Resources‎ > ‎

The Map Is The Territory - Navigating Grant Morrison's Multiversity Map

Jim Harbor writes

Hello everyone, if you’re a fan of Grant Morrison - and if you are on this site you probably are - you may have seen the awesome Map of the Multiverse designed by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes unveiled at last weekend's San Diego Comic Con. Now, a map that attempts to graphically synthesize almost 80 years of ongoing narratives, retcons and buyouts from several companies may not be the easiest thing to get a glance on, so I decided to dig into my old annotation hat and put together a full scale Guided Map to the Multiverse.

The first thing that’s going to help you out when reading the map and Multiversity in general is the rule of 8s.  You see, since the DC Multiverse was established as based off vibrations in its first appearance in the classic 'Flash of Two Worlds', Morrison has interpreted it as a musical scale; a series of vibrations that can be arranged like a chord of music or the visual spectrum (which isn’t a coincidence, given Newton explicitly based his spectrum off of musical scales). 

The number 8 represents the 8 octaves of a musical scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do), but in true Morriosonian fashion it’s also going to be conflated and repeated as a motif throughout this metaseries - probably most noticably on Earth-4, where the stark black and white Objectivism that Alan Moore used to satire Steve Dikto’s Question via the character of Rorschach is now made into the colorful Spiral Dynamics, a philosophical system represented by 8 colors on a spiral.  The number 8 and spirals then become a motif (like the circle was in Watchmen) - the upcoming Pax Americana is drawn in an 8-grid format with plenty of visual nods, such as the Questions calling
card being a “?”, marked with a scratch space forming an 8 - an infinity sign sideways. 
Or Captain Allen Adam sitting in Lotus Position in a Particle Accelerator evoking the Dharma Chakra, the 8 spoked Great Wheel of Buddhism.


 (L) Note the similarity to Grant’s own Question pastiche from Flex Mentallo, The Fact. 
(R) Notice the 8 grid being played with.  The book Allen is reading is “The Just”
8 is also the number formed when overlaying 5 and 2 upon each other (52 being DC’s Mascot number). 8 is also a helix, which is the graphic form of both a DNA molecule, and the sinusoidal waves that both music and light are made up of.

But what does all of this have to do with the map?!
Grant and designer extraordinaire Rian Hughes lay out the map on 8 spokes, making 4 axes, again evoking the Dharma Chakra - Dream / Nightmare, Heaven / Hell, Skyland / Underworld, and New Genesis / Apokolips.  These spokes, like a compass rose, divide the Multiverse in an alignment system.  An Alignment system is the kind that you would see in Gary Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons and works inspired by it such as Zeb Cook’s Planescape.  The idea is to take two binary axes, and then scale everything between them.  For example, Good/Evil and Law/Chaos would give you alignments of Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil, Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Neutral and Neutral Neutral (or True Neutral).  There are many variations on this pattern, but the general idea is to create a coordinate system you can order alignments on.
Looking at the map, you can see that the positions of the Earths aren’t random.  There are 4 central spokes - Order: going from the Black Rock of Eternity to Earth 0 and below Dream; Chaos: Going from the White Rock of Eternity to Earth-33 and above Nightmare; The Pit: going from Apokolips to Earth 6; and the Pinnacle: going from New Genesis to Earth-51.  These primary values act as the core axes - Earth-0 is the mainstream DC Universe, Earth-33 is our reality, Earth-6 is a world based on Stan Lee’s versions of DC characters, and Earth 51 is based on Jack Kirby’s work at DC.  In effect, the graph is saying that the Multiverse revolves around DC, Reality, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.


From those four primary spokes, the Multiverse is cut into four quadrants, each of which has its own set “tone.” Morrison established in his JLA: Earth Two book that, just as the good guys ultimately must win in their world, in the evil Mirror Universe of the Crime Syndicate evil must always win.  This was an expansion of the first appearance of the Crime Syndicate back in 1964's Justice League of America #29, where it was shown that, in a fight, the team whose home universe it was on would always win in the end.  A “home field advantage’ of writer’s fiat (or fate.)
With this we can look at each of the worlds based on their placement in the Alignment.

