Early in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Harbinger asks the Monitor why they didn’t just recruit all the powerhouses — all the Supermen, Wonder Women, etc. Back then I kinda wondered that myself.
The Monitor responded with non-answers (“heroes and villains must work together,” “the menace we deal with is one of emotion”) — basically, nice ways of saying “quiet, you!” After all, it wasn’t unreasonable to suppose that, if the old DC Multiverse contained (theoretically) an infinite number of parallel Kryptons, and if, say, just a hundred of those Kryptons produced a Superman like the Earth-1 and Earth-2 editions we’d come to know, Crisis might have been merely a 48-page blip on DC’s 1985 radar. No need to fill 12 issues with Blue Beetles, Dawnstars, or Solovars. It’s a little odd, then, to see the villain Monarch holding tryouts for an army of Multiversal Supermen, Wonder Women, etc., just as 15-year-old Tom would have done.
The old Multiverse didn’t work that way, though. There were, pretty much, only two Supermen (three if you count the Superboy of Earth-Prime; four with Earth-3’s Ultraman, whose death demonstrated the power of the antimatter wave). Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, and all the other Supermen of various “imaginary stories,” were just that – figments of readers’ imaginations.
Not so today, of course. The post-52 Multiverse is really a more user-friendly version of Hypertime, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison’s attempt to place various alternate futures and continuity gaffes in a quasi-multiversal framework. In Hypertime, every story “counted,” and every setting was accessible through the proper procedures. The Imaginary Stories of the ‘50s and ‘60s had a place alongside the experiments of the ‘70s and the Elseworlds of the ‘90s. Indeed, I always thought the Silver Age Multiverse was itself simply a “tributary” of Hypertime.
Because it was so comprehensive, Hypertime came with strict rules, as enigmatic as double-secret probation. Traveling to Earth-Whatever was no longer a matter of vibrating at a certain frequency. While the Flashes could do it through the Speed Force, Superboy required Apokoliptian technology and an exploding bomb. Hypertime’s effects might be all too common (*cough*Hawkman*cough*), but working within it was deliberately obtuse.
See, because Hypertime encompassed any kind of setting, it could in effect duplicate characters who had been cosmologically unique. For example, the Fourth World was unique because it wasn’t tied to any particular universe. Similarly, the Guardians of the Universe (and, by extension, the Green Lantern Corps) were specific to the pre-Crisis universe of Earth-1 – probably because their colleague Krona caused the Multiverse’s creation in the first place. The Rock of Eternity was “outside space and time,” if I remember right, but it was pegged to Earth-S.
Looking across the scope of Hypertime, though, one finds a few different Fourth Worlds: the Gerry Conway/Don Newton “Return of the New Gods” stories, later disowned by DC and at one point assigned to “Earth-17″; Superman: The Dark Side; and elements of Kingdom Come and JLA: Another Nail.* In theory, that’s at least four sets of Darkseids, Orions, et al., who could conceivably interact within this framework. The double-secret rules of Hypertime make such interactions extremely unlikely, but not impossible. Good thing, too — would one Darkseid, upon learning of the existence of one or more “original copies” of himself, rest until said duplicates were eliminated? How would Metron react? I imagine Buzz Lightyear’s existential crises, blown up Kirby-size.
The same goes for the Guardians, but naturally there’s a lot more alt-GL stories floating around Hypertime. I also don’t think one set of Guardians would necessarily saddle up and go after its competition, but you never know. Anyway, you see the perils of multiple sets of omnipotent cosmic beings. No wonder Hypertime was designed to make its navigation so difficult.
Again, not so today. Thanks to DC’s Big List of the 52, we see the potential for duplicates of the Fourth World (Earth-12′s DC Animated and Earth-22′s Kingdom Come), the Guardians (those two, plus The New Frontier on Earth-21 and In Darkest Knight on Earth-32**), and Shazam and the Rock of Eternity (Earth-5, Earth-22).
I don’t know whether this is a clue, an oversight, or some combination of the two. I’m pretty sure there’s only supposed to be one Fourth World, because duh, why else make a big deal about destroying it? However, if that’s the case, then in order for Earth-22 to be “the” Kingdom Come world, the Fourth World characters which KC incorporates (Scott, Barda, and Avia Free; Batwoman; and Orion) can’t be genuine. Same with the Rock of Eternity and Shazam. Among other things, the “real” Barda and Shazam are both apparently dead.
