Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tirade: Guardians of the Universe

Of the universe? No, I don't think so.

There are upwards of 125 billion galaxies in our universe; let's assume the same is true of the DCU. If the Guardians have decided their universe into 3600 sectors, and since galaxies are, on the whole, rather evenly spread out, that means the average Green Lantern sector would contain...

34.7 million galaxies.

That's ... a lot of galaxies. Our galaxy, which is a fairly typical one, has about 100 billion stars. That would make the number of stars in a Green Lantern sector about...


That's ... a lot of stars. But if they don't have planets with life on them, they don't really need policing, of course. How many life-bearing planets would there be to protect? Well, let's continue to assume our galaxy is typical.* Let's also assume there's (currently) no other life in our galaxy (which is conservative an estimate as you can get). Still, that would mean an average galaxy has one planet on it that's currently rocking with life. One life-bearing, protection-worthy planet per galaxies would mean at least...

34.7 million relevant planets in each Green Lantern sector.

That's ... a lot of planets. And it seems fair to say that the DCU is little more teeming with alien life than ours seems to be. So 34.7 million is a serious lowball estimate. Do you think DC wants us to imagine Green Lanterns as policing 34.7 million planets each? I don't think so.

DC; please don't call the Guardians the "Guardians of the Universe" any more. It's just stupid, and not in the same way that power rings and kryptonite meteors are. It's not "suspension of disbelief" stupid, it's "insulting the readers' intelligence" kind of stupid. Ignoring science is one thing; you need me to accept a Rainbow Brite "emotional power spectrum", sure, fine, no problem, sounds fun, and now I can have a powerful ring to color coordinate with any outfit. But ignoring math is something entirely different. I can swallow an internal logic for the DCU that is different from that of the real universe, but not one that's not really consistent with itself.

But please concede what it seems pretty clear you really mean: they are the Guardians of the Galaxy. They live at the center of the galaxy. Not the universe. The universe has no center (or, if you look at it another way, every point in the universe can be treated as its center, meaning that if you think you're the center of the universe, you're correct).

If the GLCorps protects the galaxy that means each sector has about 27 million stars in it and if, say, one in a million has life on it, that gives them each 27 life-bearing planets to take care of. That seems a little more in keeping with the GL stories I've read. And even that small number still would mean there's about 97,200 planets in New Earth's galaxy that support life!

*Yes, I know that not really true because of the large number of dwarf galaxies, but that only changes things by about 2 orders of magnitude. The point remains valid, even if you divide all the numbers used by 100.


Anonymous said...

I hear ya, but there's a conceptual hole that needs to be accounted for: a big part of the Guardians' story is preserving the universe as a whole (and being indirectly responsible for damage to the universe as a whole).

One possible fix: there are 3600 sectors in the galaxy, where Green Lanterns are on patrol. The Guardians' "police" influence doesn't extend beyond the galaxy, but the Guardians are still doing what they can to manage universal energies to the best of their ability. (One Post-Crisis insertion is that the Guardians are trying to create structures of order and keep entropy to a minimum, so that, when the universe eventually collapses in on itself, there will be enough "oomph" for a new Big Bang to follow. I've always liked that explanation.)

Oh, and they are at the center of the universe; I don't think there's any shaking that. Perhaps the center of the universe is defined as the focal point of universal energies, which would explain a lot about the Guardians.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Maybe only our galaxy supports life. Is that any more arbitrary than thinking that only our planet in this galaxy supports life? (Well, it's a little more arbitrary.)

"Universe" rather than "galaxy" has always offended me because of travel speeds. I mean, to be summoned to center of your galaxy from your home sector requires impossibly faster-than-light travel, if you're going to get there in the time GLs are shown to arrive on Oa. But it's within normal SF conventions of speed. The thought that some Lanterns are routinely traveling from the edge of the universe to its center and back again in a day is *not* within normal SF conventions.

The scenes of the Rainbow Brite Corps developing sure seem to suggest that the GLs don't do a very thorough job of policing the whole universe. There seem to be some pretty vast areas where Red Lanterns and such like can operate in the sure knowledge that they're not going to get found out by the GLs.

Scipio said...

"The thought that some Lanterns are routinely traveling from the edge of the universe to its center and back again in a day is *not* within normal SF conventions"

Quite so.

