Resources‎ > ‎

Superluminal Cartography - Navigating the Multiversity Map Part 2

Jim Harbor writes

Hey Transmissionites, welcome back!

In part one we saw that the layout of the Multiverse Map by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes was a very deliberate design, full of call outs to physics, art and comic book history galore.  But if you’re not very well versed in that comic history, a lot of those concepts may go over your head, so this time around it's the first part of our annotated guide TO the guide. Enjoy!



THE MULTIVERSAL VIBRATIONAL REALMS

Morrison showcases the Multiverse as being a series of realms vibrating at different frequencies, a call back to how they were first established way back in 1961's Flash #123 - the infamous 'Flash of Two Worlds'.  The Multiverse, like other vibrational spectra such as sound and light, can be seen as a sequence of places going up and down in pitch like a rainbow or a scale of music, or like the expanding waveform that runs up the left hand side of the poster.

Each element is well established from DC Lore, and Morrison welds them together masterfully here.



THE SOURCE WALL

The Source Wall is a long-established element of DC Cosmology that, under various hands, has been through a number of different interpretations. Originally, The Source was the powerful Demiurgic Entity behind the divine powers of the New Gods of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.  Accessing the Source was considered a path to ultimate power by many, who, when they inevitably failed, would wind up transformed into statues. In the 1982 inter-company crossover one-shot The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson, the abstract “final barrier” to the Source was revealed for the first time - a literal massive Wall, riddled with the gigantic gilded corpses of those who had tried and failed to pierce it.

The Source Wall was now established as the barrier to the Universe, and, given Kirby's frequent references to that effect, often conflated or stated to be akin to the capital G “God”. It’s also been used as a metaphor for the 'Fourth Wall' – the metaphorical window through which we the readers view the action in the story. The “Source” being akin to the imagination of the readers and creators themselves.

Following the purchase of Jim Lee's Wildstorm in 1999, DC Comics began to integrate the cosmology Warren Ellis had introduced during his Stormwatch run into their own universe, beginning with Captain Atom: Armageddon by Will Pfeiffer and Giseppe Camuncoli in 2005. The Wildstorm concept of The Bleed became an intrinsic part of DC Cosmology, where each parallel universe was surrounded by a Source Wall, with The Bleed running between it and the Source Wall of the other universes; a kind of honeycomb cell structure to the then-Multiverse.

With Morrison's revision of the Multversal structure, The Source Wall returns to it's Kirby roots - the Ultimate End of Everything, beyond which lies only The Source, The Unknown, and Monitor-Mind.

Monitor-Mind was introduced in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis as a metaphor for the empty page itself. It is the empty white consciousness that the DC Multiverse eventually grew upon. When the Monitor-Mind first probed the Multiverse, it spawned the Monitor and Anti-Monitor (legacy characters from the first DC 'Crisis' event, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, we'll come back to them later). And from them, after various universe-shattering, Things Will Never Be The Same Again, line-wide house-clearing crossovers, came an entire Monitor Race, who took it upon themselves to watch over (and feed on) The Multiverse.   More on that in a second.

Speaking of which, notice the huge gaps in the Source wall that cut into the four Secondary Realms (Heaven, Hell, Skyland and Underworld) and the power lines they make that cut through KWYZZ and the three other energy motes like it. These are the Monitors' Bleed Drains - derricks siphoning The Bleed, the lifeblood of the multiverse, from inside the Orrery of Worlds. A powerful group of gatekeepers that leech off the very lifeblood of the DC characters could be construed as a pretty biting commentary on certain IP managers today...



MONITOR SPHERE

At the close of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths, the original infinite Multiverse was destroyed at the hands of the Anti-Monitor and the 'surviving' Earths were merged into one, becoming the “One’ DC Universe that persisted for some years (though of course DC's writers and artists employed several workarounds during this period – alternate dimensions, divergent timestreams, Elseworlds...). The existence of a 'new' Multiverse was revealed in 2007 the closing pages of the weekly 52 series*. The new Monitors, first shown in the 2008 Brave New World one-shot, were a race of higher dimensional beings who kept watch over the Multiverse. The line here “once countless in number” is interesting because, following the reintroduction of the Multiverse it was implied that the original Monitor (after a 20 year lay off. You're keeping up with this yes?) had split into 52 distinct versions, one for each of the 52 universes that had recently formed. The description here seems to imply that there was once a whole race of Monitors, possibly even in DC’s original infinite Multiverse.

