One of the top writer-editors in comics gives us some sound writing advice. And by us we mean that this is valid for TV writers working on just about every science fiction series on our tubes cuz sometimes it seems like none of them can wait to go parallel universing around and mess with viewers’ minds:
by Dennis O’Neil
Good news! The angel Fettucini has just delivered a Message From On High: from this moment on, all politicians must be free of greed and egotism and be motivated solely by the desire for good governance and love of heir fellow man.
The, uh, bad news is that the above is true only on Earth 4072, which, of course, exists only in an alternate universe. These things are relative. To the inhabitants of Earth 4072, the news is not bad.
They can be useful, these alternate universes, especially, if you write fantasy or science fiction.
Consider Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics. In 1959, he was given the task of reviving a character who had been dormant for most of the decade, the Flash. Instead of merely redoing the Flash comics readers (okay, older comics readers) were familiar with, Mr. Schwartz and his creative team gave the Flash a comprehensive makeover: new costume, new secret identity that included a new name, new origin story – the whole bag. But Mr. Schwartz had a potential problem: some of his audience – those pesky older readers – might wonder what happened to the original Flash. Mr. Schwartz provided an answer by borrowing a trope from science fiction: alternate worlds. In the Schwartz version, there were two Earths coexisting in different dimensions. The original, Jay Garrick, was on one Earth and the newer model, Barry Allen, was on the other Earth. It was the publishing equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.
Take a bow, Mr. Schwartz.
The gimmick must have boosted sales because Mr. Schwartz soon applied it to other DC superheroes with similar success.