The True History of the Multiverse and the Metaphysical Laws of Grant Morrison’s Psychedelic Hyperreality

Last week was great for Bat-related comics. Gotham Academy was dope and Scott Snyder penned IMO his best single book of the New 52 so far with the richly dense Batman #38. (I still have a lot of issues with Snyder’s poor handling of transitions and passage of time, and I hate his overuse of exposition where talking becomes a free action, but hopefully he reins it in a bit and we might finally have ourselves a worthy main architect of the Bat-line. It’s about time!)

The Multiversity Guidebook also came out this past week and it was delightfully much, much more than just a straightforward “Who’s Who” issue. It was a continuation of the non-linear ongoing story of the Gentry’s attack on the our “local multiverse.” Yes, the Gentry is attacking US as well! This is beyond meta, blowing meta out of the water, treading new territory in untried super-multi-layered ways.

While obviously insanely annotation worthy, I’ll save the annotations for the Rikdads and the Uzumeris. This article of mine is more in line with J Caleb Mozzocco’s thoughtful and elegant write-up on The Multiversity Guidebook for CBR. My sentiment definitely echoes Mozzocco’s—an appreciation for the pure joy The Multiversity offers. Mozzocco also took a grand look at the specific portion of the Guidebook that detailed “the true history of the multiverse.” I’d like to do the same, but by first reflecting back upon the precursor to The Multiversity: a little Morrison yarn called Final CrisisSuperman Beyond #1, to be precise. And then I will follow by examining Morrison’s kaleidoscopic meta-layering that drives the themes of The Multiversity.

In Superman Beyond #1, Superman visits Limbo, a space existing outside of regular time and space. There, Superman reads from the only book within the Library of Limbo, a brilliant cube of infinite information, which details the history of the multiverse. And here’s where the meta-narrative begins, but not just a metaphor or a pun or a wink or a nod or breaking of the fourth wall. The meta-narrative actively involves our world. It involves us and it is playing with the very notion of fiction in a very unique way. Fictional characters cease to be fiction because they exist—on paper, in comics, as a result of a higher power, unknown to them, having imagined them and imposed their will via scripts, pencils, inks, colors, edits, and, unfortunately, big business’ impact as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to where we were. Superman and Captain Marvel read the opening pages of the book to learn how the multiverse began. Here’s what happens.

superman beyond
Final Crisis - New Edition-125
The book starts with the blank void, created by The Empty Hand, which we will come up again later. Monitor and Anti-Monitor are naturally involved. Superman shockingly states, “This contains every book possible!” which is apropos because it is the literal output of everything DC has ever published, in a sense.
Final Crisis - New Edition-126“A conscious living void! With our entire multiverse growing inside it,” screams Superman. This is the Multiversity Map designed by Morrison and Hughes, seven years before they actually design it. And time moves forward. The vague “primal origin story” eventually takes us, after a significant ellipsis, to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, shown above, which was DC’s first major reboot.
Final Crisis - New Edition-127
Final Crisis - New Edition-128And after another very large ellipsis, we reach Final Crisis, which also had significant ramifications for the DC multiverse.

The Multiversity Guidebook shows us the same story—essentially the “narrativization” of the publishing history of DC comics (the real life company)—but with much greater detail. But by keeping the decades-old adage that our Earth (the one I’m currently writing from and sitting at my computer on) is a part of the DC multiverse (I think?—but more on that later), the meta-narrative becomes one that is a complicated wonder to behold. The Guidebook shows us Earth-51 as Kamandi reads the equivalent of the infinite Limbo book scratched in an archaic language onto a wall in the empty tomb of Darkseid.
multiversity images guidebookmultiversssss The Multiversity - Guidebook (2014-) 001-017

The Multiversity - Guidebook (2014-) 001-018

Or, in terms of publication in our reality, DC had a Silver Age reboot in the 1950s. In 1961, with “The Flash of Two Worlds” (“Flash #123”) by Gardner Fox, Julie Schwartz, and Carmine Infantino, the concept of a multiverse was firmly implanted into DC Comics. All the comics published in the Golden Age (spawned out of the white void by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster) became retroactively a part of Earth-2 (as it would later be named), while the Silver Age ongoing titles would become a part of the universe of Earth-1 (as it would later also be named). An infinite number of Earths (or alternate storytelling realities or places to stick continuity errors) existed overnight. This allowed Fox and Schwartz to bring back old characters and have epic alternate Earth crossovers, as first seen in “JLofA #21” in 1963.

