Infinite Frontier: The Physics and Metaphysics of the Omniverse and Beyond

Dark Nights: Death Metal #7 by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, & Nathan Fairbairn (2021)

Scott Snyder’s Dark Nights: Death Metal ends with multiple revelations, one of which focuses on the omniverse as the new “infinite frontier” for our characters. Expanding into the omniverse seems to be the next big thing in DC Comics. Over the past century of superhero comics, we’ve seen characters break down their physical and metaphysical barriers in a logical hierarchical progression. Barriers of travel involving intergalactic/universal space, time, interdimension, multiverse, metalepsis, and omniverse—all systematically broken down and tackled by various creators.

While Snyder posits the omniverse as something wholly novel in his epilogue to Dark Nights: Death Metal, to be clear, the omniverse has always existed. We’ve always had stories, which is basically what the omniverse is about—it’s the omniverse of all fiction. Story (with a capital S) has existed through oral tradition for thousands of years, while other more modern types are heavily curated by fandoms or creative-controlling overlords, whether they be showrunners, media conglomerates, or fan-fiction writers. Our heroes at the end of Dark Nights: Death Metal merely become cognizant of the greater omniverse. And yes, the omniverse is expanding and growing because publishers keep publishing, writers keep writing, and readers keep reading!

Along with the completion of Dark Nights: Death Metal and “infinite frontier” slogan comes the soon-to-be-released (and aptly named) Infinite Frontier series helmed by Joshua Williamson (with support from Snyder and various other creators, including rumored “unofficial” consultation from a recently-retired-from-comics Grant Morrison), which purports to be an intense examination of the omniverse, looking outward more openly and broadly. With Morrison consulting, and with Snyder and Williamson both being devotees of Morrison, it looks like DC writers might also be pushing past the boundaries of the omniverse. As such, we might see the likes of Snyder, Williamson, or even Brian Michael Bendis or Tom King (another Morrison devotee) doing more than just telling expanded omniversal alt-reality stories. We might see them instead (or additionally) utilizing Morrison’s heady transrealist, Mikhail Bakhtin-influenced, and Jacques Derrida-shaped postulations in their upcoming works. Specifically, Morrison has long incorporated the sci-fi and superhero genres with narrative techniques of describing immediate perceptions from naturalistic realism. Operating through a Brechtian, structuralist, and post-structuralist lens, Morrison has also utilized heteroglossia and chronotropes to blur (or even obliterate) the lines between fiction and reality. If DC is verily going there, then we might not just see more of the omniverse, but also what lies yonder.

I. MULTIVERSE / OMNIVERSE LEVEL (FICTIONAL REALITY)

An extension of the Multiverse Map. Beyond the local multiverse… the omniverse.

Near the core of DC’s fictive world is the local multiverse, shown via the Multiverse Map—created by Morrison and Rian Hughes in 2015—in the center of the chart above. (I say “near the center” because Snyder has introduced the new dual center as twin alpha and omega worlds, still yet to be fleshed out.) The finite universes comprised within the local multiverse—in the case of DC’s local multiverse, there are are 52 universes—are surrounded by a super-celestial sphere of higher beings, gods, or monitors. Beyond the local multiverse is a collection of infinite other multiverses with similar structure. There, infinite multiverses make up the omniverse, the literal whole of fiction.

The primary universes within the multiverse/omniverse structure are ordered according to the literal passage of in-story time—by the rules of fictional canon through what we’d call a timeline, chronology, or continuity. We could do a German compound word thing to label a singular version of this ordering unit as a timeline-chronology-continuity, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll refer to a one ordering unit as a timeline.

Post-Zero-Hour DCU Timeline (1994)

However, in addition to the primary timelines within each multiverse, there are an equally infinite number of alternate timelines, each of which comprises a never-ending interweaving web known as Hypertime, a term first coined by Morrison and Mark Waid in the 1990s. Véronique Emma Houxbois states, “Hypertime more or less posits that all timelines exist in parallel—that everything published is a living, breathing history whether it is immediately recognized in the current comics or not.” In layman’s terms, Hypertime is the theory that a boundless number of alternate fictive realities exist in conjunction with a primary timeline or primary timelines.

