Myth. It's what superhero comics are made of. How to build on that Modern Myth can be the key to a successful comics franchise. After all, not every character is an island. Not every hero is what the Absorbascon calls a Dynastic Centerpiece. Building a dynastic model around a character is one way to solidy his or her myth, sure, and usually the way to go about it. Characters like Superman and Batman have had decades to build a supporting cast, a rogues' gallery and a contextualizing city (again, an Absorbascon term), and these all become part of the myth. Even the man on street knows the words "Lois Lane", "Lex Luthor" and "Metropolis".
But while the dynastic model and the exploration of a contextualizing city are fine "myth-building" methods, there is another I'd like to consider today, and that's building the world around the character. Green Lantern has recently done this with the addition of 6 new Corps, each based on a color of the rainbow (plus a 7th, the ominous Black Lantern Corps).The idea takes the dynastic model one step further, from an immediate cast of characters (which even the Corps can be considered a part of) to an entire world centered on the character. If the Sinestro Corps War proved anything, it's that Green Lantern and cast could exist in their own universe, apart from other DC heroes, and still develop a rich and epic universe. They exist in their own "Bubble World". With the recent addition of other Corps - and the promise of universe-shaking events in the coming years - the Green Lantern Mythos has become independent of the rest of the DC Universe. Think about it. Instead of having crossover events thrust into its continuity, it turned the tables this year and forced ITS event on the rest of the DCU.
But you might say the GLC already has a leg up, already operating on a cosmic scale. In many ways, the Corps is already Green Lantern's Bubble World (except it hasn't always been used that way). So can this technique be used for a so-called "street hero"?
Well, one great example is The Immortal Iron Fist. On the one hand, it's built an Iron Fist Bubble World with the creation of other cities like K'un-Lun who all have their own champion, and all vie for domination in the Heavenly Convergence Tournament. Suddenly, Iron Fist doesn't really need the Marvel Universe, he has a complete world with its own rules to play in.
But his Bubble World isn't just spatially bigger, it's also temporally longer. Brubaker and Fraction have made Iron Fist a legacy hero, i.e. only one in a long line of people who have been blessed with the power of the Iron Fist. Suddenly, Danny Rand doesn't even need to appear in his own comic. We're just as interested in the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, or in Orson Randall's World War II adventures.
The Bubble World method not only means that your book can survive outside its core universe, but also that it can do so without its core CHARACTER. A powerful idea. (Though of course a strong supporting cast, or dynastic model, can achieve the same, as evidenced by Brubaker's Captain America.) It also provides a great deal of fuel for storylines.
The recent use of "Bubble Worlds" may or may not be attributable to the success of rich independent worlds in other publication lines, Vertigo chief among them (Y the Last Man, Transmetropolitan, Fables, even Sandman despite its roots in the DCU), or of so-called indie writers hired to work on the Big 2's shared universes and used to building their own worlds. Whether this is the case or not, these books have shown that you don't need a shared universe to thrive and succeed.
Soon: Bubble Worlds through the ages.