I’m planning a series of posts on what a few of us are calling ‘the Prismatic Age’ of comics, and specifically about the idea of Hypertime, a Grant Morrison concept that to my mind is one of the most innovative ever to be brought into mainstream comics.
Hypertime was introduced in a miniseries called The Kingdom, by Mark Waid and various artists. The Kingdom has a horrible reputation among comic fans, and it doesn’t really deserve it. The main reason for this terrible reputation is that it was promoted as a sequel to Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come was a graphic novel by Waid and Alex Ross that was regarded at the time of its publication in the mid-90s as being something new and exciting and good, but it hasn’t aged at all well. It’s overblown, stodgy, and full of self-importance – it cries out “Look, superheroes are Serious Important Business! Look, I can quote from the Book Of Revelation! Doesn’t Superman look dignified with sideburns?” The best thing about it is that it managed to get in a reference to a Dukes Of Stratosphear song (Brainiac’s Daughter)
The Kingdom, on the other hand, is unabashed fun. In fact, it looks in retrospect very much like a proto-Seven Soldiers – or at least a halfway house between DC’s ‘annual events’ and Morrison’s mega-event – there’s a pair of bookends (plus a #0 story) and five one-shots, each focusing on a different new character (including a ‘son of the Bat’ who bears more than a passing resemblance to Damien Wayne) which don’t really connect up in any way but are all needed in the end. It’s far more about introducing new ideas than it is about rehashing the old. The one-shots are set in the world of Kingdom Come, and so are fairly downbeat in tone, as is the framing story (about someone going back in time and killing Superman over and over again, every day), but the story’s told with a lightness of touch that was missing from the original story. It’s aged a hell of a lot better, but anyone who wanted a second Kingdom Come definitely didn’t get it, while anyone who didn’t want that probably wasn’t reading it in the first place.
But some of the criticism of The Kingdom is fairer, at least in retrospect, because it was not primarily a story as much as it was a way of introducing a single concept into the DC Universe, but that concept has gone almost completely unused ever since.
At the time, DC was very proud for some reason of having a fixed, immutable, timeline with no multiple realities, in which the continuity was invariant – as if this was in some way a good idea for a supposedly fantastical universe. There was even a team of superheroes called the Linear Men (and can you imagine a duller name than that? They were created by Dan Jurgens, as I’m sure no-one is shocked to know) who were dedicated to preserving the timeline and preventing interesting stories from happening by ensuring there was no deviation.
The Kingdom introduced Hypertime, which was an attempt to do away with all that nonsense and also to explain away any inconvenient continuity errors. But it was much more than that. An idea from Grant Morrison, named by Mark Waid, Rip Hunter explains Hypertime in The Kingdom as follows:
Hypertime. The vast, interconnected web of parallel time-lines which comprise all reality… The possibilities of hypertime are infinite and humble the power of any man… The problem with the linear men is that they’re too linear. They’re vested in enforcing an inflexible view of reality… they think orderly, catalogued continuity is preferable to a kingdom of wonder.
Events of importance often cause divergent ‘tributaries’ to branch off the main timestream… on occasion, those tributaries return — sometimes feeding back into the central timeline, other times overlapping it briefly before charting an entirely new course
Now one thing I dislike about this description is that it still refers to one central timeline – it still gives one view of reality primacy – which is not something I’ve got from the Morrison interviews where he talks about this. In fact, without the idea of a central timeline Hypertime can be quite a neat way of reconciling two of the different interpretations of quantum physics – the Copenhagen interpretation (which suggests that there is no objective reality, just the reality that we measure) and the Everett-Wheeler-Graham many-worlds interpretation (in which there are an infinite, infinitely-replicating, number of nearly-identical parallel universes). If you assume that each individual’s perception is a separate hypertimeline, which is in turn a parallel universe in the EWG model, you get a universe where measuring reality becomes the act of splitting or merging hypertimelines. This actually is as consistent with the data as either of those two – Wigner’s Friend exists in a separate hypertimeline from Wigner, but the two timelines overlap whenever the two are in contact.
(Of course we know now that in the DCU the hidden variable interpretation is true, but that could probably be brought in too with a bit of fudging…)
I’m not explaining this very well, but I’m planning to do several more posts on this, and how this idea has fed into 52, Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis. I think Hypertime has been misunderstood to a great extent by most comic fans, who see it as ‘confusing’ or an excuse for continuity errors. I think though it is the most perfect representation of a set of ideas Grant Morrison has been working with at least since Animal Man I’ve got a lot more to say about this, and shall probably continue tomorrow…