The CW’s recent “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event exposed more people than ever before to the concept of DC’s Multiverse—the expanse of differing “Earths," each with their own unique makeup of superheroes and villains. The idea of the DC Multiverse isn’t new, but at least until very recently, it also wasn’t well known outside of the comic book faithful. And while The CW miniseries filled in most of the broad strokes, we couldn’t blame anyone new to the idea for being a bit lost or at least having a few questions.
For example, how many Earths are in the Multiverse? Are they really infinite? Did the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic create the DC Multiverse? What’s the point of the Multiverse? And is the Multiverse we've seen on TV the same as the one in the comics?
The answers aren’t always so simple, but before we start getting into them, we should first explain what the Multiverse is for anyone out there who may be new to the concept.
The Multiverse is essentially a storytelling device that exists within DC that ties a lot of the comics we’ve published over the past 80+ years together. It’s changed a bit since it was introduced, 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.
However, that’s not everything. Along with the 52 Earths, there exist several other realms where DC’s menagerie of gods and other supreme, immortal beings exist—think Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Wonder Woman’s Greek-inspired patrons, Lucifer Morningstar and his legions of Hell and Neil Gaiman’s Dream of the Endless. There’s also the Monitor Sphere, where the Monitors reside and conduct their oversight (and yes, there are more than one of them), the Source Wall, which contains everything in the Multiverse, and much more. The DC Multiverse, as currently mapped, is a complicated place.
And yes, you read that right. There is a map of the Multiverse! In fact, if you’d like to dive right in and explore the current Multiverse, you can do that by using our interactive version of the map or checking out the static version below.
Connecting the Comics
Okay, but what does this complex, rather strange thing have to do with our comics? Which Earth do Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman live on? That would be Earth-0, or “Prime Earth.” If you pick up a copy of any current, ongoing DC comic that’s set within DC’s shared universe—for example, Batman, Superman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, etc.—it’s most likely set on Earth-0.
On the other hand, if you’ve read any classic DC comic book released prior to late 2011, chances are it’s set on a different Earth (potentially one that no longer exists—we’ll get to that in a moment). We’re talking about books like our classic Golden Age comics, “Elseworlds” tales like Gotham by Gaslight, Kingdom Come and Superman: Red Son or any of our popular “Earth One” graphic novels.
Of course, we’re hedging our statement a little 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.
The Flash Gets There First…Naturally
So where did the DC 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 superheroes in Garrick’s world were the heroes found in the comics published in Allen’s world.
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. Care to guess what that is?
That’s right, “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.
Yet, 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 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 concept 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, Grant 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 current 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 seeing how it was written entirely by Grant Morrison, it’s hands down the most…well, let’s say “out there.” It includes a fateful bullet shot backwards through time, reveals that the Monitors are actually cosmic vampires, features a surreal race between two Flashes and the Black Racer and shockingly kills off Batman. (It also ends with Superman defeating Darkseid with a song—like we said, it’s pretty crazy.)
Final Crisis left us with 52 Earths, and 2011’s Flashpoint, the world-changing Flash event that reset the DC Universe, altered them further. It was shortly after Flashpoint that our previously mentioned map of the Multiverse came into being, created under the guidance of Morrison as a part of The Multiversity, which was an imaginative, ambitious eight-comic event that helped to clarify and solidify the DC Multiverse of today.
In writing The Multiversity, Morrison looked to DC’s past in defining exactly what Earths existed within in the Multiverse. Along with the Golden Age heroes of Earth-2 and the villainous Justice League doppelgangers of Earth-3, we now had the pulp-influenced crimefighters of Earth-20, the tabloid-baiting next-gen heroes of Earth-16 and the very Watchmen-like heroes of Earth-4. The Multiversity also gave us one of the best guides to the Multiverse ever created with The Multiversity Guidebook, which breaks the entire thing down Earth-by-Earth. If you really want to level up your Multiverse cred, the Guidebook is the comic for you.
And yet, as brilliant as his words are, Morrison hasn’t had the last on the subject. The Multiverse has continued to change, grow and evolve. Dark Nights: Metal introduced the idea of the Dark Multiverse, an entire Multiverse of frightening, unstable infinite Earths that were never meant to exist and that are completely incompatible with ours. (The Dark Multiverse birthed the Batman Who Laughs, one of the most terrifying and destructive DC super-villains in some time.) Most recently, the Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock ended with Doctor Manhattan seemingly altering the DC Multiverse further still, but to what extent is still unknown.
A Legacy of Worlds
Which brings us to The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Inspired heavily by the 1985 comic miniseries, the CW event greatly expanded DC’s live action Multiverse to an extent we’ve never seen before. Along with finally adding Black Lightning to the Arrowverse, it also suggested that other past and current DC movies and TV shows like Titans, Lucifer, Smallville, Superman Returns and even Tim Burton’s Batman exist within the same shared space. This isn’t the Multiverse of the comics, but its own unique take on the idea with its own near-limitless creative potential.
So, now that we’ve broken down what the Multiverse is and discussed its storied comic book history, you’ll be going in prepared when you dive into Crisis on Infinite Earths or any of the comics that helped define it. Beyond these basics, 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…