This "alternate universe" stuff is all the rage at the moment. The Spider-Man "Multiverse" movie was the big movie success story in 2018. Wandavision and Loki capitalised on that trend, and now the "What If" TV series is generating a buzz in 2021.
But the concept is far from new. Here's a two-issue series from the 2015 "Secret Wars" event which was all-multiverse, all-day long.
Secret Wars Background: All of the Earths from all of the different dimensions have crashed into each other and been destroyed. A few fragments of those realities have been assembled on a patchwork "Battleworld". There ya go. Multiverse-madness.
This title grows out of a particular fragment of reality which features an alternate version of Spider-Man, specifically one "Spider Hero", aka Hobie Brown. In Earth-616, Hobie was of course The Prowler. In this world, he is one of a handful of super-heroes who are the Defenders of a fragment of Battleworld that calls itself "Yinsen City".
But I'm getting ahead of things. Let's take it from page one.
Prologue: A scene from before the end of universes, set in one alternate reality of many. The origin of Iron Man gets a different twist. Tony Stark and Doctor Yinsen create the Iron Man suit while trapped by terrorists, but this time it is Yinsen who wears the suit to escape out of the cave, thanks to Stark's selfless sacrifice.
Years later in that same alterniverse. Yinsen pays back Stark's gift of live by creating and leading a wonderful, peaceful, wealthy and happy global society with its Utopian capital "Yinsen City"... which is then destroyed by the crashing of two Earths. All goes black.
Main Story: Baron Ho Yinsen (without his Iron Armour) is now the regional administrator of Yinsen City (re-opened for business as a part of "Battleworld) under the auspices of "God Doom". She-Hulk carries the Gavel of Thor, and is Doom's representative in this part of the planet.
Doom rules with an iron fist, and Yinsen's strange recurring dreams of the past – of a "time before" – are verging on heresy.
Yinsen City is uneasy neighbor to "The Warzone" – another patchwork part of Battleworld where life is not so peaceful. A thick concrete wall separates the two areas. A big part of She-Hulk's job is to keep a watchful eye on those walls.
We are introduced to the remaining members of "The Defenders" who are Office Walters' deputies in her role of keeping Doom's peace in this part of the world. They are:
As the Defenders watch through a poly-carbonate window in the wall, a small, lone figure dressed in white crosses the wasteland from the Warzone and approaches the wall. Wielding her sword, the diminutive woman crashes the way through the barrier, despite Doom's edict which clearly forbids such border crossings.
The figure is "Captain Britain" (aka Dr. Faiza Hussain). She is most apologetic for the damage and the lack of paperwork. But she assures the Defenders that she comes in peace. She also has been troubled by heretic dreams of a distant past, and like "Spider Hero", she also inherited her role (and powers) when the former Captain Britain died. Of course, there is a minor technical hitch – she isn't quite sure what "Britain" refers to. A place, she believes.
Baron Yinsen himself arrives now, to complete the party – wearing his Iron suit, which apparently he doesn't often do any more. He arrives just in time to hear the ultimate "Captain Britain" utter the ultimate heresy – that Doom isn't a God, he's just a mortal man with great powers. And she's not the only one to be thinking that. The others confess to similar doubts, and the six various assembled super-powered members of the Defenders agree to secretly be godless criminals together.
That's when Doom turns up on the scene (in holographic form, not in person). The secret conspiracy was very short-lived.
Doom's punishment for their lack of faith? He tears down the wall to the neighboring "Mondo City", a fragment of Battleworld occupied by murderous super-powered psychopaths.
Through the wall comes a bunch of the aforementioned. There's a humongous tank named "War Machine" with a dozen big guns on the front. Then there's Boss Magniconte (fancy high-tech gun), and Boss Frost (psychic and other mental powers).
The battle is brief. Baron Yinsen is killed and Captain Britain is taken prisoner back to Mondo City.
As readers, these "What If" stories can be quite demanding. Two new environments, ten new characters, plus various connection back to alternative versions of Earth-616.
The question is, what is our payback? Insightful character developments? New ideas? Old ideas through a new lens? Shocking twists that lay bare the soul of our fragile humanity? Or just bright costumes and printed sound-effects?
The answer so far is "nothing yet". All we have so far is high-speed world-building.
As Spider-Fans, our primary interest is "Spider Hero". He hasn't really done anything so far. His "Origin Story" is seeing the death of the regular Spider-Man from his dimension Does he have powers? Does he have motivations, weaknesses, complexities? His sole contribution to the "battle" was to usher a few civilians out of the combat zone. Is that all we get on the Spider-front?
To be fair, a two-part story has a very specific structure. The first part is set-up, the second is (hopefully) the pay-off.
It's impossible to pass any judgement until we see what that pay-off looks like.
So let's hand out a provisional 3-Web "wait-and-see" rating for now, and come back for the real rating after part 2.
Shout-out to UK musician Billy Bragg for providing the title of this song, from the lyrics of "Between the Wars".
As a student, I saw Bragg play live in New Zealand. I remember that his trumpet player couldn't join the tour because (so the story goes) he was a flat-earther, and didn't believe that New Zealand actually existed.