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
Quadrant II - Pit Order
These are worlds’ that evoke “grim’, “gritty’ and ‘realistic’ settings. Worlds that tend to be “darker and edgier” -
Quadrant III - Pit Chaos
Worlds here are the stereotypical “evil” earths, Mirror universes and "historical bad guys win” types of settings. Of note:
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.
(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.
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!
Jim Harbor is a story analyst with an extreme fondness for Comics, Hip Hop Music and Cartoons. Follow him on Twitter. Mad props to pi8you for reading through the texts, and Deep Space Transmissions for hosting.