This week on the Road to DC FanDome, we’re exploring the concept of the multiverse, an infinite collection of worlds where everything is possible. But where did this uniquely imaginative concept begin? When did DC’s creative talent first start taking advantage of the idea of alternate Earths, with characters crossing paths with very different versions of themselves? If you’re thinking about 1961’s The Flash #123, “Flash of Two Worlds,” where the Silver Age Barry Allen first meets the Golden Age Jay Garrick...you need to think even further back. Because contrary to what you may have heard, the first steps towards DC’s multiverse weren’t taken by the Flash—they were taken by Wonder Woman.
The Challenge of Dimension X
By all significant metrics, Robert Kanigher remains the most prolific writer in the history of DC—and it’s not even close. He’s credited as a writer on well over 1,800 DC titles alone. Kanigher was a writer of extreme versatility, managing the entire spectrum of genre from DC’s prodigious war comics line to the invention of Barry Allen. But his most notable achievement may be his unassailable tenure as the writer of Wonder Woman for 22 years.
In Wonder Woman, Kanigher did his part to live up to the boundless imagination of his predecessor, Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, who established early on that anything and everything, from super science to world folklore, should be left on the table for a Wonder Woman story. Wonder Woman’s early adventures took her to distant planets and the realms of gods. So as the writer for Wonder Woman’s landmark 100th issue, Kanigher had to cook up something special—a brand new frontier for Wonder Woman to explore. After all, whether they’re paradigms of gender or genre, Wonder Woman has always been about pushing boundaries. By this time, Kanigher posed, Wonder Woman had become such a force of power, wisdom and grace that no one else could possibly compete against her. So what if her newest and most challenging opponent yet was Wonder Woman herself?
In 1958’s Wonder Woman #100, it’s Steve Trevor who first poses this question for us. As he and Wonder Woman watch an athletic competition together, Steve muses that if she were to compete, the only sporting match for her would be a copy of herself. It’s an idea Diana dismisses, until she’s called back to Paradise Island for an annual competition to defend her own title as Wonder Woman, which she wins handily. But the Princess’s greatest challenge arrives when one of the Amazons’ premiere scientists, Professor Alpha, asks Wonder Woman to help her test an interdimensional transporter—one which would take her to an alternate world from their own, which Alpha had named “Dimension X”.
Like gazing into a mirror, the first person Wonder Woman meets in Dimension X is her very own counterpart. One who, unlike the Diana we know, is far more eager for confrontation and a chance to prove her power. The Wonder Woman of Dimension X challenges our own Diana to a series of competitions to prove which world’s Wonder Woman is the better. As our Diana discovers, Dimension X is perhaps an even more fantastic realm than the one she knows, where fairytale creatures are real and present in everyday life. And while their competition is fierce, our Diana ultimately proves to be the more ingenuous Wonder Woman. Their final challenge is subverted by a group of giants, defeated by our Wonder Woman when she uproots a giant tree and bends it into a boomerang to take them all down at once. Diana is crowned the Wonder Woman of Two Worlds, and if all that sounds strange to you then, buddy, you haven’t read a Bob Kanigher comic.
Return to Dimension Chi
For 61 years, Dimension X would never be referred to again. Such was often the case with Robert Kanigher stories. Wildly imaginative concepts were discarded as suddenly as they were summoned, when the next big idea took hold. The more memorable “Flash of Two Worlds” soon replaced it in public memory as DC’s first multiverse tale. But proving that the truly original stories never stay buried forever, that changed in 2019. When Steve Orlando began writing Wonder Woman in the “Rebirth” era, he undertook the task with the same principle that Grant Morrison had brought to Batman over a decade earlier—that every Wonder Woman story ever told, no matter how implausible, was all part of a much greater legend, and that all of it was true.
G. Willow Wilson begins her run on the Wonder Woman series by imploding Paradise Island in a world-changing paradox. With the help of Darkseid’s daughter Grail, the war god Ares manages to escape his imprisonment beneath Themyscira. As previous runs had established, Themyscira itself existed for the purpose of imprisoning Ares, to the point that if he was not there, then the island itself could not exist. But did the people of Paradise disappear along with it? And if not, then where were they?
This is what Diana spent the first half of Wilson’s series trying to find out, until she and Orlando revealed the secret of their survival. The Amazons had fled between worlds, to the long-forgotten Dimension X. (Though now it was called “Dimension Chi,” because “chi” is more or less the Greek alphabet’s “X” equivalent.) In 2019’s Wonder Woman #73, a retelling of the original “Wonder Woman of Dimension X” story, Orlando stepped into Wilson’s run to tell an updated version of the story’s events, where it was Hippolyta who was challenged by her Dimension Chi counterpart in a series of contests—and who made peace with her more proactive self when they banded together against another of Wonder Woman’s Golden Age enemies, Queen Atomia. This alliance culminates with these Amazon tribes from two worlds joining forces once more to defeat Grail and restore Themyscira on their own world.
You see, in the tragedy of Themyscira’s destruction, Diana thought she might never see her sisters or her mother again. But a long-delayed return to the very first alternate Earth taught Wonder Woman the lesson that the multiverse has always taught us: with infinite worlds, comes infinite possibility.
DC FanDome returns on October 16, 2021! For more articles like this one, and to stay up to date on all the latest news, visit dcfandome.com.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.