Videodrome, Owlman And Crisis In The Omniverse

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Barry Convex: “Why would anybody watch a scum show like Videodrome? Why did you watch it, Max?”
Max Renn: “Business reasons.”
–“Videodrome”

The image of a youngish James Woods had always been, to me, the iconic 1980s dark cyberpunk hero. That was probably largely based on his role in the 1983 classic David Cronenberg movie Videodrome.

I wasn’t allowed to watch Videodrome as a child, but there were certain key images from the film that were everywhere in the media:

Woods’ character Max Renn (I mean, what a name!) having his hand turn into a gun:

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Renn basically growing a vaginal-type hole in his abdomen (!) in which is put a VHS tape:

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The VHS tape itself turning into a sticky organic flesh-like nightmare thing:

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A hand creepily extending out from the skin-like screen of a TV set:

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And finally, Renn sticking his head into the TV screen upon which a gigantic pair of lips is being shown:

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These were the indelible horror-images of my Eighties childhood; I would systematically run them through in my mind like flipping through a catalogue, along with the mangled and mutating body parts of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Freddy Krueger’s impossibly long boogeyman arms gleefully flailing about.

Of course, like my childhood comedian-fave Dennis Miller (a story for another day), Woods would eventually become an icon of the far Right—which kind of took the gild off the lily for me just a bit regarding him. One would assume that he would no longer be OK starring in a movie in which he grows an abdominal vagina.

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Now, in the 2010 animated movie Crisis On Two Earths, featuring both the Justice League and their evil parallel Earth counterparts the Crime Syndicate, Batman’s evil alternate version is called Owlman…and he’s voiced in this movie by Videodrome’s JAMES WOODS!

I have had mixed opinions about the quality of these direct-to-video DC animated movies, but this one was at least written by the acclaimed Dwayne McDuffie; and so there’s some really intriguing concepts and twists thrown in. And the best part of the movie, to me, was when Owlman suddenly becomes a nihilist.

You see, Owlman, as “evil Batman,” is supposed to be the criminal mastermind of the Crime Syndicate, spearheading a plan to finally take over the entire Earth. But the more he learns about infinite parallel Earths, the more he realizes: EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS.

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Owlman, evil Batman of an alternate Earth

And everything is meaningless because there are literally an infinite amount of Earths for every possible outcome or decision, no matter how trivial. Even if they take over their Earth, there are countless Earths in which they lose, or are (ugh) “good,” and etc.

And so Owlman, without consulting his fellow team members who are depending on him, secretly decides to destroy the “prime” Earth from which all other Earths diverge—thus destroying all of the other infinite Earths as well & ending this meaningless banal Existence once and for all. Regardless of what you think of Woods’ politics now, only he could read those bitter, nihilistic, calmly insane lines and really “sell” them:

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Superwoman: But you never make a move without a reason. Why would you want to destroy the world?

Owlman: Because it’s the only action one could take that would have any purpose.

Superwoman: You lost me there.

(Owlman activates a hologram that shows an image of Earth endlessly splitting into similar images)

Owlman: Every decision we make is meaningless. Because somewhere, on a parallel Earth, we have already made the opposite choice. We’re nothing. Less than nothing.

Superwoman: How can you say that? We’re rich! We’re conquerors!

Owlman: (pointing at alternate Earths) And here we’re poor. We’re slaves. And here, our parents never met, so we were never born. Here, the world ended in nuclear war. Here, no fish was brave enough to crawl upon land and humans never evolved. And so on, ad infinitum.

Superwoman: So even if you destroy the world, there are a billion others, right? What difference would it make?

Owlman: Somewhere in the multiverse, there is a world I call “Earth Prime”. Every Earth is a variation of this one, the original. And once I destroy it, all reality will follow.

(grabs the first Earth image in his hand, causing it to vanish; the other Earths gradually follow)

Of course, this idea of alternate parallel universes has seen a renaissance in the fringe idea of the “Mandela Effect.” Are we in the “original” universe or an off-shoot? Did we (or CERN) blink and suddenly end up on the Earth where the Monopoly Man had a monocle?

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But long before the Mandela Effect (or, “M.E.” as the cool kids like to refer to it) comic book writers and comic fandom (the fanboys of course eventually becoming the writers) were obsessed with this idea. It started out as a way to “rationally explain” continuity discrepancies such as “why was the 1940s Batman different than the 1970s one?” Answer: THEY WERE ON DIFFERENT PARALLEL EARTHS!!!! (Rather than: different artists, different editorial policies, marketing concerns, and all that boring soul-killing stuff.)

Like many elements of obsessed pop-culture fandom, there was a near-religious quality to all this analysis…the gold standard of the genre being the 1977 fanzine Omniverse.

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Omniverse, which was created by the late future Marvel Comics editor/writer Mark Gruenwald, only ran (I believe) for two issues (a 3rd, on the X-Men, was unpublished)—but was highly influential. And, like I’ve said before, it took a near-religious highly granular look at not only comic book continuity…but basically came very close to the idea that in some alternate Earth, these superheroes and their tales actually existed.

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Once more, for the kids in the back: this fanzine came EXTREMELY close to giving a philosophical argument that Batman and Doctor Doom and Goofy and all these peeps actually existed, somewhere. And so when you actually sit down and read Omniverse, it ends up being this massive mind-f**k.

And so perhaps…a review/examination of one or both issues of Omniverse is on the table for this site in the nearish future (at least…in this timeline!).