In 1967 the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” aired. In this episode a transporter malfunction sends Captain Kirk and his crew to an alternate dimension. A dimension where all of their friends and even the Federation itself are evil. This is a very well-known episode and the concept of an evil dimension has been visited again by later Star Trek series. Star Trek isn’t the only place you see stories like this though. In fact they permeate the sci-fi genre, possibly due to how popular Star Trek has been over the years.
The dimensions visited in these stories are almost always evil, or the counterpart to our protagonist is evil. In Star Trek the mirror-verse is run by an evil version of the Federation, the Empire. In the book “Altered Carbon” by Blake Crouch the main character is attacked and replaced by a darker version of himself. “Voltron: Legendary Defender” also has an episode where the cast goes to an alternate dimension ruled by an evil empire.
Sometimes you see this premise messed with a little. An example of that would be “Rick and Morty” in which Rick is the worst possible version of himself and spends the entire series running around and messing things up in other dimensions. Then you have “Into the Spider-Verse” were you have alternate versions of a character helping each other out to save the world/multiverse.
Generally, comic books mess with alternate dimensions it tends to be a big deal. It’s an event like Spider-Verse or all those crossovers on DC’s TV shows. It doesn’t always have to be a big deal though. It can be a way to just look at a single character and see what makes them tick.
One of my favorite alternate dimension stories is out of Jonathan Hickman’s run of the Fantastic Four. It’s a three-issue story called “Solve Everything”. In this story our Reed Richards becomes a member of the Council of Reeds, a collection of Reeds from various universes who’ve come together to “solve everything”. What stood out to me about this story at first was the fact that the council of Reeds isn’t inherently evil. They have some questionable morals, but they at least started with good intentions. The story isn’t about Reed and the Fantastic Four stopping the council from taking over the multiverse.
The story is about Reed dealing with himself and what he feels are his shortcomings. He wants to solve everything. He wants to use his genius to do as much good in the world as possible, but he also has a family and people he cares about that he wants to be with. He’s running himself ragged trying to do everything and he needs a solution. So, he agrees to work with the council of Reeds. It’s fun and exciting for him, but it takes him away from his family. Which is one of the issues he was hoping to find a solution.
In the end Reed can’t solve everything by himself. Even if he has access to infinite versions of himself. The point is that Reed shouldn’t focus on solving everything by himself. This is a small scale story. Reed is learning about himself, what he wants, and what he needs to do to be happy. This is a personal story with reasonably small stakes. The world won’t end if things go wrong.
After being fed dozens of stories about how different and vile alternate realities could be or making a big deal out of discovering an alternate dimension. It’s refreshing to have a take with such small stakes. This is a very introspective story. It’s a character study about Reed Richards and it deals with things that we as readers can relate to. At some point we all feel burnt out and tired of everything. It can be nice to see a hero we’re all familiar with struggle with that as well.
It’s great to know that no matter how well-worn a trope is, that it’s still possible to get an interesting story out of it. That story also doesn’t have to be some grand sweeping epic to be interesting. It can just be a story about a character learning to understand themselves better. A character that also happens to have an inter-dimensional portal.