Parallel worlds

As I work through the Essential Avengers Vol. 3,I reached one of my favorite stories, Avengers Annual 2. In it, the Avengers (Goliath, Wasp, Black Panther, Captain America, Hawkeye) return from a time trip and discovers the Scarlet Centurion (aka Kang the Conqueror) has altered time so that the original Avengers team (Giant-Man, Wasp, Thor, iron Man, Hulk) have become dictators. The current Avengers, naturally set things to rights.
One thing that struck me rereading the story was that the regular team is absolutely freaked to discover they and the world they knew no longer exist. These days that sort of cosmic weirdness is taken so routinely, it was refreshing to see them react the way most people would.
Another thing was that Marvel’s concept of the multiverse, as fleshed out in the 1980s, pretty much kills the story. As developed by then editor/writer Mark Gruenwald, every major event splits off in two ways (Galactus eats the world/Galactus doesn’t eat the world; Spider-Man lets the burglar go/Spider-Man catches the burglar and Uncle Ben lives) and no timeline can be erased: The Avengers returned to “reality” but the oppressed Earth endured behind them.
This makes their triumph a lot less satisfying, since there’s no sign the evil Avengers will lose their grip on the world.
And more generally, it’s a lousy idea. As Larry Niven pointed out in “All the Myriad Ways,” if every event diverges, then nothing we do amounts to everything. Every triumph is matched by a defeat; every survival is matched by a death. Victory is meaningless, nothing but a blind roll of the quantum-mechanical dice, if it’s paired every time with defeat.
Comics have always assumed that some events would split reality in two, but making it every single possible event just never worked for me.
Funny, I thought I had more of a post in mind, but I think I’m just rambling. So I’ll stop now.

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