All week long we’ve been celebrating The Multiversity, Grant Morrison’s new series set within the DC Multiverse. While it’s possible to enjoy the comic without being familiar with the Multiverse, it can’t hurt to at least know where the idea comes from, and some of the pre-existing comics that have close ties to The Multiversity.
However, before we even get into where the Multiverse comes from, we suppose we should first explain what it is for anyone out there who may be new to the concept.
Okay, What the Heck is the Multiverse?
The Multiverse is essentially a storytelling device that exists within DC Comics that ties our many years of comic book continuity together. It’s changed a bit throughout the years, but the current DC Multiverse states that there are 52 different Earths in existence all occupying the same space, but vibrating at different frequencies. Each Earth shares a few similarities—for example, they all contain sentient, intelligent life, most often human—but other than that, they can be very different from each other.
You can learn about some of the Earths by exploring our interactive Map of the Multiverse and discover some of the other elements that exist within the Multiverse by watching the below DC All Access clip. (We suggest doing it before reading any further.)
So where do our monthly comics fit into all of this? Well, as you probably know, our in-continuity comics are referred to collectively as The New 52. Almost all of these stories are set on Earth-0 in the Multiverse, which means if you’ve only been reading The New 52, you’ve only been reading comics set on one of the 52 Earths (well, mostly—Earth 2 is a big exception, and there have been other comics that have left our Earth for an issue or storyline, but they’ve been fairly rare).
However, if you’ve read any DC comic books that aren’t a part of The New 52, whether they’re from prior to The New 52’s launch, or from our line of Earth One graphic novels, or Elseworlds tales like “Superman: Red Son” or “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” those were likely set on other Earths within the Multiverse.
We say likely because there are DC comics that are truly out of continuity and aren’t set within the Multiverse, so don’t expect every single DC comic book to tie in. But many, many do, which you’ll discover as The Multiversity goes on.
The Flash Gets There First…Naturally
So where did the Multiverse come from? Well, it’s generally accepted that the idea of the Multiverse first took root in 1961’s THE FLASH #123, in a story called “The Flash of Two Worlds.” In this Silver Age classic written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Carmine Infantino, Barry Allen was teleported to Keystone City and met the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.
True, the Flash didn’t then go on to discover a bunch of different worlds with a bunch of different super heroes, but this issue did establish a few key components to the Multiverse. Jay Garrick’s Golden Age Earth occupies the same space as ours, but vibrates at a different frequency, and the super heroes in Garrick’s world were the heroes found in the comics published in Allen’s world—a concept that Morrison really has some fun with in The Multiversity.
A Collection of Crises
Where the Multiverse really comes in to play, however, is in a series of event comics that all share a very key word in their titles: Crisis.
In 1963, Gardner Fox took his idea of alternate Earths one step further in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21 in a storyline called “Crisis on Earth-One,” which concluded in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #22’s “Crisis on Earth-Two.” Essentially a crossover comic that teamed up the Silver Age Justice League of America with the Golden Age Justice Society of America, this storyline firmly established that the Golden Age versions of DC characters still existed, just on a different Earth.
Only, cool as this concept was, as more and more comics were published, even two Earths couldn’t account for all of the different takes on characters and storylines. Continuity became unwieldy and for many readers, it became hard to determine which storylines were considered canon and which were now irrelevant. Decisions were made to simplify it all into one straightforward, connected universe, and “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was born!
Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez in 1985, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is one of the most famous books in DC Comics history and is usually what fans are talking about when you hear them refer to a series simply as “Crisis.” “Crisis on Infinite Earths” acknowledged a Multiverse of…well, infinite Earths. It acknowledged it, and then it largely destroyed it, eliminating all of the Earths except for one.
Of course, as people are fond of saying, nothing is forever in comic books, and in 2005, Geoff Johns with the help of artists including Phil Jimenez and George Perez brought a version of the Multiverse briefly back with the seven-issue event, “Infinite Crisis,” before taking it away again, leaving us once again with one single, lonely little Earth. But change was in the wind…
Fifty-Two Worlds Strong
So when did the Multiverse return, and where did the idea of 52 Earths come from? Well, we can say it was an idea a year in the making.
Not long after the conclusion of “Infinite Crisis,” a writing team made up of Johns, Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid reestablished the DC Multiverse with a weekly comic called 52. Told somewhat in real time, each issue in 52 covered one week of the year following “Infinite Crisis,” and by the end it introduced us to a new Multiverse made up of 52 different Earths. However, it’s worth noting that this was NOT the currently 52-Earth Multiverse.
For that, we have to jump ahead a bit, and touch on a few more key comics.
In 2008, the first issue of “Final Crisis” hit the stands. A spiritual companion to “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Infinite Crisis,” “Final Crisis” is recognized by fans as the third in a trilogy of Crisis tales and is noteworthy to readers interested in The Multiversity in that it was also written by Morrison. It also contains a number of connections to The Multiversity, notably the character of Nix Uotan, the Last of the Monitors, a race of godlike beings with the ability to travel between the worlds of the Multiverse. (If you want to know how Nix became the last Monitor, you’ll have to read “Final Crisis.”)
Again, “Final Crisis” left us with 52 Earths, but they didn’t truly become the 52 Earths in The Multiversity (and reflected on the Map of the Multiverse) until “Flashpoint,” the world-changing event that reset the DC Universe and established The New 52. While not a complete rewrite, The New 52 did change aspects of the Multiverse that existed prior to “Flashpoint,” notably with Earth-2.
A Legacy of Worlds
So, should you read all of these comics before you really get into The Multiversity? Well, probably not all of them, particularly if you’re new to all of this. However, if you’d like to sample a few and you’re okay with reading your comics digitally, there’s never been a better time. With the exception of “Flashpoint,” all of the comics and storylines that were mentioned in this article are included in The Multiversity Digital Comics Sale, meaning you could get them for much cheaper than you usually would.
However, as we said before, you don’t need to be an expert in the Multiverse to enjoy The Multiversity. You really just need an imagination and a willingness to give some thought to what you’re reading.
Though if you happen to be a Monitor, you may want to tread carefully…
THE MULTIVERSITY #1 is now available in print or digital.