Parallel lives

As I pulled into my office parking lot this morning and turned off the car I noticed that the digital dashboard clock showed “6:16.” In my early morning pre-coffee daze my mind registered that 616 is the main Marvel universe’s designation as provided by Alan Moore. I always respected Moore for giving the universe a seemingly random number. It seems egotistical that DC’s central stories would take place on Earth 1 (not to mention that the older characters’ home was somehow designated Earth 2. The Justice Society of America and their descendents should be on Earth 1 out of fairness, logicalness, and respect for one’s elders.) No matter what the worlds are named parallel Earth stories hold a special place in my heart. I love the idea that the existing possibilities are so numerous that we can scarcely imagine them all. There are worlds so strange and unencumbered by continuity than almost anything can happen. Its limitlessness is intoxicating.

Generally when I think of parallel Earths stories I imagine the superhero variety; costumed champions from multiple universes both battling themselves and world conquering villains. My favorite is Crisis on Infinite Earths, one the touchstone comic book stories of my childhood. Surprisingly, the best parallel Earths comic book tale that I’ve read in a long time isn’t a superhero narrative. Rather it’s a sad and heartwarming story of multiple lived and outcomes. Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Grabriel Ba isn’t a classic parallel Earths narrative and not just because it doesn’t feature superheroes. Rather, the story probably takes place on only one Earth on which events are shifted in order to display how small actions irrevocably change our lives. The ten issue-length stories have the feel of parallel worlds though, in which things are almost the same but something is slightly different. Here the difference is time and how the passing years change each of us and make us parallel versions of our younger and older selves. The stories provide a commentary on growing older and explore the different eras of a person’s life. Superhero stories are generally juvenile power fantasies that embrace the reader’s need to feel exceptional and value action over thought. In contrast, Daytripper investigates the reality of aging and death and searches for shared human experiences no matter how unpleasant or unsettling they may be. The stories also celebrates the large and small joys of life and relishes the moments that make us human. While superheroes make the extraordinary commonplace, Moon and Ba make the common extraordinary.

chapter one

The stories are structured non-chronologically, so the reader bounces back and forth through the main character Bras de Oliva Domingos’s life. This effect has been used in numerous novels and films but it still provides discomfort to the reader accustomed to linear storytelling. It allows us to follow events and threads through Bras’s life and see how he and those around him grow, adjust, change, and decline. As with most fiction, the true joy in reading Daytripper is internalizing the narrative and reflecting on one’s own life and the lives of his/her parallel selves. What are the events that could have changed your life and what are the possible parallel realities that were created from such choices? Somewhere is there a you that took that job in London and now lives with a spouse in England? What happened to the 22 year old you that did join the Peace Corps? Or the you that decided that you were sober enough to drink although you’d had six beers? The decisions were endless and so are the possibilities. The latest episode of Community is focusing on the idea of a dark parallel universe, which spun out of an earlier story about choices creating parallel worlds. This most likely is reference to the original Star Trek series episode that features a dark universe version of the Enterprise crew. (I sometimes wonder if my goatee marks me as the dark universe me.) So, seemingly I’m not the only one that finds the idea of parallel lives interesting.

My favorite Daytrippers chapter is one in which a 32 year old Bras struggles to find his way in the world. While working as an obituary writer he attempts to write his first novel during his free time and the words aren’t coming. He struggles to escape from his successful father’s shadow and to free himself from his over-protective mother. I remember the 32 year old me that had many of the same problems. I wish I could visit his parallel world and tell him that everything gets better. Warn him to enjoy his time with his father before he dies. Counsel him to worry less and enjoy things more. Actually, most of that is pretty good advice for me today. Maybe my older self is trying to tell me something.

Jeffrey Johnson is an avid reader of comic books, watcher of television and film, and an annoying fount of 1980s and 1990s trivia. He received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Michigan State University and has written numerous journal articles and book chapter about popular culture. His latest book is entitled Super-History: Comic Book Superheroes and American Society, 1938 to the Present. He currently lives and works in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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