These pages mirror what Superman and Captain Marvel saw in Superman Beyond—the “primal origin story” involving the omnipotent creator(s), blank void, and Monitors. But unlike the heroes in Superman Beyond, Kamandi has a better comprehension of the total picture. There isn’t a jump cut immediately to Crisis on Infinite Earths (we’ll get there soon enough). Instead, the history of DC continues…

The Multiversity - Guidebook (2014-) 001-019

We skim through the 60s, 70s, and 80s until “The Crisis on Infinite Earths” by Wolfman/Perez (1985-1986), which was DC’s second reboot, and first every complete line-wide overhaul that erased everything and gave a fresh start to the company. All previous titles were immediately merged into one single continuity (more or less). No more Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, or Earth-X, just one DCU Earth. You know the story.

And where the history lesson in Superman Beyond stopped and did a jump cut to Final Crisis, we are treated to the whole thing in the Guidebook, showing what leads up to it and what comes afterward…

The Multiversity - Guidebook (2014-) 001-020

1994 brought about “Zero Hour,” a soft reboot that brought about several unpopular editorially mandated retcons and also began the approach of “time-sliding” in order to keep things fresh and relevant. Most of the changes from “Zero Hour” wouldn’t last, but the lasting impact of this crossover would make things so that the Modern Age continuity remained more current and up to date. In 2005-2006, “Infinite Crisis” had Superboy-Prime (from OUR Earth, or what had previously been our Earth?) infamously “punch reality,” a way for writers and editors to create more retcons galore. The single Earth that had existed in DC for twenty years was split into exactly 52 Earths (more or less), thus bringing back the multiverse, which was explored in the weekly series “52” and “Countdown.” The idea of Hypertime—where all realities could confusingly simultaneously exist even on one single Earth—could now be fully disavowed by editorial and spread about the 52 Earths.

The Multiversity - Guidebook (2014-) 001-021

Morrison’s “Final Crisis” shook things up yet again. And “Flashpoint!” rebooted the DCU for a third time, creating the New 52 in 2011.

From the beginning to the debut of the Golden Age to Flash’s “Crisis on Two Earths” to Justice League of America #21 to Crisis on Infinite Earths to Zero Hour to Infinite Crisis to 52 to Final Crisis to Flashpoint to The Multiversity—this is real world history of the major retcon/reboot stories that have effected the DCU over the past 75 years! But it’s all been made into something that it a part of the fictional narrative. And paradoxically, part of the fiction is that this has all been “written into the fictions of Earth-33 (our Earth).” This is incredible in and of itself because it’s a fiction about fiction that is actually non-fiction. (Or something like that—it’s quite hard to properly articulate.)

And comic book writers are the super-race that sculpt the multiverse…

lil batman

…in comic book form! Here we see Lil Batman (Dick Grayson of Earth-42) reading The Multiversity Guidebook (the very comic in which he is in, while we are simultaneously reading the Guidebook as well). Scarily, evil Sivana has read it too. Comic books are not just pieces of fiction. They are physical windows into understanding the complete histories of entire universes. And to add another meta-layer, not only do writers sculpt these books, we (the readers) can engage with and “move” time backward or forward by stopping, turning pages ahead, or turning pages backward, giving the other members of the “super-race” (we the readers) a pinch of the power that the creators themselves have.

On a side note, I also LOVE that Morrison says “These are files on the fifty-two KNOWN worlds of something called the local multiverse.” There will always be an infinite number of universes and multiverses because there will always be a myriad number of fictions that exist (and that have existed). We are just dealing with this one particular group of worlds. It’s a charming and sophisticated acknowledgement and one that is long, long overdue.

The Multiversity Guidebook is a beautiful and touching tribute to the history of the DCU. While the characters themselves can only remember and be aware of their own rebooted timelines, there is a history that goes back 75 years and even before that, which can be seen by the all powerful cosmic eye of you and I as we read our favorite DC comics from yesteryear. Everything is canon! Everything is IN continuity! And it always has been!