"The Guardians' "police" influence doesn't extend beyond the galaxy, but the Guardians are still doing what they can to manage universal energies to the best of their ability."

I'd swallow that.

plok said...

Thank you for talking about the centre-less universe, would you mind going back in time and telling Geoff Johns about it, before he starts writing Infinite Crisis? Of course to believe in 2008 that the universe has a centre is like believing that Heaven is physically and literally located "in the sky" -- but well, we've been there, and we know it isn't. However, I think I can live with the mistake, so long as no one wants me to say it isn't a mistake.

As to focus-points of universal energies...the only rationale for this I can think of off the top of my head is that Krona was on Oa when he went into his peeping-tom act. If the DC universe were to be thought of as expanding like the skin of a balloon does when the balloon's blown up (a common way of imagining a centre-less universe), then maybe what Krona saw was the real "centre" -- i.e., whatever may exist in the empty space in the centre of the balloon's volume. Now that might connect Oa to the universe somehow, and explain the Guardians' vanity.

Of course, none of that will fly in the DCU as it is, either.

Paul McCall said...

Perhaps the misnomer results from the same theory that calls the U.S.A. baseball championships the "World Series." The Guardians were created under the auspices of Julie Schwartz, who was a big baseball fan,which is why there's a Justice League.

Scipio said...

"maybe what Krona saw was the real "centre" -- i.e., whatever may exist in the empty space in the centre of the balloon's volume."

Interesting theory. Since the center of the balloon's volume lies outside the four-dimensional universe, that would make that a point in the Fifth Dimension.

Which leads to the theory that the DCU was created by an Imp. Which would explain a great deal.

SallyP said...

You're right of course. I try not to think about things like this, because it gives me a headache.

Naturally they are Guardians of the Milky Way Galaxy, but considering how swelled their little heads are lately, I can understand the job inflation.

brisey said...

well the centre of the universe would be where the Big Bang happened and all matter travels outward from that.

Just cause the Lanterns cannot cover the whole Universe doesn't mean the Guardians don't care:)

G. Bob said...

The solution, I think, is that the 3600 sectors are not fixed geographical positions. Instead, they're areas on a tipping point of danger where their actions can endanger the life of the universe.

Your average world in the Universe isn't a problem for the Guardians. If the ant people of Sirius IV are wiped out by "Mr. Magnifying Glass" it's not a problem. Other worlds are mature enough that they can handle the power that technology can provide. Those are worlds that have found a way to not blow each other up despite having the technology to do so.

And then there's a planet like earth. It's a planet where homicidal clowns can get their hands on the philosophers stone. It's a world that can't get along for ten years without being the center of a life destroying crisis. those are the planets that you give a sector number to and give some dull witted thrill junkie a power ring. In a really bad case you give them three or four.

The Guardians know that a problem like Earth is temporary. It'll either destroy itself or evolve into something greater. In the mean time it's a sector to patrol. Pretty much every Green Lantern you see comes from the same kind of messed up world, with the same kind of messed up problems. In the grand scheme of things, it's a blip on the radar. Mankind has survived for 40,000 years and only 100 of those have been a problem.

3600 seems like a small number, but on any given century that's the number that have been Universe threatening. It also means that C'Hps world is capable of blowing up the Universe just as well as our own.

Scipio said...

"well the centre of the universe would be where the Big Bang happened and all matter travels outward from that."

It doesn't work that way. All parts of the universe expand away from all other parts at the same rate. The usual analogy is the surface of a perfectly round balloon. The surface (that is, the universe) has no center, any more than the surface of a balloon does.

The surface of the balloon expands through the fourth dimension (time). The three dimensional space of the surface of the balloon has no center; only the fourth dimensional space that includes the volume of the balloon has a center and that center is a point in space-time (the Big Bang itself). But that's not a point in current space.

There is no spacial center of the universe.

Jack said...

Given how "crucial" New Earth/Earth-1 is to the multiverse, it seems as legitimate the the Milky Way Galaxy is "crucial" in the DCU. So if you're guardians of our galaxy by policing it, your're therefore also Guardians of the Universe by taking care of the linchpin galaxy.

How about that stretch of logic?

GL2814E said...

I think Hal said he had 134 planets in his sector at the start of the Sinestro Corp War.

