Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Marvel Religion

One of the cornerstone issues of religion is the Theodicy Problem, which for purposes of this discussion I'll formulate as "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It was occurring to me yesterday that, in the meta-world of comics, they seem to have their own answers to this.

Marvel, in particular, provides some odd insights into Theodicy, because they have a long (25+ year) tradition of "What If?" stories. These vary in both style and quality, but usually ask what would have happened if some particular turning point in the comics-universe history had gone differently. The reason they inform Theodicy is because they almost always fall into two categories, that produce two different answers to the problem:

"Because it was for the best". In many cases, the alternate timeline diverges from the "mainstream" Marvel Universe, often dramatically, and almost always for the worse. Some apparently innocuous or even sensible decision goes differently, or some happenstance falls differently, and everything goes to hell. People are miserable. People die. In at least one case, the entire universe ends. The implication is that, while things may seem bad on the surface, it's still the best world we can have -- everything happens because it is necessary.

"Because we choose our personal paths". Nearly all of the rest show the timeline remerging. Things change at first, but it all heals itself. A character dies, so he can't wind up as Foobarman, but someone else picks up that mantle. This seems to have a different implication: we make our own fates in the small scale, but there is a grand scheme that is inevitable. The universe is deterministic, but only broadly; our free will controls the details, and how we fit into the larger plan.

All of this came to mind because I was reading an exception last night, and the very fact that it fell into neither of these models struck me with its rarity. It was "What If Jessica Jones had joined the Avengers?" It took a decision point of a relatively minor character in a relatively minor (but particularly interesting) book, and went the other way. And the answer in this case was that everything came out great. She got the guy; he got the girl; horrible tragedies from the mainstream universe were averted; the story ends with "And they lived happily ever after. Sort of."

But y'know, it just doesn't make such good reading as the real timeline -- it doesn't have the pathos, the soul-searching, the finding of new paths. Which points to a third answer, one that is interesting (and a little unsettling) to apply back to the real world if it fits with one's theology: "Because it makes a better story"...
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