Similarly, DC can say that Earth-12 merely represents a possible future which just looks like Batman Beyond, and not necessarily the future of the DC Animated Universe. However, the lack of a Fourth World would still distinguish Earth-12 from the “real” DCAU. Cutting the Fourth World out of the histories of these Earths wouldn’t be fatal (although someone else would have to build KC’s Gulag) … but they wouldn’t be the “real” stories, and I’m sure their genuineness is a big part of including them in the 52.
The same goes for the existence of duplicate Oas, as implied above. Either the distinct sets of Guardians who power the respective rings of Earth-21’s Hal Jordan and Earth-32’s Bruce Wayne are “original copies,” identical in most respects to “our” Guardians, or they aren’t. I don’t even want to think about Another Nail’s Barda/Scott Green Lantern/Mother Box combo.
Still, the presence of duplicate Monitors makes me more inclined to accept the existence of duplicate Guardians. Not only was Oa unique to the universe of Earth-1, the Monitor was born on Oa’s moon. The Monitor’s duplication doesn’t necessarily mean that Oa’s been similarly duplicated, but it makes some sense. Accordingly, I could see the Guardians of Earth-32, or Earth-22’s Ganthet (by the way, part of the “Quintessence” along with Shazam), riding to the rescue in a given issue of Final Crisis.
Should they, though? It seems just to get us back to the fannish “why not recruit all the Supermen you can?” issue. Why not send emissaries to the various sets of Guardians, Highfathers, etc., for their help?
The long answer probably gets into psychobabble about “multiversal echoes” or “dilution of essence.” The short one is “quiet, you!” As far as DC’s concerned, there’s most likely only one set of New Gods and Guardians, who play for the home team. Again, to me that means the other Earths aren’t the “real” Elseworlds, and at first blush I think that diminishes the cachet of having them in the Multiverse.
Seen another way, though, I’d almost rather not have the “real” Elseworlds incorporated into a relatively mundane week-to-week DC superhero setting. Whatever their merits as stories, they each represent particular creative expressions which were intended to exist separate and apart from the main line of superhero books. DC could try to weed the duplicates out of its new Multiverse by decreeing “one Fourth World, one Oa, one Shazam,” but again, that destroys the in-universe integrity (for lack of a better term) of the Elseworld-themed Earths. The Elseworlds stories existed to break the “rules” of the main line, so by definition they can’t be arbitrarily restricted.
I would like to think the “real” Shazam is still out there, free to share himself among multiple universes now that he’s been “killed” in this one. If DC holds the line on singular versions of the Fourth World and the Guardians, it may be more likely to relent for the new Earth-5.
Naturally, this could start us on another deep trek into the wilds of semantics, what’s “really real,” and the perpetual examination of what constitutes a corporate character’s core attributes. Not today, though. I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about in that regard the closer we get to Final Crisis.
Speaking of which, I have a feeling my Nu-Multiverse concerns will all be moot by this time next year. In the 6 1/2 months since 52 #52, over half of the Nu-Multiverse has been catalogued, and I can’t help but think that the other Earths will be mapped by the end of Final Crisis. The Nu-Multiverse seems to be an unsustainable closed system, so I don’t see it surviving Final Crisis. Instead, I imagine FC will open up DC’s cosmology somehow, either by bringing back the classic Infinite-Earths model or by reaffirming Hypertime (or something similar).
Maybe that will reaffirm the divide between the “real” stories and the “imaginary” ones. This line of thinking does make me sympathetic to the Monitors’ desire to keep everything properly compartmentalized. I wouldn’t want another reality’s nigh-omnipotent quasi-deities casting a critical eye on my home universe.
They’re all imaginary stories, of course; but the mashup which is the Nu-Multiverse demonstrates the need for some stories to be watched more closely than others.
* The Nail universe wasn’t included in DC’s latest list, but it was apparently on the Countdown: Arena website, and those look like Alan Davis-fied versions of Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman in the Arena preview.
** Maybe also Earths-5, -30, and/or -31.