[31 January 2011]
Nick Spencer’s explosive debut onto the comics mainstream has marked him as the new wunderkind. Morning Glories made a big splash last fall. The long awaited re-launch of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was outstanding. Even the Jimmy Olsen co-feature in Action Comics was packed with such vibrancy and richness that it fostered a greater appreciation for the character in me, sentiments not felt since All-Star Superman. Spencer’s name suddenly appeared everywhere in 2010. Moving forward into 2011, his share of the industry spotlight looks to be growing larger and larger. I think the reasons for this are quite clear.
Spencer brings a unique energy to comics. Dialogue is witty and succinct without falling into predictable patterns or clichéd aphorisms. Concepts introduced in his books feel fresh even if they’re not genre shattering. There’s even a noticeable undercurrent of snark in his works, the Jimmy Olsen co-feature being the textbook example. However, none of this devolves into overly cutesy or dumbed down comics. Spencer’s books certainly make you think but in a very approachable way due to his previously mentioned attributes.
Take The Infinite Vacation for example. The idea of multiple realities is a familiar one for comicbook readers, especially fans of superhero comics. Earth 2 or 616 or whatever have a very permanent place in the cosmologies of both DC and Marvel. Nevertheless, Spencer takes these time honored institutions and drops them down to a far more accessible and approachable level. Multiple realities often lead to messy storytelling. In this instance, however, Infinite Vacation tells the story of Mark, a regular guy stuck in a boring job with no girl and no prospects. Luckily, Mark lives in a world where interacting with an infinite variety of yourselves is easily done through a smartphone app. Understandably, our protagonist becomes a little obsessed with trying to figure out a way to improve his lot in life via this handy tool.
There are two schools of thought, in my opinion, on alternate selves. The first route comes equipped with oodles of personal insights, soul searching revelations and a bright NBC “The More You Know” banner firmly affixed to the masthead. Interacting with another version of yourself can provide an infinite reservoir of knowledge regarding who you are, what you’re capable of and what you need to do to get where you want to be. Think of Doc Brown’s speech to Marty about why he built the time machine in Back to the Future: Part II. This book provides some of those insights. Living vicariously through Mark we can come to an understanding about our place in the grand scheme of things.
However, Mark’s encounters with alternate selves on his “infinite vacation” bring with it some tragic consequences. Most of the other Marks are a bunch of schmucks. The successful ones are mysteriously dead. This brings into play the second school of thought on alternate selves. Knowing that there are an infinite variety of yous out in the multiverse can justifiably feel like a diminishment of self. I’m sure Superman probably doesn’t feel this way but then Mark, and the rest of us, weren’t born on Krypton. This feeling can be compounded by the fact that a good portion of infinity revolves around you living a terribly miserable life. What’s the point of even trying to excel? For every step you take forward there are untold numbers of you doing the exact opposite. Furthermore, having alternate selves readily reduces the importance of you, the individual. You’re not unique anymore when an infinite number of copies are making asses of themselves.
Where do I come down on these two differing opinions? Probably somewhere in the middle. Really depends on my day. I may be enlightened to learn, as an outsider observing a version of myself, that I have some minute flaw I would never have detected. I gain knowledge. And knowing is half the battle. However, I couldn’t help but feel I’m not the special snowflake that I’ve always taken for granted. Sure, my alternate selves and I may all be different at first glance, but when copies of me number in the infinite there has to be a few exact duplicates. Hell, if it’s infinite then I have an infinite number of exact duplicates without even getting into the ones that wildly differ.
I won’t really know how I’d act unless an alternate version of me knocked on my door one day. Until that happens, I rather sit at home with my armchair philosophy and read The Infinite Vacation.