SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Unexpected #1 by Steve Orlando, Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, Mick Gray, Wade von Grawbadger, FCO Plasencia and Carlos M. Mangual, on sale now.
The DC Multiverse is a strange and complex thing; it’s one of the most important storytelling tools that DC creators have at their disposal and operates with rules and restrictions unlike any other multiverse in fiction. From its humble beginnings in “The Flash of Two Worlds” to the most recent changes established in Dark Nights: Metal, the DC Multiverse represents worlds beyond worlds and a much larger scale than standard superheroics.
Once finite, confined to fifty-two worlds, the DC Multiverse is once again infinite, and we’re just now seeing the effects of that in the pages of The Unexpected, which gives us a brief glimpse into the newly boundless multiverse and an idea of the kind of adventure this new group of heroes will find themselves in.
A Brief History of Everything
The DC Multiverse was established in The Flash #123 by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Since the dawn of the Silver Age, Barry Allen was The Flash and part of his origin was that he was inspired by Golden Age tales of Jay Garrick, who to him was as fictional as Barry is to us. However, The Flash #123 or “The Flash of Two Worlds” established that by changing the vibration frequency, he can access another world where Jay Garrick and the heroes of the Justice Society are real.
The world of the Justice Society of America was dubbed Earth-2, and crossovers became more regular over the years, like a tradition similar to the summer event cycle of modern superhero comics but on a much small scale. “Crisis on Earth-Two” saw the JLA and the JSA cross paths while “Crisis on Earth-Three” brought in the villainous Crime Syndicate of America. Later crossovers expanded the multiverse even more, bringing in the Fawcett family of characters from Earth-S, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters from Earth-X and more.
Eventually, DC had acquired so many publishers it had too many divergent timelines, so the Crisis on Infinite Earths tidied them all up into one combined history. Zero Hour fixed some continuity and the concept of Hypertime became a more elegant solution to explain alternate histories and futures without the existence of a multiverse. Infinite Crisis brought the infinite multiverse back briefly, before they coalesced into what became known as New Earth, while 52 revealed that Infinite Crisis actually resulted in the creation of fifty-two distinct universes in a very finite multiverse.
For the most part, the fifty-worlds of the DC Multiverse were home to popular Elseworlds and alternate stories of the DC heroes. Grant Morrison and a host of top tier talent explored several of these worlds in The Multiversity, which revisited the idea that what was fiction for one universe was very real in another and each universe was connected by a mysterious cursed comic book. Convergence attempted to bring back the infinite multiverse but it didn’t catch on in a meaningful way and was overshadowed by what Morrison and his collaborators were doing in The Multiversity.
Dark Nights: Metal explained why there were only fifty-two universes by revealing that there should be so many more, but the World Forge which creates them was no longer operative. Carter Hall had been transformed into a towering hawk demon in service of Barbatos and was destroying the new worlds of the multiverse before they could fully form and find their place. Now, with Barbatos defeated and the Source Wall broken wide open, the multiverse is once again infinite which opens up the storytelling possibilities for DC creators in a way that hasn’t been available to them in over thirty years.