Quadrant I - Pinnacle Order

This quadrant is between the Pinnacle, which represents good, and Order which is a symbol of law. The worlds here, evoke a “classical” feel with many being callbacks to the Golden Age. For example
  • Earth-1: DC’s OGN series. Morrison’s take on Wonder Woman Earth One is heavily informed by the golden age works of her creator Bill Marston
  • Earth-2: This Earth is based on the JSA characters, from the original DC comics of the 30s and 40s
  • Earth-5: A world based on Fawcett Comics, home to the bright and cheery Golden Age DC rival turned asset, C.C. Beck and Bill Parker’s Captain Marvel/Shazam.  The setting for the upcoming Multiversity one-shot Thunderworld.
  • Earth-8: Themed after DC’s timely rival Marvel Comics (and from the DC Bullet logo perhaps some elements of the 1970s DC comics that logo and this Marvel pastiche originated in) this world pastiches The Avengers
  • Earth-20: The Pulp Fiction inspired heroes of the Society of Superheroes.  Drawing on the pulp tradition of Doc Savage and The Shadow, and probably the more modern pulp adventurer Tom Strong by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse.  Coincedentally (yeah, right), Sprouse is also the artist on the upcoming Multiversity one shot set on Earth 20 - The Society of Superheroes: Conquerors of the Counter World.
  • Earth-30: A world of a Soviet Superman who goes by his Golden Age name Kal-L, as seen in Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son

Quadrant II - Pit Order

These are worlds’ that evoke “grim’, “gritty’ and ‘realistic’ settings. Worlds that tend to be “darker and edgier” -

  • Earth-4: The world of Charlton Comics, now informed by the seminal “dark” hero book Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons which itself was based off the Charlton characters.  The setting for the much-anticipated Frank Quitely-drawn Multiversity issue, Pax Americana.
  • Earth-9: The Universe of Tangent Comics, a Dan Jurgens brainchild in which superheroes have caused mass geopolitical upheaval in the world
  • Earth-31: A world based of the dark and gritty Frank Miller Batman books (Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Back, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and the apocryphal Holy Terror)
  • Earth-39: The Wally Wood world mentioned by Morrison in a recent interview (probably based on this image of Planet Earth by Wood).  Maybe this is a superhero-less True Crime or Mystery world; or maybe a 1950's sci-fi Strange Adventures type setting.
  • Earth-45™- A world run by corporate superheros and the gritty, edgy, top selling corporate killer franchise: Superdoom, as seen alongside the Superman of Earth 23 in Morrison's Action Comics #9
  • Earth-48: Previously established (in the questionably canonical Countdown) as the world of the Forerunners; a genetically mixed superrace that fought on the ruins of Earth (now Warworld) to see who would rule the solar system. (Insert your own G Gundam joke here)
  • Earth-50: the world formerly occupied by Wildstorm, itself a world based on “realistic” implications of superpowers, most notable in Warren Ellis' Stormwatch and The Authority.

Quadrant III - Pit Chaos

Worlds here are the stereotypical “evil” earths, Mirror universes and "historical bad guys win” types of settings. Of note:

  • Earth-3: The Star Trek-ian ‘Mirror World’ to the DC heroes, where their evil counterparts The Crime Syndicate rule the world with an iron first.
  • Earth-10: Based on the classic Len Wein “Earth-X” interpretation of the Quality Comics characters The Freedom Fighters; where the Nazis won World War 2 and the Freedom Fighters battle against a Super Reich lead by Nazi version of the Justice League.  The setting for the upcoming Multiversity one-shot Master Men.
  • Earth-13: An Arcane world of magic and darkness, akin to the works of the classic DC imprint Vertigo
  • Earth-19: A steampunk world based on the Victorian era as seen in books such as Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola’s Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (contrary to what Alan Moore may tell you, the Victorian Age kinda sucked),
  • Earth-40: The “Counter-World” to the pulp heroes of Earth-20; home to zombie paratroopers lead by immortal jerk Vandal Savage.
  • Earth-43: The Nightmare world based on the “Red Rain” books by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones, with a vampire Batman and Justice League.