Beyond being a whimsical explanation of DCU’s past and a reminder that nothing really goes out-of-continuity (even stories that are from previous continuities), The Multiversity Guidebook functions as an experimental analysis of the exchange between our real world and the printed universe. Morrison acknowledges, in Supergods, that superheroes look like drawings or special effects in the real world. But it’s more than just elementary meta-fiction for Morrison. Meta-fiction is too theoretical for Morrison, who doesn’t usually deal in abstractions. For Morrison, if a comic book exists in the real world (and it does), it contains a piece of (or a one-way mirrored window to) a very “real” 2D universe that we can hold in our hands. The Multiversity allows Morrison to take his ideas about the “reality” of 2D paper characters—and how we engage with them—to new mind-bending levels never before explored.

Part of this exploration requires us to understand the psychedelic notion of Earth-33/Earth-Prime, which is tough to fully perceive. In previous incarnations, dating as far back as the 1970s, Earth-33/Earth-Prime has been much more transparent—a representation of the Earth on which we live in reality. Any depiction of Earth-Prime must happen on paper, which automatically singles it out, by very definition, as NOT being our Earth. If I’m sitting on my Earth reading a comic partly set on Earth-Prime, then the 2D comic version of Earth-Prime I hold in my hands is actually some sort of Earth-Prime-Prime or Earth-Sub-Prime. A chart, like the Multiversity Map, can indeed show that our very real Earth is a part of the DC Multiverse—a legit multiple dimension string theory world amidst a a bunch of paper 2D ones. But the second our Earth is shown on paper, it ceases to be our real Earth. If someone were to draw the Eiffel Tower collapsing on Earth-Prime, the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t collapse in real life.

In Animal Man, Morrison integrated an avatar “paper version” of himself with the 2D DC Universe. Morrison’s “demiurgic Gnostic overlords” (from Supergods), rechristened as the “super-race of Earth-33” in The Multiversity, act as script-writers that need “drama and shock and violence to make the story interesting.” Morrison explains further (in Supergods), “The implication was that our own lives might also be ‘written’ to entertain or instruct an audience in a perpendicular direction we could never point to, interacting with us in ways we could scarcely understand but that could be divined in the relationship of the comic world to the world of the creator and audience.” If we follow this line of reasoning (or Morrison’s laws of metaphysics within his hyperreality), one can easily understand drawing one’s self as a “paper avatar” into a story—either bluntly and directly as Morrison did in Animal Man or more veiled, silly, and fun à la Dr. Thirteen story from Tales of the Unexpected. However, does the same thing apply to an out-and-out depiction of Earth-33? The only way this truly works is if Earth-33 is never shown on paper BECAUSE we live IN IT. “There was no physical Marvel universe New York,” says Morrison (again, in Supergods). “The only real Marvel universe New York there could ever be was a paper-and-ink virtual-reality simulation on the pages of the comic books themselves.” Likewise, there is no physical DC Earth-Prime. The only real DC Earth-Prime there can ever be is a paper-and-ink virtual-reality simulation on the pages of the comic books themselves.

Comic book images of Earth-Prime appear to function as “planetary paper avatars” standing in for our Earth, which seems to exist outside the “local multiverse” shown in the Multiversity Map. Surely, these images of Earth-Prime must be outside of the circle, especially since we humans here on our Earth are very aware of “nonlocal multiverses” such as Marvel, IDW, Boom, Star Wars, and many others throughout the omniverse. In spite of this highly common way of thinking about layers of meta-fiction, Morrison’s Multiversity seems to hint at an Earth-33/Earth-Prime that is meant to literally be our Earth. But can Earth-Prime actually be more than a representation? In The Multiversity, will we see Morrison somehow use his adept cosmic meta grasp to link the real world with the fictional real world, making Morrison’s Earth-Prime a whole different animal than any previous conception? Or are we (the readers), as I stated above, truly “outside of the circle,” making the Source Wall a literal-literal version of the Fourth Wall while making us (the readers) a part of The Source itself?

These are long-winded BIG questions about meta-fiction that may seem to have stupidly obvious answers—that it’s an indisputable fact that a fictional paper reality will always be no more than a close representation of our real reality, even if it closely resembles our own real reality down to the smallest detail. But I’d argue the contrary. I think we are all in for a big surprise by the end of The Multiversity–albeit one that I cannot rightly explain at the moment. And it’s because of my wide-eyed puzzlement at Morrison’s grand consciousness-expanding aspirations for blending/conflating reality with fictional reality that these questions warrant being asked. Stay tuned-in and you might find that dividing lines will be blurred to such an extent that fictional reality and actual reality will become one and the same.
i can SEE YOU!!!

