like heat too — subject to the holy Second Law, it gets into gets into gets into everything, no matter how we try to keep it out), and hard to know how to tell a good result from a bad one. Paradox is just the last station on that line, is all. Like the True Vacuum, true reality keeps you away from contact with it by throwing up weirder and weirder logical chaff at you…like the proton, there is no end of bizarre crap you can knock out of true reality, with nothing more than the beam of a flashlight as your bludgeon. Paradox is the doorman of Club Ineffable, and you just can’t effing sneak in past him. So, can you prove that the In-Betweener is present in the space of the divergents? If you ever see him, can you really be sure he isn’t just the same guy you met before? Yet, even were this true, and even if the In-Betweener were the mightiest of all the Lords of Limbo, he still doesn’t count as a “multiversal singularity”, just as I was saying…because every entity in the mainline MU is that, from ant-sized Henry Pym to towering Galactus himself! Or, alternatively, no entity is. Because the real multiverse is the place with the wacky other dimensions, not the one where in Universe #22750014 Peter Parker likes ham sandwiches but in Universe #22750015 he likes tuna instead, and eventually this differential causes Wolverine to lead all the superheroes into eternal life in the Galactic Core or whatever. It’s a matter of the math, really: those nitpicky universes can’t be “real” in the same way the mainline MU is, because they literally do not add up.
“It’s the kid! He’s okay!”
We are just about at the very, very end. Unsurprisingly, Alan Moore did a good job of framing the more interesting problem of “parallel Earths” in Tom Strong, when he brought up the idea that in a single but infinite universe you might see the equivalent of “divergent realities” if you just travelled far enough. I think Brian Greene likes this one: given a limit on how many ways you can put stuff together, and given an inexhaustible supply of stuff, all the divergents are already here…they’re just on the other side of Elsewhere. Now, I like stuff that puts it all in a nutshell for you, especially since that (evidently) isn’t a talent I possess myself…for example I like thinking of the odds of flipping ten heads in a row as something you demonstrate with a thousand different people all doing one trial of ten coin-flips, rather than one guy sitting there flipping and flipping and flipping. The Flipping Guy is a neat transformation of the thing, but I like the thing itself. Is that so weird? Similarly, you can most definitely get to the thorny matter of infinite finite universes, I think even a bit better, if you simply imagine a finite number of infinite universes…that is, if you imagine just one of them.
Not that I intend to actually get into all that right now, because it’s an interesting discussion but it’s also a LOOOOOOONG one, even by my standards, and I am just trying to be a magpie here, not a mole. A grasshopper, not an ant? But anyway if you live in a world that gives you paradox as your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and you despair of knowing the exact details of the experiment you’re living in…well, what can you do about this problem? The obvious answer (I hope it is not so obvious that everyone just wants to shoot me now) is that you make a little fictional model of a universe and see how it behaves. See what regularities it exhibits. See what doesn’t make sense in it, and even more importantly what does make sense in it.
Why do we assume that the makers of the videogame we’re living in would come from a “perfected” universe?
Why wouldn’t we look for our parent universe to have passed us an inheritance of physical laws, just as we’ve passed our own down to the MU?
Why wouldn’t they be trying to find out the same things that we are?
Oh, dear, it’s all gone a bit Permutation City all of a sudden, hasn’t it? Never mind, let’s haul it back…haul it back…!
To paradox. Can the In-Betweener make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it? Sadly for our man in the fractal tuxedo, he really isn’t allowed to do anything else, which explains why he’s not a very good candidate for the title “God”…because wouldn’t a truly omnipotent God also have the power to not simply sit around committing acts of paradox all day? But the In-Betweener clearly lacks this freedom, and he must be as miserable as any Immortus because of it! Miserable, indeed, as any Space Phantom.
At the end of the day, we are looking for explanations that maintain them. And isn’t it amazing that after all this time, and all these sometimes-crap additions to the blueprint of the MU, we can still find such explanations?
Well…maybe it isn’t as amazing as all that, right?
Because it does look like it’s outsiders all the way down.
Strangers, you might call ’em.
Or at least, you would if you were a diehard Englehart nut like me.
Why do you suppose the Stranger’s so interested in mutants, anyway?