Indexing Variant Characters

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The following are the summary notes from a recent discussion on the editors' list about how to index variants on the same character, in particular variants that can meet each other. The prime source of examples was the DC multi-verse, and to be a full specification this needs to be expanded to cover similar situations that arise with other genres and publishers. However, this summary was stated at the end with caveats but no significant objections, so probably counts as the closest thing to an official recommendation at this point.

The one line summary of the rules is:

Index characters as they are described in the comic at the time it was published.

For the sort of multi-universe superhero variants that were the focus of the discussion, this produces the following rules for when to consider a character distinct from the "regular" version:

  1. The story directly states it. Ways this might happen include:
    • Two variants meet each other.
    • A variant meets another "regular" character and it's obvious (i.e., Superman-2 meets Wonder Woman-1, who says "you're not my Superman, you must be from Earth-2!")
    • A prelude page identifies the setting as an alternate Earth specifically in contrast with the "regular" earth (70's issues of All-Star Comics did this, even when no Earth-1 characters appeared).
    • A character description box identifies the character as a variant (i.e. the recent Justice Society #12 and Superman-22).
  2. The issue is part of a publishing line that is clearly branded as a deliberately alternate set of characters (i.e. Marvel's Ultimate universe, but not DC animated tie-ins, which are left vague).
  3. A reasonable reader would be able to tell the difference based on the story.
    • Some issues of Justice Society may not have the ID box for Superman-22, and they would also not have an appearance from "regular" Superman,
    • However, there's an extended storyline about the JSA's current Superman being from Earth-22. So he's still Superman (Earth-22) even if he just has a cameo and isn't talked about much in one particular issue.
    • Most of the time this actually falls under #1 bullet #2.

The key implication here is that for characters who were published continuously with no clear switch point between one version and the next, the indexer should not try to impose such a switch point. This and other possible difficulties can be illustrated by further examples:

So, let's take the example of Hawkman in the 60's Justice League. If you read one of those stories, it's clear he's a Thanagarian named Katar Hol. Somewhere along the line, DC decided that the Hawkman who'd been around in any story before about 1989 was Earthman Carter Hall, who had been in the Justice Society. For all we know, post-Final Crisis, the early history of Katar Hol may be restored.

None of that matters- the index says Hawkman [Katar Hol] and always will. It also doesn't try to distinguish between the Katar Hol who debuted in the 60's and the revised Katar Hol who debuted in the late 80's. They're both clearly the same character, with one directly supplanting the other.

Now let's consider the multiverse. Let's take a random issue of Action Comics from the late 50's, which could be either Earth-1 or Earth-2. All the comic says is that this is "Superman". Which Superman? *The* Superman. There wasn't any other around, nor had Earth Two been dreamed up yet. Easy answer- index as Superman [Clark Kent] (We'll ignore the whole Kal-L/Kal-El thing for now- you should probably only include it if it shows up in the story, in which case use the spelling that appears in the story).

Now let's consider a mid-70's issue of All-Star Comics (with hyphen :-) that shows a middle-aged Kal-L. You open up the book, and it starts with an explanation that it takes place on Earth Two. Even though no other Superman appears, that's clearly indexed as Superman [Clark Kent] (Earth Two).

Finally, let's consider a late-40's issue of All Star Comics (no hyphen :-). Wonder Woman regularly appeared with the Justice Society at the time. There's no indication of *which* Wonder Woman, because she was just Wonder Woman. There were no others. Since then, that Wonder Woman was designated the Wonder Woman of Earth Two during the pre-Crisis multiverse days (as the whole JSA was shunted over there). Immediately post-Crisis, she wouldn't have been there at all, and perhaps was replaced by Fury I or Miss America. Later on, she was retconned to be Queen Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman role, time-travelling from the present.

None of this matters. She is indexed as just Wonder Woman, or possibly Wonder Woman [Diana Prince], as none of this multiverse stuff applied when the issue was published.

However, for the modern issues where Queen Hippolyta actually travels back in time, she's indexed as Wonder Woman [Queen Hippolyta]. Because that's who she was when that issue was published, as is very clear from the text.

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