A visualization of Hypertime—the interconnected web of infinite alternate fictional realities.

It should be fairly easy to grasp how the multiverse relates to the greater omniverse based upon what we’ve outlined above. In the succeeding section, we’ll look at the subsequent tier. Bear in mind that we should think of the adjoining degree as a continuance or extension of things in the same way we’ve viewed the omniversal level as an extension of the multiversal level.

II. CREATOR & READER LEVEL (OUR PHYSICAL REALITY)

Beyond the realm of the fictive omniverse lies our physical reality—still all part of one big physical/metaphysical continuum or spectrum.

Many comic creators have long asked, “What happens if we keep peeling the cosmic onion?” Morrison specifically has always peeled beyond the pale. If the planets give way to the greater universe, if time travel is mastered (and extrapolated via Hypertime), if the universe gives way to the multiverse, if the sphere of the godly-cosmic-demiurgic super-celestials is revealed, if all then gives way to the extended omniverse, then what’s the next layer of divulgence or exploration past the borders of fiction? As many creators have long shown in a multitude of works, and as this undeniable pattern of expansion has shown, it’s us—our literal flesh-and-blood physical reality, comprised of tangible geosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. And it is on this plane where creators and readers co-exist to collaboratively create, engage, and interpret Story. This is the main way that fiction directly bonds with our lives—via the process of how Story (and by proxy, canon) is formed. My own definition of canon is: The collaborative perceptive processing of an ongoing work by both authors and readers, through which the story makes the most narrative sense. Story, all Story but especially superhero comics, cannot exist without this engagement.

But the attachment between fiction and reality is more extensive than just someone writing a comic book or someone picking up and reading a comic book. While naysayers might exclaim there’s an obvious striking divide between the omniverse level and creator/reader level in that one is fiction whereas the other is our literal physical reality, we’ll demonstrate below that it would be wise to consider the above visualization as one unified and interconnected whole sans any discernible division. The barrier between multiverse and omniverse is akin to the wall between fiction and reality in more ways than you could imagine. Morrison was one of the first writers to insist that our physical reality directly connects to the fictional omniverse on a shared spectrum/continuum. And this connection happens at the border of the omniversal level and our literal physical reality in the configuration of metafiction/metalepsis—aka meta storytelling. Meta storytelling—or meta for short—simply means narrative that refers to itself or to the conventions of its genre. In comics, meta was originally limited to basic fourth wall breakage and violation of aesthetic distance, but over time it has become much more complicated. In superhero comics, it’s gotten exponentially more complicated, adopting the transrealist styles of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, William S Burroughs, Philip K Dick, Umberto Eco, Mark Z Danielewski, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Ursula K Le Guin, and Robert Anton Wilson (just to name a few). In comicdom, Meta has gone to the extreme, expanding into a veritable real world science and philosophy.

Some characters have obtained profound realizations of their history as fictive “paper people” (as Morrison once called all comic book characters). Metatextual examples in the superhero genre include: Madman, The Badger, Howard the Duck, “Spider-Verse,” Sensational She-Hulk, Animal Man, Ambush Bug, Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Inferior Five, Doctor Thirteen, The Unwritten, Black Hammer, Promethea, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Cerebus, Squirrel Girl, The Filth, Flex Mentallo, The Invisibles, Final Crisis, The Multiversity, Doomsday Clock; concepts like the 5th Dimension (home to Bat-Mite, Mxyzptlk, & Yz), 6th Dimension (home to the Forge of Worlds), and Earth-Prime (developed by Julius Schwartz, Cary Bates, and Elliot S Maggin in the 1960s and 1970s); and more recent work by Dan Slott, Donny Cates, and Steve Orlando. Fourth wall-shattering characters like Ambush Bug, Howard the Duck, Deadpool, and Harley Quinn have always had a preternatural awareness that they only exist in a fiction, although their meta-nature is usually played off as part of some paranormal psychosis. Earth-Prime was originally meant to literally be our physical reality. In Animal Man, Morrison appears in their own the story.

