The DC Multiverse and What it Means for DC Films
Recently, DC held their DC FanDome event where they debuted trailers, featurettes and concept art for a slew of their upcoming films including The Batman, The Suicide Squad, Black Adam and The Flash.
One of the terms that kept popping up at the panels was the mention of the “Multiverse” and the significance it has on the DC film slate. The film most associated with this term was The Flash, which will see Flash travel through the Multiverse, crossing paths with Michael Keaton’s version of Batman. DC President, Walter Hamada, also revealed that Robert Pattinson’s incarnation of Batman will be separate from the current DC universe.
But what the hell is the Multiverse? Below is a guide to the Multiverse, its history, stories and the importance that it may have on the cinematic universe and the future of DC’s film slate.
The ‘Multiverse’ is the infinite number of alternate realities/universes/Earths that appear in DC Comics stories. Each reality is usually numbered and contains different versions of characters and histories that spin-out of the main DC universe, ‘Prime Earth’.
Think of it like this; the Prime Earth is straight line and at certain points on the line, it branches off into different versions of events.
For example, in Prime Earth, Superman lands on a farm in Kansas and is raised by the Kents and becomes the Superman we know. However, in Earth-30, Superman lands in Ukraine and fights for Soviet Russia during the Cold War.
The Multiverse allows writers to come up with unique takes on popular characters like Batman, without impacting the main storyline or mythos. What if Batman killed the Joker? What if Wonder Woman and the Amazonians invaded Man’s World? What if Superman became a dictator? All these kinds of stories can exist simultaneously so audiences can pick and choose what they like and what they don’t. So, when (or where?) did the Multiverse come from?
The concept of a ‘Multiverse’ was first introduced in The Flash #123, ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’, released in 1961. The story saw- wait, let’s backtrack a bit.
During the 30s and 40s, or the ‘Golden Age of Comics’, many popular DC characters were first created but not as we know them today. Green Lantern’s alter ego was Alan Scott, who didn’t have an alien ring, but a magic ring which offered the same powers as later Lantern's. GL (Scott) had one weakness which was to wood of all things. This version was later replaced with the Hal Jordan Green Lantern who was more space based.
The Flash was another character whose original incarnation is differently to the current versions. Most people know of Barry Allen’s The Flash, but the original The Flash went by the name of Jay Garrick. Instead of being struck by lightning, Garrick’s powers come from an experiment involving hard water but he has the same power set as later incarnations of The Flash.
Eventually, these original characters faded from popularity as the superhero genre died down following the end of World War II and audiences shifted towards Western, Horror and Romance comics.
Then in the 1950s, the superhero genre was revitalised with The Flash’s return in Showcase #4 in 1956. The comic was Barry Allen's introduction and is credited with beginning the ‘Silver Age of Comics’. Barry Allen was now The Flash and most readers had never heard of Jay Garrick except for long time readers. Now, back to the beginning.
The concept of a ‘Multiverse’ was first introduced in The Flash #123, ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’, released in 1961. The story saw Barry Allen and Jay Garrick meet for the very first time and the introduction of Earth-Two.
In the story, Barry Allen Flash disappears from Central City and appears in Keystone City, the home of Jay Garrick. To Barry Allen though, Jay Garrick is a comic book character and not a real war hero. Barry meets a retired Jay, who has aged since readers last saw him. Jay agrees to work alongside The Flash to take down some villains and help Barry return to his world. Barry then returns to his world, which is named ‘Earth-One’ and Jay’s as ‘Earth-Two’.
The term of Earth-One for Barry Allen’s Earth and Earth-Two for Jay’s was a way for the writers and readers to distinguish which world the story would be set in. Essentially, any new stories post-1956 would be classified as Earth-One, the main one. Earth-Two would be the continuation of the Golden Age stories which saw aged versions of heroes including Superman.
As new writers came on board for different characters, origin stories became muddled and story contradictions occurred and it became a real headache for the DC writers and readers.
An example of this was the Superboy comic that imagined Clark Kent if he became a superhero as a teenager. This clashed with the original story which saw Clark only become Superman when he was an adult. There was then confusion as to whether this was Superman as a teenager, Superman’s son, a clone or a different world. This was just one example of contradictions within the DC Comics universe.
To solve this, DC created the first event comic book crossover titled Crisis on Infinite Earths. The event saw the entire Multiverse be threatened by an entity that was wiping them all out. The remaining heroes from the Multiverse, such as Earth-One and Earth-Two Superman, making a final stand. The heroes won, at a price with all of reality being changed with all the Multiverse being combined into one singular Earth called Earth Prime. After this, heroes’ origins were retold and became the definitive versions such as Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One or John Byrne's Man of Steel.
It then gets messy with subsequent universe reboot style events, but you don’t need to worry about that. Just know, there are now infinite number of universes and stories to tell without affecting the main DC storylines.
The DCM or DC Multiverse
This Multiverse concept only existed in the comics, until last year when the DC TV Universe held its annual crossover event, by doing their version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The event saw Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and other characters audiences watch, interact with the 1960s Batman TV series universe, the Christopher Reeve Superman universe and others including the Smallville universe.
The biggest take away from this event was when the TV version of The Flash meet on-screen with the movie version of The Flash. It was a big deal because it meant that Warner Media, the studio that owns DC, were open to crossing over the movie and TV universes, something that Marvel never did up till that point.
The brief Flash crossover also signals a turning point for the direction of the movie universe. Warner Media opened up the possibility, and have now confirmed it at DC FanDome, that they are moving away from telling an MCU-style storyline and instead focus on telling good, creator driven stories that do not have to adhere to one tone and storyline.
Thanks in part to the $1 billion success of Joker, Warner Media look to be doing individual film series which have the potential to crossover later down the line. So the current DC universe (Gal Gadot Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa Aquaman) will still go on, but Robert Pattinson’s Batman will remain separate from their universe until the time is right for a financially successful crossover event.
7 years after starting the DCEU/Worlds of DC/DCCU/whatever they decided on, with Man of Steel, it finally looks like DC/Warner Media have a plan for their tumultuous cinematic universe. Perhaps we might see the DCM or, DC Multiverse as a potential financial and critical rival to the MCU?
Or the success of one informs the success of the other and is good for fans and the industry and pitting the two against each other is a purely fan driven pass time that does more harm than good by gatekeeping new fans and forcing allegiances when people should be allowed to enjoy what they want and make the fandom a welcoming place for new readers to let it grow and thrive and survive. Maybe that's just me.