Maybe most of the universe is just horribly empty Scip? I mean, what if Hal's sector is represenative, than maybe there is only a need for two Lanterns a sector.

(Hal says most of them take care of themselves so...)

In as far as the travel thing, remember, Green Lanterns can do anything if they want to badly enough. (Which makes them vastly faster than the Flash...)

And maybe the Guardians only care about a very small area of the universe. The rest of those unlucky aliens all get to burn in Space hell...

Jacob T. Levy said...

If travel could be solved by the sheer "magic wishing ring" phenomenon, then the GLs should *teleport* to Oa. Instead, we always see them flying through space under their own power.

And if they can get to not just superluminal but many, many orders of magnitude superluminal speeds by willpower-- well, given that a GL has mass, the ability to generate enough force to move a humanoid body that fast should mean that they could move, say planetary masses at reasonable speeds. But we never see a GL grabbing two planets and squashing an enemy between them; we see them strain to do considerably less than that.

Counter-evidence for all our speculations: the pre-Crisis United Planets spanned a huge chunk of the inhabited worlds of the Milky Way, and when they told the Guardians to get stuffed and keep out of UP space, the Guardians' basic response was, "that's fine, you can take care of yourselves and we've still got thousands of sectors that need watching over."

Do we ever see characters acknowledge that they're traveling intergalactic rather than interstellar distances? In other SF universes from Asimov to Dune to Star Trek, leaving the galaxy is a *very* big deal; I don't remember that distinction ever even coming up in GL.

Anonymous said...

"Green Lanterns can do anything if they want to badly enough."

That cannot possibly be intended as a literal sentiment by DC. Power rings can do a lot of incredible things, and the various constructs they can create are nearly without number, but I can think of all sorts of situations where a GL was unable to accomplish this or that task, and "wanting it bad enough" was apparently not the issue.

MastaP said...

But there already are Guardiens of the Galaxy!

Scipio said...

"Do we ever see characters acknowledge that they're traveling intergalactic rather than interstellar distances?"

I don't think so.

LOTR_Dan said...

Ok, so completely different note, but have you heard about the new Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe video game in the works. I kinda get the impression you don't play much in the way of video games, but, well, it's an interesting idea.

Anonymous said...

The initial astronomical assumptions, that the DCU contains as many galaxies as the real universe and that a DCU galaxy has as many stars in it as a real one, may be the problem here.
I'm not aware of any in-text evidence against cutting down those numbers, perhaps to a universe with only a hundred or so galaxies per sector and galaxies with only a couple billion stars each. That's still enough for plenty of cosmic grandeur.

Gustavo said...

The Legion argument is one of the most solid ones I've heard in this debate, although I'm pretty much with Sally in this. As long as you have to maintain every day time traveling ( backwards and forward! )as possible, one huge chunk of suspension of disbelief is needed.

But then, I just read comic books for the characters, not the actual adventure or pseudo-sci-fi, so what do I know ?

webrunner said...

There's a black hole in the center of the galaxy. Not a bunch of blue dudes.

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I think that once we start dealing with "cosmic" things a lot of the mass media sci-fi falls apart. Look at Star Trek and how often the universe would have been destroyed or fundamentally altered if it hadn't been for the Enterprise. With all the galaxies and all the stars within the galaxies it is far beyond the realm of likelihood that these things only happen when the Enterprise is around.

DC is especially bad with this since Earth is the center of everything apparently. Assuming there is life in other galaxies it is just crazy to think that they are all out there depending on Earth to save them.

And there is the face that the powers that be at DC seemingly have no idea about the actual meanings of these terms and just how large space really is. After all, in Infinite Crisis they said that Rann was its own galaxy.

Your Obedient Serpent said...

Back in the Bronze Age, it was explicitly stated that the Guardians had jurisdiction over the Milky Way, Period.

This was so solidly canon in the '70s that it was actually the key to the plot of Eliot S! Maggin's novel, Superman: Last Son Of Krypton. The Big Bad's Evil Scheme was to disrupt a series of black holes along the Orion Arm of the galaxy, thus severing it from the gravitational influence of the Milky Way and technically removing it from Oan jurisdiction. With those pesky ringsliners suddenly bereft of their legal authority, he could therefore establish any kind of tyranny he wanted, muah hah HAAAH.