Justice League of America #123 by Cary Bates, Elliot S Maggin, Dick Dillin, & Frank McLaughlin (1975)
Grant Morrison inserts themself into Animal Man #26 (by Morrison, Chaz Truog, Mark Farmer, & Tatjana Wood, 1990)
By the incomparable Ross Pearsall (2013)

This kind of meta-storytelling is fascinating because it exposes an overt literary conundrum. Once something from our physical plane moves into the fictional omniversial sphere, it becomes a paper copy of the original. Our reality will always exist as a yonder stratum. Any attempt to include our reality within merely becomes a reflection of our reality, a version of it that resembles our reality. Thus, the second creators showed Earth-Prime in a comic book, it immediately became separate from our actual reality, turning into a mere close representation of our world. (This reality versus representation dilemma became painfully obvious to creators in the 1960s and 1970s with the necessitation of Earth-Prime A and Earth-Prime B, Earth-Prime C, and so on and so forth.) Similarly, the “Morrison” that appears in the pages of Animal Man can only be an avatar—a paper version of the pukka author. In other words, once Morrison wrote themselves into Animal Man, they created an emanation of themselves. The bona fide Morrison still existed outside in our physical reality. In an interview with Patrick Meaney, Morrison claims to have entered their stories “by donning a ‘fiction suit,’ as a means of influencing the narrative through direct interaction with the other characters and in turn engineering change in one’s own character in the world beyond the text.” Morrison admits that entry into a comic book is merely via means of an avatar, but they dim or attempt to erase the boundaries between fiction and reality by insisting that their conceptual being (i.e. their consciousness) exists within the double (i.e. inside the “fiction suit”). This grand design is something that seems to have been adopted by current writers as well. More on this a bit later.

Meta is also linked to the Metaverse, a term conceived by Geoff Johns in 2019. The Metaverse is a type of continuity, but one different from (and outside of) fictive story-driven flow attached to fantasy narrative timelines. The Metaverse can be described as the literal complete publication archive of DC Comics since the 1930s—scilicet, a real world publication progression as it appears to the level of creator/reader (our reality). As invented timelines move and and go through reboots, relaunches, and writer switches, these massive changes can be measured via the manifestation of the Metaverse. To explain it another way, Metaverse-continuity shows a history where Superman appears out of the ether in 1938 (his Golden Age debut), then gets split in twain in the 50s (dawning of the Silver Age), then rebooted into one character in 1986 (original Crisis Modern Age reboot), then rebooted into a new character in 2011 (Flashpoint New 52 reboot), etc. Unlike regular fictional timelines, the Metaverse only has one single chronicle whereas the former has myriad accounts. To behold Metaverse history is to behold an unexpurgated, singular, real life publication history. Conversely, omniverse/multiverse history consists of multiple fictive timelines (Golden Age, Silver/Bronze Age, Modern Age, New 52, Rebirth/Infinite Frontier, etc). In other words, while there have been and will continue to be many omniverse/multiverse timelines, there can only ever be one Metaverse.

Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, & Brad Anderson

Our beloved “paper people” have been boldly exploring where no characters have explored before, with those powerful enough (Dr. Manhattan, for instance) even navigating the Metaverse itself. But not only can the meta boundaries of the our physical reality be smashed, they’ve already been confronted head-on in comics as well. Our physical reality—which includes our own quantum multiverse and possible string theory timelines of its own as well—is still part of one big physical/metaphysical continuum or sequence that interconnects to the make-believe multiverses beneath it. It’s important to remember this, moving forward. If everything is indeed associated with the same continuum, then what’s beyond our physical realm? It’s something that Morrison was already hinting at with their explanation of the “fiction suit.” It’s the very thoughts where the stories come from—idea itself.