About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
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6 Responses to The True History of the Multiverse and the Metaphysical Laws of Grant Morrison’s Psychedelic Hyperreality

  1. Jekylhyde14 in a comicvine forum responds to the following blurb, ‘How is it that we have [multiple] sets of New Gods and no one is talking about this in their reviews? And the fact that DC said that the New Gods would be one of a kind in the multiverse even though they are clearly not in the Guidebook? These are the New Gods from Final Crisis.’, by saying:

    I’m not certain I can answer this [series of questions], but here’s my best attempt. Highfather says the following in The Multiversity Guidebook: ‘(Darkseid) touches many worlds now. He wears many faces. All grim.’ Then Big Barda adds: ‘Each (world) hosting multiple emanations of Darkseid, Lightray. And of us.’

    The word emanation carries this definition in Webster’s dictionary: the origination of the world by a series of hierarchically descending radiations from the Godhead through intermediate stages to matter.

    What this word means is, basically, radiation from God came from a higher dimensional plane and then diffused, separated, and solidified into earthly matter. What was one (the Godhead) became many (the Earth and everything on it). Picture the New Gods like that. If you check the Multiversity map, you’ll see that New Genesis and Apokolips both exist outside the collection of the 52 worlds separated by the Speed Force Wall. This means we can probably consider the New God characters existing on a higher dimensional plane than the 52 earths. These New Gods that exist outside the Speed Force wall would be immutable and unaffected by things like Flashpoint. However, when the New Gods descend past the Speed Force Wall and into the lower dimension of the 52 earths then their godheads would diffuse, separate, and solidify into different versions of themselves across the 52 earths. They are all the same New Gods but they are different aspects of them across each separate world.

    That’s my take on it, anyway. It might be a cop-out but it does explain the different versions of the New Gods.”

  2. Uzumeri at Comics Alliance says, “Morrison throws a little bit of shade on the New Gods stuff going on in the New 52 with this spread, essentially writing off the Darkseid of Geoff Johns’s Justice League, the Orion of the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman and Earth 2’s Mister Miracle and Barda as “emanations” of the true New Gods and Darkseid, who all rested and resided on Earth-51 post-Final Crisis.”

    This affirms what I thought. And I concur completely. The REAL Darkseid and REAL New Gods exist above and beyond the realm of the multiple Earths of the Multiverse. The Darkseid we’ve seen in the pages of Johns’ Justice League and the New Gods we’ve seen in “Godhead” are mere emanations/splinter versions of the genuine articles. I guess the same can be said about Johns’ version of the Rock of Eternity crew (although I’m not entirely sure). Like I said, there might be a Gaiman Endless type thing going on there.

  3. Jamison says:

    Hey Collin,

    Sorry I’m late to this party.
    Did you consider the possible reading of the multiversity guide book that the empty hand at the dawn of the DC Universe could literally be the hand of Geoff Johns? Is it a meta-commentary that the emptiness of the hand signifies that Geoff Johns is no longer bringing anything new to the table? Consider the dialogue emanating from the open hand on the penultimate page of the guidebook, “Get up, reset. You have died before, and you will die many times more before I am done with you. See how my hand is empty.” This is what Geoff Johns does with characters ad infinitum, no? Just a thought. Pax Americana made overt (after reading and re-reading for hours) slights at Alan Moore, with whom he has a real life adversarial relationship. Where Alan Moore’s interpretation of the Earth-4 properties was rigid and futile, Morrison’s is fluid and hopeful. In fact, if you flip to the Earth 33 page of the guidebook, there is a long-haired, bearded man looking on at ULTRA COMICS, whose design is uncannily similar in design and color scheme to Miracle Man. It’s pretty well agreed upon that Dan DiDio and the rest of the DC executives represent the Gentry themselves. Jim Lee may have been chosen deliberately as the artist for Mastermen as a commentary that his character designs force the New 52 into a Nazi-like, strict uniform that has very little personal freedom of expression. In short, I think there is plenty of evidence that Morrison is calling out specific people in every issue of Multiversity one way or the other, which the executives at DC must surely be aware of but print anyway due to Morrison’s popularity and sales potential. It’s sort of the ultimate stick-it-to-the-man punk ‘fuck you’ that you would expect from Morrison.