(* tl;dr version - Infinite Multiverse (The Flash #123, 1961) collapses into One Universe (COIE #12, 1985), some other largely irrelevant stuff happens, expands into 52 Multiverse (52 #52, 2007))

The Monitors played a key role in the incomprehensible Countdown series that followed 52, consistently doing a pretty poor job of 'Monitoring' – issue after issue showed a huge quagmire of Monitors messing in stuff they had no business messing with and ruining the things they were supposed to be overseeing. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and, when next seen in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, it was revealed that the Monitors weren't solely Multiversal overseers at all – they also fed off of it . Thus, their nature as supra-cosmic vampires was established, feasting on the Bleed like it was ambrosia and drilling massive pipelines into the Multiverse to sustain themselves.



LIMBO

Limbo is a concept pulled from various Christian ideologies that’s found a place in the popular vernacular as on the “edge” or “between” realms, neither Heaven nor Hell - or in the case of comics, a character who's not currently being featured in any books at any given time.

Comic books, with their shifting natures and stories that rewrite, revise and juggle thousands of characters often leave characters unused for long periods of time. Thus ‘Comic Book Limbo” became the slang for forgotten and underused characters.

Keith Giffen employed Limbo as a setting in his Ambush Bug comics, where the titular comedic fourth-wall breaking character met Jonni DC, a Continuity Cop named for an old DC Mascot, who took old and outdated concepts like Wonder Tot and banished them to Limbo.

Limbo also showed up in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run as part of that series' general meta-commentary on the then-recent Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Crisis had erased many characters from DC's official continuity in the wake of the company's modernization – characters deemed too silly, or who just had no place in what DC perceived the market to be in the late 1980's. Morrison played with the idea that Limbo was permeable; characters could move in and out of Limbo as writers revamped and revitalized them.  Morrison had done as much himself, plucking Animal Man from obscurity to star in what is still regarded as a classic run today. One of the characters Morrison used to populate his depiction of Limbo was Mr. Freeze who, some years later, would be figuratively plucked from Limbo himself and made a Bat-villain A-lister in the Batman: The Animated Series episode 'Heart of Ice'.

Morrison returned to Limbo with Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D, depicting it as a waypoint of sorts between the Multiverse and the vast unknowable realm of the Monitors. It was here we saw that Limbo contained an infinite book, a text with all the pages ever written or that ever would or could be written, as composed by a monkey (a play off the Infinite Monkey Theorem - if you gave a monkey a typewriter and let it write forever, it would eventually type every book ever written, as well as every book that could be written)

Here on the Map, Limbo is shown to almost be the “space-filling” substance floating in the Sphere of the Gods right at the edge of the Monitors' realm. Truly “between realms”.



THE SPHERE OF THE GODS

Over the years, DC Comics has built up a pretty sizable stable of various pantheons of divine and cosmic characters. The idea here is to put them all on the same playing field, yet in a way that's consisent with what has come before.



DREAM

The realm labeled Dream is primarily Grant Morrison's interpretation of The Dreaming, the primary setting of Neil Gaiman’s revolutionary series, The Sandman; initially published under the DC banner and set in their mainstream super-hero universe, later moving to (and becoming the major success story of) their Vertigo imprint. In The Sandman, The Dreaming was portrayed as a realm made from the dreams of all the beings in existence. Named after a concept from Australian Aborigine Myth (also known as Dreamtime) it was shown as the ultimate origin for various abstract concepts such as folk tales and traditional stories.

The Dreaming was ruled by Morpheus, also known as Dream (on the Map, his name becomes the name of the realm as a whole, ala Hades). Alongside his siblings Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium, Morpheus was one of the Endless, intended by Gaiman as the ultimate powers within DC Cosmology, above even the various pantheons of Gods and cosmic New Gods that littered DC's books at the time. That is, while a figure like Anubis may be the God of Death to the Egyptian people, Death of the Endless is the capital D Death that comes to all, even the Gods themselves. This actually got legendary writer Greg Weisman in a bit of a pickle when he wrote Gaiman's Death into a Captain Atom comic, where he may have implied that she was merely another aspect rather than the living personification of Death itself. The Endless were created by Gaiman and first appeared in his Sandman series; all except for Destiny who first appeared as the host of the 1970's Weird Mystery Tales title, and was created by Marv Wolfman and Bernie Wrightson.

At the top of the Map, Destiny sits atop the entire structure on the edge of reality. His book, known as the Cosmic Log or Book of Destiny, (just like the book later seen in Final Crisis) holds all past present and future events, and is forever chained to him. Destiny's position here evokes the reader – one who is standing over the map, looking down on it (as you probably are right now).