Quadrant IV - Pinnacle Chaos
The words here are more “looney” in nature, that tend to be lighthearted and cartoonish style worlds with callbacks to animated series and the like -

Outside the quadrants we have worlds directly on the primary axes.

  • Earth-0 - The first number, the cosmic keystone of the DC Multiverse.  Aligned with Order.
  • Earth-6 - Aligned with The Pit, and based off the mostly horrid Stan Lee reimagining of the DC characters in Just Imagine.  The name is probably inspired by Earth-616, the number Marvel used for its main world which was taken from an old Alan Moore story (and may have been a tongue in cheek reference to an alternate Number of the Beast, which is pretty apt now).  The characters here are notably jerkier than their mainstream counterparts.  It’s placement at The Pit opposite Kirby is probably reference for the conflicts over character creation they had while they were both kicking DC’s ass at Marvel Comics in the 1960s.
  • Earth-33 - Earth Prime, our universe, aligned with Chaos.  Directly below it, Earth-29 - HTRAE, the world of the Bizarros.  The implication being of course, that the universe where Superheroes are only fiction is on the bottom of the sphere, the most chaotic world of all.  The Multiversity one-shot Ultra Comics takes place on Earth 33.
  • Earth-51 - Aligned with The Pinnacle.  A world based on the concepts of the Comic Book Godhead, Jack Kirby, including the Fourth World , Kamandi and OMAC.

(It's worth noting that, due to various Crises and midstream changes, the numbers sometimes get swapped around. I’ve only noted worlds whose current designations are either confirmed by Morison or else are revealed in the art, such as the trademark Frank Miller scribbles on Earth-31)

Another point of reference is that, as established way back at the birth of the Multiverse in 'The Flash of Two Worlds', worlds within the Multiverse are fictional to each other.  That is, the events of one universe are shown to be comics read in another.  If you note the orbital lines, you can see that reflected on the map.

  • The events of Earth-0 are fictional to the events of Earth-33,
  • The events of Earth-20 are fictional to Earth-16
  • The events of Earth-4 are fictional to Earth-5
  • The events of Earth-5 are fictional to Earth-10
Morrison also noted that The New 52, in some fashion at least, happened on all of these other worlds too.  That is to say, a Vampire Batman will have a design reminiscent of his look in the New 52 (but as a Vampire).

(This brings up the fun idea that each universe has its own DC Comics, publishing it's own Multiversity book, written by it's own Grant Morrison - a Nazi Grant Morrison writing about a Vampire Grant Morrison writing about a Female Grant Morrison writing about a Robot Grant Morrison...)



Moving outside the Orrery of Worlds, we reach the Secondary Outer Realms - Heaven ,Hell, Skyland and the Underworld.  They all bleed out directly through Limbo into the Source Wall, and through The Source itself.  Their power lines all not-so-coincidentally feed into worlds Morrison left blank for future writers.

The powerlines of The Pit and the Pinnacle run through the arguably better-established Apokolips and New Genesis, and both terminate in Limbo; while the Dream and Nightmare realms don’t have power lines leading anywhere.  Note that the Speed Force Wall is being fed by arcs of Lightning coming from the Source...

Now, if your eyes are starting to glaze over a bit at those concepts I just dropped, have no fear!  Up next is a Glossary of the various Cosmic Muckamucks that are all over this map.

Stay tuned Loyal Transmissionites!


Transmission out!

Jim Harbor is a story analyst with an extreme fondness for Comics, Hip Hop Music and Cartoons. Follow him on TwitterMad props to pi8you for reading through the texts, and Deep Space Transmissions for hosting.