    All in all, Multiversity is likely the most important and relevant comic series we may ever see. With everything Morrison writes for DC from Animal Man to JLA to Seven Soldiers to 52 to Batman to Final Crisis to Batman Inc to Multiversity, the other DC comics on the shelf become exponentially less relevant. As you know, I seem to be incapable of being entertained or captivated by any post-Morrison Batman comic. I’m not sure what is really left to say about the character anymore. He’s now just doomed to skate on his infinite Bat-Moebius loop for all eternity, unable to break the pattern intimated in Pax Americana. Don’t believe me? The Court of Owls story was an 11 issue arc that introduced a Wayne family member as a new adversary for Batman. Sounds a lot like Batman R.I.P.. Zero Year was a mash-up of Batman’s greatest hits from Year One to Dark City to the killing joke to No Man’s Land to the original Kane/Finger stories. Endgame is serving to elevate the Joker to a mythological status… this is Joker R.I.P. right? The other Bat-books are even less creative except for Gotham Academy, which I believe is the only Bat-book breaking any kind of new ground or pushing boundaries. In other words, Grant Morrison honored and explored Batman in a way for me that I found to be so elegant and new, and as soon as he left that character was essentially dead for me. Maybe it’s time now for Batman, perhaps the most creatively mined/harvested character in all comics, to take his final resting place on the source wall.

    • I’d be surprised if the Empty Hand was a stand-in specifically for Geoff Johns. I was under the impression that the concept behind the Gentry wasn’t just DC Comics, but the whole mainstream system, including Marvel, Hollywood, and more. To put Johns specifically above the rest of DC and Marvel and Warner Bros and Disney (and Sony) seems a little far fetched to me. Also, even though you mention that DC would surely be aware of the diss but print it anyway due to Morrison’s popularity and sales potential, Morrison is very good friends with his DC kin, especially Johns, Lee, and Didio. I’m not so sure that he’d ever call out any of those dudes by name. He’d probably paradoxically diss DC/Warner Bros as a whole, yeah, but probably not the individuals he works with and has sung the praises of for the past decade. Furthermore, isn’t is Morrison’s idea that the Empty Hand is the boss that orders the Gentry? The Empty Hand, therefore, would be the idea/concept/thing responsible for constant reboots, yes, but beyond that, the idea/concept/thing that is even greater than DC/Marvel/Hollywood. Couldn’t the Empty Hand be public opinion/fanboy rage/WE the fickle and ever-disappointed readers ready for superheroes to stop being mined and harvested so that they can take their final resting places on the Source Wall?

  4. Singh says:

    Shit, reading this, a Cracked.com article about Nintendo Kirby vs. Stan Lee while listening to Sean Paul’s Got 2 Luv U and eating orange Aero bubbles just blew my mind. I wasn’t going to get The Multiversity but I did just pick up this issue. Can you tell me, though, what the whole thing about the New Gods and Darkseid’s Tomb was in this issue? That confused me.

    • I’m a bit confused myself, but here’s what I think… Earth-51 is Jack Kirby’s “Earth AD” featuring a world ravaged by nuclear war, talking animal men, Kamandi, biOMAC, and the Silver/Bronze Age-styled New Gods. Since we (the reader) are on one of the Earths (33) on the Multiversity Map, any New Gods we see on paper must be versions related directly to their respective Earths. In this fashion, there are the highest upper echelon of New Gods and the versions from Earth-51 or the ones from New 52’s Green Lantern arc “Godhead,” are mere representations of the real ones. The same goes for Darkseid: fragments of the real Darkseid (who we’ve never seen yet, maybe? I dunno exactly) are scattered throughout the multiverse. On Earth-51, Darkseid had previously been killed. This “fragment” of Darkseid was released by Nix Uotan on behalf of The Empty Hand (who is it? mystery, mystery).

      This is clearly the biggest confusion-causer so far. The same type of thing confused me about the appearance of the wizard Shazam in “Thuderworld” because he clearly is a different version of Shazam than we’ve seen in Geoff Johns’ New 52.

      I’ve also been thinking that maybe the New Gods, Darkseid, Shazam, and other higher cosmic beings all appear in different forms on different Earths, similarly to how the Endless would appear to look different depending where you were in time/universe/space/different planets/etc…

      There will be a TON of annotations about this issue coming out in the next few weeks and months. I’m sure an answer will arise. But if not, we’ll have to wait and see if Morrison fills us in himself.

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