III. IDEA / THOUGHT LEVEL / NOOSPHERE (BEYOND OUR PHYSICAL REALITY)

…and further out still, conceptual thought itself, where all stories are born—idea. Don’t forget, we are still looking at a navigable map, a connection to the smallest bit (a made-up multiverse at the center) on one plane of existence.

Essentially, afar from our corporeal reality, beyond the furthest ring in the graphic above, is the realm of conceptual existential thought, where all stories are born—idea itself. An idea is powerful but nebulous. The idea-sphere can be linked to mythology, religion, spirituality, psychoanalysis, dream, cosmic sensibility, or plain old consciousness, and anything related-to or in-between any of those things. But all of it is idea, and it’s all linked to Story. As stated above, some might perceive a big divide between the circles for the omniverse and circles for creator/reader as signaling a stark demarcation between the fictional and somatic realms. It stands to reason that those same folks by now will be screaming in a fit of rage, citing how it is even more impossible for fiction to connect past our reality and into our conceptual sphere! After all, there’s already a considerable ethereal/mystic gap between reality and the conceptual sphere that we as real life beings experience! Not to mention, only once an idea goes down on paper does it become “weakened” in the sense that it has to adhere to the laws and limitations of the world it enters. However, believe it or not, sometimes the realm of fiction has more rules than reality. Hopefully, the above infographic equivocates one totality—a contiguous spectrum. There are no borders. Don’t forget, we are still looking at a navigable map that details our relationship down to the smallest bit (an imaginary multiverse at the center) on one stage of existence. The imagined omniverse is really a part of our kosher omniverse. In the 1920s, scientist-philosophers Vladimir Vernadsky, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Édouard Le Roy called this realm of thought and reasoning the noosphere. Keep in mind that some prominent modern day scientists hypothesize that we—here in our actual material world—are merely part of a higher-power holographic simulation. In that scenario, there’s a “creator/reader” out there somewhere playing the role that we play for our “lesser” fictional denizens underneath.

The idea sphere/noosphere is also the same realm as what film director David Lynch and string theory physicist Dr. John Hagelin refer to as the Unified Field, a sea of consciousness (no things/nothingness) from which all ideas (all things/everything) develop and emerge. The Unified Field model directly connects thought to our physical plane. In other words, it literally connects mind and matter. Hagelin believes that the Unified Field can be accessed via transcendental meditation, something the Buddhist-dabbling Morrison researched and practiced often in the early 1990s, right around the same time Lynch was plunging headfirst into Maharishi Mahesh Yogi techniques as well. In more ways than one, Morrison is the David Lynch of comics, and we’ll explore that comparison in greater detail a bit later on below.

Morrison emphasizes that the fictional omniverse is a part of our reality, stating in an interview with Paste Magazine‘s Garrett Martin, “The DC universe exists within our own universe. The [map of the multiverse] is actually showing you where I think the DC universe is, which is a two dimensional playground. The ground of being of the DC Universe is the white page before anything’s drawn on it. And then the white page suddenly uses its pristine unselfconsciousness and suddenly realizes, oh my god, somebody’s put a mark on me. What does the mark mean? The mark can mean any story, and suddenly this gigantic consciousness starts to imagine what stories would be like, and it sets up a barrier to protect itself from all this. The map of the multiverse is almost like a Buddhist map of the cosmos. […] You don’t need grand theories. The universe exists on the second dimension and we can read their adventures with Superman going back to 1938, and you can put them all together and look at them from above. We can line up the future Superman with the original Superman and they can see each other, but we can see both of them. For me, all of the interesting stuff, this super string stuff, is happening between me and the same dimension as this material.”