Sure, that sounds far-fetched, but at least Maggin and company knew the diference between "Galaxy" and "Universe". Nowadays, DC hires writers who don't even know that there's a difference between a CELL nucleus and an ATOMIC nucleus.

chris said...

This is all fascinating, but I think the conversation has gotten away from the hotness of Donna Troy.

Anonymous said...

I like this kind of conversation. Hard science butting heads with comic book canon. Maybe we can reconcile this problem. Keeping Scipio's fourth dimensional expansion in mind, there are still young, medium and old galaxies. These galaxies rise, coalesce and eventually cool. (Alan Moore did a fascinating Wildstorm story about a cooling galaxy... but I digress.) The young galaxies haven't settled down enough to support a GL. The Old Galaxies haven't enough "juice" left to support a GL. The medium galaxies are juuuuusssst right. Perhaps we could assume that the GLs focus on the juuuussst right galaxies.

Now, I realize that this does not solve our problem, which poses "order of magnitude" difficulties. However, as aluded to by other posters, the DCU is different. How is it different? Well, I would say that is significantly smaller, denser and more "interesting."

By "smaller" I mean just that. The DCU is much smaller that the actual universe. The actual universe, to paraphrase a longer and very funny Dickensian rant by Douglas Adams, is mind-bogglingly big. In other words, it is really much bigger than the human imagination. The DCU is still very big. However, the DCU is bound by the limits of the human imagination. So, how big is the DCU, as big as it needs to be but never as big as the real thing. That would cause major fanboy headaches...

By "denser," I mean that everything is much, much, much, much X 10^61 closer together. That could explain, in part, why so much happens in the DCU. After all, a closely-held massive system has a smaller margin of error. The denser universe also makes it easier for its disparate parts to interact by media other than gravity.

The term "interesting" is meant as the most abstract concept. Basically, more stuff happens there. And the stuff that happens is bigger. In the actual universe, the biggest thing that ever happened, the Big Bang, occurred primarily at a Planck length scale. (This is the inverse of Adams' dictum about space. 1.6 X 10^-35 Meters . . . Really small). In the DCU, big processes are wound up all of the time and stopped on a dime. In addition, probability is warped. The unlikely is almost guaranteed to happen.

With all of that in mind, I would suggest that under the principles of the DCU, there are "hot spots" in which the interesting events are centered. Since interesting events occur over and over again in the same places (Earth, Rann, etc....), maybe it is actually very easy to focus your patrolling energies.

This is not to suggest that the Guardians are particularly smart about their deployments. Frankly, they should have a few hundred GLs based on Earth. Ah well, I guess I should take this up with my Universal Senator...

Citizen Scribbler said...

We must also remember that the Guardians are willing to assign a Green Lantern to a sector entirely devoid of life, as in the case of G'nort.

But that may just have been for his particular "benefit"...

-Citizen Scribbler

Jon H said...

Maybe they're the Guardians of the Local Group, covering the Milky Way, Andromeda, and a bunch of other nearby galaxies.

That'd be about 10 million light years in diameter.

As a bonus, there'd be a gravitational center between Andromeda and the Milky Way, where Oa could be plopped.

plok said...

Actually, I find Anonymous' reasoning somewhat compelling...

This word verification was vey hard to type in: "tvspa". I kept dropping in a space: "tv spa". Took me three times.

Just thought the whole world would be dying to know that, sorry.

Dan said...

(sorry for late comment, catching up)

I once argued on a DC email list for far too long on the whole universe/galaxy issue (taking your position). I finally just walked away from it, my position was in the minority and it seemed the 'universe' guys had a strong emotional involvement with the being the Guardians of the whole dang Universe, don't know why.

But, can you answer this? Why is it, from first few issues of JLA even up to at least the late 80s, the DC house style-guide seemed to dictate the term, "Star-Sun" instead of just plain, 'star'? That's always bugged me.

Scipio said...

"Keeping Scipio's fourth dimensional expansion in mind"

Hey, give me a break. Lots of guys my age suffer from a little fourth dimensional expansion.

Anonymous said...

Scipio looks rather slim and foxy to me. Perhaps his expansion has all occurred in the kinds of curled-up spatial dimensions described in Lisa Randall's "Strange Passages." Also, it looks like galaxy shattering crises may happen more often than we though:

Cool, huh?