In a few days, moviegoers will be entitled to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the latest entry in the ever-evolving Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the title suggests, the film will follow Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) on a wild and disastrous journey through the Marvel Multiverse that will wrap both new and familiar characters. The nature of the multiverse fully integrated into the MCU has interested fans for years, after several years of narrative forgeries and a possible introduction of it into the Loki Disney+ series and Spider-Man: No Coming Home. With Multiverse of Madnessthe concept will be brought fully to the big screen – and add to a startling tapestry of how it’s existed in the world of mainstream superhero comics.
The earliest examples of alternate realities and characters crossing over occurred in DC Comics during the Golden Age. 1953 wonder woman #59 provided the first significant example of an alternate reality, when Wonder Woman crossed paths with an almost identical version of herself whose world was ruled by the villainous Duke Dazam. After superhero comics waned in popularity for several years in the early 1950s, DC, under editor Julius Schwartz and publisher Gardner Fox, decided to reintroduce and reboot good many of his previous superhero titles. It started with a new version of The Flash in 1956, and eventually encompassed similar versions of existing characters (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), as well as entirely new heroes taking on existing mantles (Green Lantern, The Atom). As these new characters were introduced, fans lamented the erasure of previous Golden Age counterparts, who had unceremoniously darkened at the end of the original era.
Enter “Flash of Two Worlds”, a 1961 the flash story written by Fox with art by Carmine Infantino, which chronicles a meeting between the Golden Age and Silver Age incarnations of The Flash, Jay Garrick and Barry Allen. To explain why the two hadn’t met before, it was established that Barry previously believed that Jay and his counterparts were fictional comic book characters, and that their universes could only intersect if they vibrated at the right frequency.
“I allowed Barry Allen to pass into the alternate reality he considered a fictional world by vibrating at high speed, allowing his molecules to pass into the alternate reality which encompassed the same space as our world (remember you: I studied physics in college) and meeting and teaming up with Jay Garrick,” Schwartz wrote in his 2000 biography. The Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics. “It set a comic book precedent of having a character from one universe interact with a character from another universe, the ultimate crossover since it was essentially Flash meets Flash.”
As Infantino says, the idea for “Flash of Two Worlds” – and by extension, essentially the start of the multiverse in superhero comics – happened when he was literally trying to bring Schwartz down.
“I would do a cover, and damn it, they would write the story around it, so it pissed me off a lot, so I said, ‘I’ll fix you,'” Infantino said. NerdTeam30 in 2007. “I did a cover with a guy in the foreground and two Flashes running around, he’s like, ‘Help!’ and they both say, ‘I’m coming!’ So I put it on his desk and I said, “Here, solve this!” and I walked out. The moment I got home, my phone rang. He said, “We solved the problem. problem. I went through hell. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a great story, a great story.”
Just a year later, Marvel Comics (which didn’t start having major superhero production until the Silver Age) started toying with the idea of alternate universes, when Johnny Storm visited the Fifth Dimension in 1962. strange tales #103. DC, meanwhile, took the success of “Flash of Two Worlds” even further, by cross-referencing Golden Age heroes from the Justice Society of America and Silver Age heroes. of the Justice League of America each year, and pointing out that the heroes were from (respectively) Earth-2 and Earth-1. This series of crossovers not only introduced even more of the DC Multiverse (including additional worlds), but also created the opportunity for meaningful character moments, such as Golden Age heroine Black Canary moving from Earth-2 to Earth-1 after her husband’s death in 1969.
On the Marvel side, the 1960s saw Doctor Strange have his first contact with the Multiverse, when he fought Dormammu in the Dark Dimension in strange tales #126. The decade also featured more Fantastic Four dealing with dilemmas in alternate dimensions, culminating with the group specifically seeking multiverse travel and getting lost in the Deadly Negative Zone in 1968. Fantastic Four Annual #6. At the end of the decade, Marvel’s Avengers crossed paths with their first prominent alternate Earth, when they encountered the Squadron Sinister (an analogue of DC’s Justice League) in 1969. The Avengers #69.
By the mid-1970s, both companies had wholeheartedly embraced the concept of the multiverse, with Marvel introducing things like the Microverse, as well as the alternate reality-spanning series. What if? In 1977. The first issues of What if? were the first to use the term “multiverse” correctly in Marvel canon, with editor Mark Gruenwald (who was a die-hard Marvel and DC fan) expressing a desire for the comics to eventually be in an “omniverse”, which would have encompassed not just the respective fictional universes, but potentially all of fiction, and even the real world. DC, meanwhile, strove to simultaneously release more stories featuring its Earth-2 heroes, as well as characters they later acquired from Fawcett Publications and Quality Comics (which resided on Earth-S, respectively. and Earth-X).
A Key Part Of Marvel’s Multiverse Would Be Properly Invented In daredevil #7, a 1983 story that established Captain Britain and the Captain Britain Corps. This story confirmed that the main Marvel Universe was dubbed “Earth-616”, a classification still used to this day. The term was originally coined by former Captain Britain writer David Thorpe, who found the number through numerology, and was later properly incorporated into the Marvel Universe when Captain Britain joined. Excalibur in the late 1980s.
The final key piece of the puzzle in establishing the mainstream superhero multiverse would occur in 1985, when DC aimed to create a historic crossover event in honor of their 50th anniversary. The event, which would eventually become Marv Wolfman and George Perez Crisis on Infinite Earthsnot only sought to celebrate the many characters and stories in DC’s arsenal, but also to streamline the continuity issues that had arisen when the multiverse was introduced. Crisis would follow the slew of heroes and villains in a fight against the Anti-Monitor, an omnipotent cosmic being whose origin was tied to the creation of DC’s multiverse, and who sought to destroy all Earths in the multiverse by transforming them in antimatter. Through Twelve Weather Problems, this then saw the entire multiverse be destroyed except for Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-5, and Earth-X, all of which were eventually reformed into a single new Earth. Although filled with destruction and the deaths of key characters, Crisis remained a deep showcase of what the DC Multiverse had to offer – and proved that it was as easy to remix or cut parts of a superhero multiverse as it was to establish it.
In the decades that followedCrisis, Marvel, and DC have used the multiverse concept in very different ways, ranging from massive publisher-wide changes to smaller character moments. Both created event titles that propelled the multiverse into even grander and more metaphysical territory (Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis for direct current, and Secret Wars for Marvel), and both have used the idea of parallel universes to justify controversial line-wide reboots (the Ultimate Universe for Marvel and the New 52 for DC), the settings and specifics of the existence of each multiverse changing along the way. The two publishers have even used the multiverse to crossover their characters on several occasions, including in the beloved JLA/Avengers miniseries from the early 2000s. And while DC’s live-action properties have starred in the multiverse in recent years, most notably in a TV adaptation of Crisis and to come the flash film, Multiverse of Madness will be the biggest example yet of Marvel using the trope in live-action – and hopefully it won’t be the last.
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