In this week's Batman: The Red Death #1, readers got their look at a story within the Dark Multiverse, the eery new addition to DC's cosmology that was introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event.
In the story set primarily in Earth-52, after an aging Batman lost the members of his Bat-family, he was determined to stop more crime by getting his hands on the Speed Force. By first gathering up all the Flash Rogues' weapons then capturing Barry Allen, this version of Bruce Wayne was able to utilize the Speed Force to combine himself with Barry - giving him superspeed. A Dark Knight who's now willing to cross the line - and now has all the time in the world to do it - begins to eliminate his villains. But within his mind, he still hears the voice of the goodness of Barry.
This Bruce Wayne is now 'The Red Death,' one of the Nightmare Batmen who were plucked from their worlds in the Dark Multiverse and brought to the DCU by Metal's big bad, Barbatos.
But what is the Dark Multiverse?
First, the Dark
According to Metal writer Scott Snyder, the concept of the Dark Multiverse was inspired by the scientific discovery of dark matter.
"What they've discovered is that there's dark matter and dark energy which we literally cannot perceive around us," Snyder told Newsarama, describing the genesis of the idea for his Metal series with artist Greg Capullo. "We don't know what [dark matter] is, but we can see its effects in holding galaxies and star clusters together and all these kinds of strange things."
James Kakalios, a professor of physics and astronomy who's also a comic book fan, recently explained it this way to Newsarama: "The name 'dark matter' is easier to say than 'some strange extra source of gravity that we can't account for." The nature of dark matter is a mystery - it is only known to exist because of how it affects matter around it.
So Snyder started with a contrast between matter that people can see versus the mysterious dark matter that people cannot see. Then the writer spun it into a contrast between the Multiverse and the mysterious 'Dark' Multiverse.
Now, the "Multiverse"
The DC Multiverse goes back to a "theory in quasi-mechanics called the 'many worlds interpretation,'" Kakalios said. In that speculative science, there are parallel earths that occupy the same space, but in different dimensionalities.
In the DC Universe according to current continuity, there are 52 different parallel Earths - versions of the DCU where history progressed a little (or a lot) differently. Each of the worlds has a different number assigned to it, and each one has a story that's slightly different from the main DC Earth.
For example, in the most recent version of Earth-2, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were all killed and a new batch of heroes replaced them.
So… from the idea of the Multiverse, Snyder said he started thinking, what if the Multiverse had a Dark Multiverse, similar to how there's both matter and dark matter?
"What if the Multiverse essentially has these 52 universes, but has almost this ocean of possibility, this ocean of almost reactive matter beneath it that's like a Dark Multiverse," Snyder said.
How that plays out
The known DC Multiverse - the 52 universes - is a place where real worlds "are set and stable, and they're fixed," according to Snyder's description.
But the Dark Multiverse isn't stable at all. Snyder said it's like an oceanic "subconscious of all reality, in the way that anything you fear and hope for materializes as this kind of fluid, isotropic world there for a moment."
"And when you stop fearing it, it goes away and bubbles down."
The narration in The Red Death puts it this way:
"Every fear, each bad decision, [gives] birth to a malformed world of nightmare … a world that shouldn't exist. And desperate as it fights to survive in the light of the true Multiverse far above … these worlds are doomed to rot apart and die, because they are wrong at their core."
In The Red Death, which was written by Joshua Williamson with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, readers actually see one of the worlds in the Dark Universe coming apart. Preceded by the red skies that often accompany a world in the Multiverse being destroyed, this Earth was in the midst of destruction when Barbatos grabbed the Red Death version of Bruce Wayne from its surface.
So this world was apparently a manifestation of a fear concerning Bruce Wayne, but it was only there for a moment. And only this nightmare version of Bruce lives on, anxious to find another world to rule with his speed.
There appears to be one more possibility in the Dark Multiverse.
According to what Snyder told Newsarama in a re
cent interview, it may be possible that one of these worlds could become more permanent.
The writer said that if "enough people fear or hope for the same thing, those worlds can sort of materialize more firmly."
So although the writer didn't confirm the idea, the description begs the question: Could a "firm" fear or hope that materializes in the Dark Multiverse actually "bubble up" and become a world in the known Multiverse? Is this maybe even the origin of the 52?
That may never be revealed even though it's implied. But as the heroes of the DCU fight these Nightmare versions of Batman, perhaps the theme is more related to the definition of the Dark Multiverse itself. Perhaps the real battle is about keeping the ugliness of the subconscious from becoming real.