Fiction being directly interdependent upon and even on an indistinguishable echelon as our reality can be seen quite conspicuously in Morrison’s Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D, Morrison’s The Multiversity, and Tom King’s Mr. Miracle Vol. 4. We’ll look at all three of these works in brief below. Continuing in the Paste interview with Meaney, Morrison says, “There is no fourth wall between us and the substance of the comics page where all these things happen. It might just be ink and color and people’s work, but when we read it, it comes to life. I’m interested in what goes on in that space. It’s not about breaking the fourth wall: it’s about how there’s no barrier, and [The Multiversity]’s really about that. It gets deeper than any previous comic, and it does so in quite a frightening way. I want people to have a genuinely weird experience with this one.” In the same interview, Morrison speaks about how the comic character as idea is just as real as you and I existing in the flesh, citing an example of Superman saving “real kids’ lives who didn’t commit suicide because they read the scene in All Star Superman where he saves the little girl. For me that’s how it works,” says Morrison. “I don’t need a realistic Superman who gets beaten up because no such thing will ever exist; the real Superman who does exist is made of paper, and can be a pure absolute ideal because he’s not real. He actually saves kids’ lives [in real life].” As the brilliant Douglas Wolk echoes: “Morrison’s writing includes themes of metaphors that make visible the process by which language creates an image that in turn becomes narrative.” Morrison echoes all the above in his credo from Super Gods: “Writers and artists build by hand little worlds that they hope might effect change in real minds, in the real world where stories are read.”

The conceptual idea of Superman is broached in Superman Beyond 3D, in which Superman odysseys through the Bleed, into Comic Book Limbo, into the Overvoid, and into the Dark Monitor home known as Nil (where he deals with the Thought Robot and defeats the wicked Monitor known as Mandrakk), before returning to his primary Earth. The first bit of mindblowing meta is Comic Book Limbo, which is a place outside of time and space where unused characters are banished. The second bit of eye-opening meta is the Thought Robot, which is part of Morrison’s Derrida and Bakhtin-inspired experiment, the author’s heaviest dive into obscuring—nay, completely destroying—the lines between, our reality and fiction. The Thought Robot is a cosmic-armor-wearing emanation of the real life concept of Superman i.e. the very real idea of absolute goodness from which the character of Superman was born and continues to thrive. Videlicet, the Thought Robot is the “fiction suit” for the idea of Superman. In Superman Beyond 3D, the fictional Superman merges with the very concept of his fabricated self, which has donned the “fiction suit” in order to appear in the story. Let that one sink in. In many ways, and I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, Superman Beyond 3D is one of the most advanced literary exercises in the annals of fiction, which certainly puts it in the running for most advanced in the history of comics. For an expert probe into the dizzying genius of Superman Beyond 3D, see Chapter 2 of Timothy Bavlnka’s erudite thesis, “Superheroes and Shamanism: Magic and Participation in the Comics of Grant Morrison”. (I’d argue that Morrison’s biggest successful comics competitor in regard to successful meta storytelling is and always has been another creator that got out when the gettin’ was good: Alan Moore. It’s a shame that Moore and Morrison hate each other’s guts so damn much. It cannot be overstated how much Moore has influenced the industry. After all, Morrison’s most meta work and Johns’ most meta work are both commentaries on Watchmen—part of The Multiversity being a re-imagination of Watchmen and Doomsday Clock being a sequel to Watchmen.)

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, & David Baron (2009)
JLA #13 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, John Dell, & Pat Garrahy (1997)
Mr. Miracle Vol. 4 by Tom King & Mitch Gerads (2018)

While the concept of Superman as a belief representing good (“pure absolute ideal”) is extrapolated above, Morrison has long dealt with the polar opposite as well—the idea representing pure absolute evil. And that idea exists as the ultimate super-villain archetype, which can never be equaled because of its very existence beyond the confines of the page. Morrison tackles this archetype via the vessels of the Empty Hand and his vile Gentry (the villains of The Multiversity) and Darkseid’s “Godhead” (i.e. his True Form—see Earthmine52’s intellectual Reddit post for exquisite detail).

