This is a multi-part series that is a slightly modified version of my MSc Dissertation.
Here is Part One, Part Two & Part Three.
‘I Really, Really Hate Clones’ S05 E12 – Spider-Man (1994)
With Spider-Man: No Way Home being the first explicit example within the MCU to incorporate the Multiverse in action, we have to look at what the multiverse is in the context of the Spider-Man IP, specifically an on-screen (brief) history. We will also use a cinematic example outside the MCU to help define the multiverse; and then proceed to explore how the multiverse in this context is an example of transmedia and convergence.
The above quote is taken from the penultimate episode of the animated Spider-Man show that ran on FOX Kids from 1994 to 1998. Running for 5 seasons and 65 episodes, the show dealt with many aspects of the Spider-Man IP, had ‘crossovers’ with the other animated Marvel shows of the era such as Iron Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men, and helped introduce audiences to many other Marvel characters like Doctor Strange, Captain America and The Punisher.
In the episode the quote is taken from, ‘I Really, Really Hate Clones’, Spider-Man (Christopher Daniel Barnes) is introduced to other versions of himself by Madame Web (Joan Lee) and The Beyonder (Earl Boen). She explains to him, and thus explaining to the audience of the animated show (i.e., children), the concept of the multiverse:
“Reality is like a river that splits off into many parallel contributories. These Spider-Men are from parallel realities, each as legitimate as yours. They’re all you with some slight differences.”
The explanation given by Madame Web succinctly explains the concept of the multiverse to audiences. This multiverse is where one’s own individual decisions can branch off into different outcomes. Meaning that one can existing in a different universe, with a different life. Geoff King states that, “Many contemporary Hollywood productions promise a kind of surrogate ‘frontier’ experience for the viewer at the level of audio-visual spectacle. The films themselves are presented as spectacular intrusions into the daily life of the viewer. Hollywood spectacle is offered as an alternative to the domestic routine.” (pp. 5) If Hollywood spectacle is offered to audiences to an alternative to their ‘normal’ life, then presenting the concept of the multiverse offers the ‘ultimate’ version of this.
In Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022, Daniel Kwan & Daniel Sheinert), Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is shown the multiverse by an alternate version of her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). He explains to her that in his universe, she is responsible for allowing people to gain the skills and abilities from any of their potential multiversal selves. The film uses this concept to allow the multiverse become a tool for the narrative; Evelyn must use her new skills to stop the end of everything and save her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). I bring this film up here as the film presents Evelyn as someone who is struggling to adhere to an IRS audit, maintain a relationship with their daughter, cope with their father (James Hong) living with her, manage a laundromat business, and understand her own relationship to her husband who wants a divorce. These are ‘normal’ problems for audiences, yet the multiverse is shown as the “alternative to the domestic routine”20 (King, pp. 5).
A Brief History of the Multiverse
James C. Taylor states that, “The Marvel multiverse is a governing system, acknowledged and documented by both the publisher and fans, that encompasses all of Marvel’s universes.” (pp. 131). An example of this is the article, ‘Worlds Collide: A History of Marvel and DC’s Multiverses’. Here it is shown that within Marvel & DC comic books, the first instance of crossing over to a parallel universe was in 1953, in Wonder Woman #59. However, for Marvel this didn’t occur until 1977 in What If? #1. The article quotes The Watcher, “There are worlds within worlds — and worlds which exist side by side with your own, separated from it only by the thinnest web of cosmic gossamer”. This establishes within the Marvel fictional reality that these are all stories that exist, they all had value alongside the main titles. This was then given more weight in 1983 by The Daredevils #7; this being the first issue that gives the ‘Earth-616’ designation which is used from here on by Marvel to distinguish their own multiverse canon. José Agustin Donoso Munita and Mariano Alejandro Penafirl Durruty say that, in regards to the 2014 ‘Edge of Spider-Verse’ event in Marvel Comics, “The existence of a Marvel Multiverse since 1983 and of a Spider-Verse since at least 1998 integrates the 2014 experiment to the Spider-Man canon without difficulty, given that Peter Parker’s travels across the multiple universes and meeting different Spider-Men is something that has already been accepted by the audiences.” (pp. 782) They argue that because of previous explanations of the multiverse within Marvel media, both in the comics and in the Spider-Man (1994) animated TV show, audiences would have little issue with accepting the concept of the multiverse and different iterations of the same character existing within the same comic/TV show/film. I would argue that not only are audiences willing to accept more than one version existing at once without confusion, but are also able to accept the existence of a multiverse as one with endless possibilities. For example, the potential and then reality of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire reprising their roles as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Convergence & Transmedia