The land of Faeire made it's first DC appearance in Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic mini-series. Based on stories of fairy-folk from European myth and folklore (such as Fairyland, Alfeimr or Otherworld), the DC version take a lot of its cues from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and two characters from that play, Oberon and Titania, both went on to feature in other DC comic books. The realm would be explored in greater detail when Gaiman's Books of Magic mini-series became an ongoing Vertigo series written by John Ney Rieber, and further still with the spin-off Books of Faerie titles.

The land of Faerie was originally shown as a portion of Hell that Lucifer sold to the Fairies in exchange for the souls of 8 of their first Kings and the 9 Fairest of Them All every seven years ever after. How this reflects on the currents set-up is unknown.  Maybe portions of the realms can be exchanged between themselves?

Gemworld was the setting for Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, a magical swords and sorcery story by Dan Miskin, Gary Cohn and Ernie Colon that debuted in the 1980's. Amethyst was a Fantasy Epic Magical Girl type of book, in the vein of She-Ra or the original Fawcett Captain Marvel. It starred Amy Winston, a normal teenage girl who was in truth Princess Amethyst of Gemworld, sent to Earth as a baby to protect her from the plots and intrigue surrounding the 12 Royal Houses that ruled Gemworld. When she returned she was transformed into her Amethyst form, and adventured amongst the Houses, each named for a gem. Amethyst appeared most recently as an excellent series of shorts directed by Brianne Drouhard for the DC Nation slot on Cartoon Network, and also briefly received a pretty good New 52 book by 80's alum Christy Marx (of Jem and the Holograms fame).

Gemworld, a world settled by the ancient sorceress Citrina as a refuge for magicians (also known as Homo Magi) and fairies who were forced to leave the Earth as True Magic's influence faded, was pretty mercurial in it's connection to the DCU.  Later writers would begin by portraying it as a sister realm to Faerie, and gradually, concepts from the wider DC Universe – almost entirely absent from the original comics run - came to bleed in.  Mordru, arch-foe of 30th century super-teens the Legion of Superheroes, was revealed to be a native of Gemworld, which, by the year 3000 had become Zerox, also known as Sorcerer’s World.  Neil Gaiman (once again in the pages of the Books of Magic mini-series) would later intimate that Zerox was the touch point for all of the magical realms of the DC Universe, a status left up in the air with this new Map.  During the 90's, Amethyst was one of numerous magical DC characters rebooted to be a Lord of Order, a group of magical DC characters, spearheaded by Dr. Fate, who are locked in a never ending fight against their counterparts the Lords of Chaos.

(The conflict between the Lords of Order and Chaos was briefly touched upon by Grant Morrison in his Kid Eternity mini-series. Unlike the rest of the DC Universe, Morrison and the Kid were on Chaos's side of course...)

Dream’s placement at the pinnacle of the “Order” Axis on the Map could imply a correlation between the two.  Perhaps in The Multiversity we'll see a New Lords of Order made up of Titania, Oberon, Amethyst, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus?

Speaking of the latter, the DC Universe Santa Claus has often been referenced in DC's seasonal fare, right from the very beginning. The legendary figure was the topic of the classic Christmas special Superman's Christmas Adventure, by original Superman writer Jerry Siegel, and artist and co-creator of Starman Jack Burnley. The Jolly Old Elf has shown up from time to time in DC's comics since as a figure from both folklore and pop culture, as he is in our world. On the (slightly) darker side, one old reliable hallmark of a DC Christmas tale (especially in the 1970's) is the “Santa is dead!” fakeout, with many a Seasonal murder victim meeting their maker dressed as Father Christmas.  Occasionally, even the heroes like to dress up as him and...

Really, he had it coming...

The “real” Santa even showed up in DC Comics Presents #67 by Len Wein, E. Nelson Bridewell and Curt Swan, where Superman and Santa once again team up to stop the Toyman from distributing deadly toys on Christmas Day.  Or how about Ty Templeton's classic story from DCU Holiday Bash #2, with Old Saint Nick driving his sleigh through the forces of Darkseid to deliver his annual lump of coal?


And I think that's probably as good a place as any to leave it for now...

Part 3 is here!

----------

Jim Harbor is a story analyst with an extreme fondness for Comics, Hip Hop Music and Cartoons.  Follow him on Twitter.  Thanks to Tone Milazo for the original clips!
Comments