First, the Empty Hand is a cosmic evil that basically is a stand-in for the meta-hand of the comic book creator and/or comic book reader engaging with the comic book itself. The Empty Hand also symbolizes economic pressures placed upon publishers and creators. To quote Earthmine52, “The Gentry represents the corruption of comic book stories while the Empty Hand himself represents the hand of the reader and their apathy once they finish reading a comic book and let it go. They bring about the conflict needed for the story to continue.” The Gentry, says Rikdad, symbolizes “the market and market forces that pervert the heroes, often, into something darker and more sensational, reinforcing the message that marketing and branding lead to something violent and troubled.” As Rikdad emphasizes this by brilliantly pointing out that “the agents of The Empty Hand, seemingly sweet and benign but dark and possessed, were the Little League of Earth-42 (basically twee chibi versions of the JLA). Above all others, these are the versions of the DC characters aimed directly at the youngest, most innocent readers.”

Second, the True Form of Jack Kirby’s legendary über menace Darkseid (or an emanation of his True Form) can be glimpsed in several Morrison titles, most notably in Final Crisis. In their 1990’s JLA run, Morrison originated the phrase, “Darkseid is.” In essence, this means that Darkseid is all-encompassing, beyond the comprehension or magnitude of the “paper people.” Tom King took this ball and has been running with it, as can be seen in his lauded Mr. Miracle Vol. 4 series. In Mr. Miracle Vol. 4, the titular character is put through an Omega-Sanction ringer, facing an endless psychedelic mind/death trap, during which the phrase, “Darkseid is” gets repeated and implanted upon him in various nearly indescribable layers. King, like Morrison before, means literally that Darkseid exists as the ultimate idea of immorality, which subsists in our reality. Darkseid is real! Which makes Darkseid the most horrific and scary Big Bad of all time. However, to harken back to the “fiction suit” abstraction, only via emanation/incarnation does the real True Form of Darkseid get to engage with characters in comic books. Just like how Morrison couldn’t literally enter the pages of Animal Man, requiring an avatar/emanation to do so, Darkseid needs a similar host. This places Darkseid’s Godhead (i.e. the very ultimate ignoble idea of Darkseid) on the same rung as our actuality, but since Darkseid is merely a conceptualization, you can and never will see the True Darkseid in any comic book, movie, or television show because he lives beyond our stratum of materiality. To wit, every version of Darkseid we’ve seen in media has been merely a “fiction suit” containing the unadulterated idea/concept of evil.

With Darkseid’s Godhead/True Form, Morrison does for comics what David Lynch’s Twin Peaks did for TV. Commentator Rosseter (aka Twin Perfect) highlights an interview with Chris Rodley where Lynch speaks about the ultimate evil Big Bad of Twin Peaks, the otherworldly Bob. Lynch says that “Bob is an abstraction with a human form,” meaning that Bob is actually the human representation of an abstract idea. As Twin Perfect perfectly explains, “Bob is meta. He represents the real life idea of gratuitous violence and evil as depicted on TV. As a science fiction entity that comes from another universe, Bob is a story that can be used to reflect the greater meta story. In other words, Bob is the “fiction suit” of the concept of TV evil. And FBI Director Gordon Cole (played by Lynch on the show) is Lynch’s “fiction suit” through which he entered the show. This is the very same concept as Darkseid’s Godhead (and Thought Robot too). Darkseid’s Godhood represents the real life idea of evil. Just like Bob is meta, Darkseid is… meta too!

Rare glimpses of the emanations of the Godhead/True Form of Darkseid from various comics (complied by Earthmine52)

As the amazing Keith Scott says, “Morrison invites his readers not just to react to [their] work but to interact with it, and this should be taken as the starting point for a critical investigation, not just of [their] own writing, but of the medium of comics as a whole. By continually calling our attention to both the links between [their] works and the texts which have inspired them, and by focusing on the nature of a 2-D fictional universe contained within our 3-D world, [they ask] us to consider at the deepest possible level the question of how we should examine comics as a form. It is this love of metatextuality and autocritique which I would see as quintessentially ‘Morrisonian,’ a central element of [their] artistic modus operandi, which operates simultaneously with a reverence for and a love of the power and simple pleasure afforded by the comics form.”