Marvel, and in this particular case the MCU, is an example of media convergence. Using Disney+, novelizations, Comic Book Preludes, and the feature films, Marvel has made sure that audiences are consumer engaging with the material at every level if they wish. Henry Jenkins supports this, ““In the world of media convergence, every important story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted across multiple media platforms.” (pp. 3) In relation to the multiverse in the MCU this was first introduced as a concept in the Disney+ series, Loki (2021), and then with examples of what it is in the series What If…? (2021). Audiences, or ‘consumers’ according to Jenkins, in these TV shows were shown the multiverse and how it relates to the MCU. This was then preparation for the films, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022, Sam Raimi) which both show the multiverse in action. Having this shown across multiple media platforms, is an example of Marvel using transmedia to sell their narrative. Jenkins argues that with transmedia franchises they reward fans and audiences, with the inclusion of multiple versions of the same character existing across multiple media as an example of “multiplicity”. He argues that creating and using these different versions of the same character, “…use multiplicity – the possibility of alternative versions of the characters or parallel universe versions of the stories – as an alternative set of rewards for our mastery over the source material.”6 The reward in this case is having knowledge of the concept of the multiverse in the MCU, before watching the aforementioned two films in the cinema with the general public.
Jenkins goes on, “Multiplicity allows fans to take pleasure in alternative retellings, seeing the characters and events from fresh perspectives, and comics publishers trust their fans to sort out not only how the pieces fit together but also which version of the story any given work fits within.”6 This goes back to what I was saying with audiences being able to comprehend the nature of the multiverse in media, purely because they had been exposed to it beforehand.
What is interesting when looking at the work of Henry Jenkins in regards to transmedia and convergence, is that in 2003 in a piece entitled ‘Transmedia Storytelling’ he says that “We need a new model for co-creation-rather than adaptation-of content that crosses media.” He continues, “A good character can sustain multiple narratives and thus lead to a successful movie franchise. A good “world” can sustain multiple characters (and their stories) and thus successfully launch a transmedia franchise.”7 Jenkins presents this possibility in 2003, a year after Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi), and 5 years before the MCU started with Iron Man (2008, Jon Favreau). This piece infers that franchises and sequels are no longer enough for audiences, using Pokémon as his example he says that with transmedia storytelling “any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole.”7 Audiences are the consumer that want more from the franchise that they are a fan of. What the multiverse does here is present the MCU a chance to expand further from the singular franchise narrative it initially started off as in 2008.
 King, G. (2000). Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster. London: I.B. Tauris.
 Taylor, J. C. (2021). Reading the Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Avengers’ Intertextual Aesthetic. JCMS : Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, 60(3), 129–156. https://doi.org/10.1353/cj.2021.0030
 McMillan, G., 2014. Worlds Collide: A History of Marvel and DC’s Multiverses. [online] hollywoodreporter.com. Available at: <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/worlds-collide-a-history-marvel-748649/> [Accessed 26 July 2022].
 Donoso Munita, J. A., & Penafiel Durruty, M. A. (2017). Transmedial Transduction in the Spider-Verse. Palabra-Clave, 20(3), 763–787. https://doi.org/10.5294/pacla.2017.20.3.8
 Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence culture : where old and new media collide / Henry Jenkins. New York, N.Y. ;: New York University Press.
 Jenkins, H., 2009. The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two Actually. Five More on Friday) — Henry Jenkins. [online] Henry Jenkins. Available at: <http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2009/12/the_revenge_of_the_origami_uni.html> [Accessed 26 July 2022].
 Jenkins, H., 2003. Transmedia Storytelling. [online] MIT Technology Review. Available at: <https://www.technologyreview.com/2003/01/15/234540/transmedia-storytelling/> [Accessed 26 July 2022].