WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Dark Nights: Metal by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia, on sale now.
For years, DC Comics has been trying to rebuild its Multiverse.
In 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths set out to reduce the DC Universe into one comprehensive world. And while that move helped make things a lot less confusing, it also removed much of the magic the Silver Age introduced into comics. In the decades since the first Crisis, the DC Universe has undergone numerous expansions and contractions. It's been a long journey, but now the Multiverse is back, bigger, more dangerous and more interesting than ever, all thanks toDark Nights: Metal.
Building a Better Multiverse
Following the events of Infinite Crisis, which reintroduced the Multiverse 20 years after the original Crisis did away with it, DC Comics set out to rebuild what had once been undone, albeit in a manner that was little more manageable than it was the first time around. Instead of infinite worlds, there were a mere 52 defined universes. The next few years were devoted to the establishment and exploration of this new Multiverse in several event series -- 52, Countdown and Final Crisis.
The publisher tripped and stumbled in the beginning, but eventually, it all seemed to be moving along. Then the New 52 reboot happened in 2011, and DC's universe was even smaller than ever. Despite the contraction, the publisher gave Grant Morrison full control over reimagining the Multiverse, but it wasn't until 2014 that his project The Multiversity finally saw publication.
Morrison's project didn't just explore new worlds, it built a foundation and infrastructure that could keep the DC Multiverse from falling off the rails again. It was established that 52 realities existed inside the Orrery of Worlds, which itself seemed to exist inside some sort of bubble. Every alternate world, higher concept, and godlike being existed inside a finite space, which is a fascinating concept... but didn't leave much room for growth.
The Problem with the Multiverse
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the original DC Multiverse was also its greatest strength. Infinite universes meant infinite possibilities, and that eventually caused the publisher to become bogged down with inconsistencies as continuity became more and more tangled. A stronger editorial grasp on the concept could have kept things in enough order to prevent DC from feeling it had to reboot and streamline things, which we hope will happen in the wake of Metal.
DC's establishment of 52 universes was meant to keep a handle on the endless possibilities of creativity, but it also gave us a lot of filler. After all, that's a lot of different universes to establish all at once. Morrison did a good job laying down the bedrock, but in a lot of instances, the worlds never became anything more than abstract concepts that still haven't been fleshed out.
Earth 12 is the Batman Beyond universe, but how is this any different from the Batman Beyond series that takes place in the future of the main DC Universe? Earth 32 is just made out of character mash-ups, while a number of DC's classic stories, like Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, were given an entire world all their own. Then there are a series of Earths that are just pastiches of other comic book companies' fictional universes.
These are all well and good on their own, but if there's a finite amount of worlds, why fill them out with so many, for lack of a better word, recycled concepts? In order to correct these limitations, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo set out to create an entirely new Multiverse, and they did so while managing to avoid overwriting what had already been established.