In his sagacious thesis, Bavlnka scaffolds Scott’s above analysis by stating that “Morrison believes readers can have personal relationships with fiction, beyond the act of enjoyment, expressing that readers can truly interact with fictional worlds and characters in a direct sense. [Morrison has often] attempted to remove fictional characters from their world and bring them into our own.” This conception can be seen plainly in The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1, in which we (the reader) are part of the tale. We always are a part of every story in terms of readership response, but in The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 our engagement is being controlled by the forces of fiction themselves. We can better understand this seemingly impenetrable idea by hearkening back to the illuminating lens that is the Morrison/Lynch comparison. Twin Perfect explains that Lynch’s intention with Twin Peaks was to highlight the need for positivity on TV by having his audience get literally infected by Bob’s evil, just as Morrison sculpts The Multiversity: Ultra Comics in such a way that readers get literally exposed to the evil within the comic book. In The Multiversity, the Bob comes in the form of super-super celestial beings that have cosmic awareness (the Empty Hand and his Gentry), and who want to directly influence us (i.e. infect us) via the pages of the comic book itself. Ultraa, another cosmically-aware fiction, tries to warn us of the Empty Hand and the Gentry’s attempts to poison our reality. And by the very act of reading the story, the super-super-celestials—both good and evil—accomplish their very real (very literal) missions. They are influencing you.

Continuing the Morrison/Lynch comparison, we can look deeper into Twin Perfect’s anatomy of the latter: “Twin Peaks‘ meta-commentary is not just commentary. It’s literally happening inside the show. Twin Peaks is a television show that knows it’s a television show about the concept of television itself.” Lynch’s works are meta-literal. And so are Morrison’s. Superman Beyond 3D is a comic book where characters that know they are in a comic book address the idea of being in a comic book. And The Multiversity: Ultra Comics goes one step further to achieve this Lynchian ideal as it is a comic book that knows it’s a comic book about the concept the comic book itself. Supplemental comparisons don’t end there either. Twin Peaks is a self-aware TV show about the balance of light versus dark on TV whereas The Multiversity is a self-aware comic book series about the balance of readership/creativity versus corporate ownership/capitalism within the comic book industry.

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Jaime Mendoza, David Baron, & Gabe Eltaeb (2015)

IV. THE LIMIT?

As we’ve demonstrated above, an enigmatic problem arises with writers trying to set their hands to the undisclosed idea-verse. Once a creator openly writes about it, puts it to pen and paper, then it ceases to be idea, gaining fictional embodiment. One can’t write about the outermost level without it immediately turning into an avatar inside an inner level. Beyond wanting to take on new personal endeavors, including TV projects, I think this paradox is also one of the reasons Morrison has announced their retirement and desire to step away from DC Comics. The notion of intermingling omniversal fiction, metatextuality, and idea itself has ostensibly gone as far as it can possibly go. Ultraa, the Empty Hand, and the Gentry were really the first fully fleshed-out experimentation where personalities inside the comic book were directly engaging with us as part of the unmediated narrative—not an emanation, not a doppelgänger, but directly with us. But even as the first experiment, it also registers as the end-all—a successful and engrossing cancellation of the final boundaries between fiction and reality via a thorough investigation into the matter. How can you go further than that without re-treading something that has seemingly already reached its inevitable conclusion?

It should come as no surprise that Snyder used the dismantling of the Source Wall as one of the major instigating events that would ultimately culminate in Death Metal. Just like how writers disintegrated the fourth wall to push meta-storytelling into unplumbed areas long ago, Snyder’s own in-story wall-breaking speaks to an elimination of any leftover palisades, and a trek into the further unknown. The salad days of Howard the Duck winking at the audience have been left far behind in the dust. Now, dramatis personae knowingly interact with their readership, aware they are engaging with a live very real audience. What does this hyper-cognizance mean? What can possibly come next? Even if the rumors are legitimate, and Morrison will indeed be an adviser on Snyder and Williamson’s foray into this uncharted territory, it’ll still be tricky to push the envelope further. Sure, there are plenty of unique stories that could still be told, but as I’ve said, in a major sense, the experiment has run its course. If the trope was more penetrable, then Morrison maybe would have stayed signed on, and perhaps would have done Multiversity 2. Though, I admire Snyder, Williamson, and King for attempting to challenge this insuperable beast, should they choose to go in this direction. After all, there is the possibility that DC’s mainline creative staff stays away from the Morrisonian idea-verse metatextuality in favor of a more manageable focus upon alt-reality Hypertime yarns. However, as Willimason and company have been chanting, the frontier is truly infinite.

Infinite Frontier #0 by Joshua Williamson & Howard Porter (2021)

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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4 Responses to Infinite Frontier: The Physics and Metaphysics of the Omniverse and Beyond

  1. Rcn says:

    I was going to post a very long and thought out response, but WordPress categorized it as spam. So perhaps I went a bit overboard with the word count. Basically, Infinite Frontier seems like a step in the right direction, but I hope they don’t loose sight of the emotional core of stories, and keep some editorial guidance in place to maintain that. I love metafictional exploration, but when used excessively it can get in the way of the purpose of stories of communicating emotion and touching the reader. I want more All Star Superman, not more New 52 Action Comics. But oh well, time will tell.

    • Oh no! So sorry about that RCN, I’ve been having major tech issues with spam blockage, so the precautions have been overly increased lately. If you ever want to dive deep into the abyss, feel free to email me anytime! I hope it’s a step in the right direction as well! In terms of first issues—Tom Taylor’s Nightwing was great, Becky Cloonan’s Wonder Woman was great, and I love how Batman and Detective are finally working hand-in-hand to flesh-out a new status quo in Gotham. Feels like Doug Moench’s Bat-run in the 1980s. It’s not all happy days, though. I have considerable less faith in Bendis’ JL or Kennedy Johnson’s Superman. And Jeremy Adams’ first issue of Flash was downright terrible.

      I do worry, now that DC isn’t rebooting, that they’ll start using Sliding-Time in a Marvel-ish way. I hope they don’t, though.

  2. John says:

    Firstly wow, what a great article. I stumbled on it completely on accident and I am glad I did. It is a perfect explanation of the very confusing and hard-to-follow comics of Morrison and what they brought to DC. Basically, put my thoughts and theories about the final crisis, and infinite frontier into words that I could not have even imagined.

    I loved the concept of the multiverse, omniverse, reader/writer, and idea-verse. Although it is hard to grasp at first, the explanation is well written, and the examples help a lot. However, I will admit the idea of the metaverse still does confuse me a little.
    From what I gathered, the metaverse is like the chronological release dates of comics in the physical world, whereas the omniverse is in the fictional dimension?

    Anyways, I will go read Multiversity now, and possibly every Morrison comic I can find.

    • Hi, John. Thanks for the kind words! Much appreciated. You hit the nail on the head, yes. The Metaverse is the timeline according to real-life publication. So the Metaverse starts with DC/National Comics’ Action Comics #1 in 1938. Then it would include every comic published onward. To view the Metaverse history is to view a whole history of publication, releases, and reboots. Conversely, the Omniverse holds current fictive timelines. There have been several different Omniverse/Multiverse chronologies. (Golden Age, Silver/Bronze Age, Modern Age, New 52, Rebirth, etc), but there can only ever be one Metaverse.

      And yes, I encourage anyone that hasn’t read Morrison to check them out! All-Star Superman, Zenith, Invisibles, and Doom Patrol are some other wonderful titles that weren’t mentioned here.

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