Finding Themselves: DC’S greatest heroes and their dimensional doppelgangers

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Feb 16, 2016

This week, CW’s The Flash is sending Barry Allen and the rest of Team Flash on a two-part excursion to Earth-Two, a moment of multiversal import that fans have been eagerly anticipating since Jay Garrick’s helmet flew through a portal at the end of the first season. While they attempt to stop the plans of the evil speedster Zoom, they’re going to be running into some familiar faces along the way — their own.

Heroes meeting their alternate-reality analogues is a long tradition in the DC Universe, and is an important part of The Flash’s legacy in particular. In celebration of the multiverse manifesting on the small screen, join me for a rundown of nine stories from the big, bizarre history of DC superheroes and their dimensional doubles.

“FLASH OF TWO WORLDS!” THE FLASH #123 (1961), BY GARDNER FOX AND CARMINE INFANTINO

Jay Garrick was the first scarlet speedster to call himself the Flash when he donned his helmet in 1940, but had been missing from spinner racks for five years when DC dusted off the name and gave it to a young upstart named Barry Allen. Barry chose the name because he was inspired by Jay’s adventures, which were fictional stories he read about in comic books — or so he thought. Jay made his first appearance in a decade in the landmark story “Flash of Two Worlds!” which established that Jay’s comics that Barry — and Golden Age readers — read had actually taken place on Earth-Two, a world that existed on a different vibrational frequency than Barry’s native Earth-One. After meeting Jay and helping him defeat a trio villains, Barry returned home, but the door had been forever opened…

“CRISIS ON EARTH ONE!”/“CRISIS ON EARTH TWO!” JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21-22 (1963), BY GARDNER FOX AND MIKE SEKOWSKY

The Flash wasn’t the only hero that had been gone for a while; so had his teammates, the Justice Society of America, which included Dr. Fate, Black Canary, Hawkman, Hourman and Golden Age versions of Justice League members The Atom and Green Lantern. Three villains from the JSA’s Earth-Two banded with three from Earth-One, called themselves the Crime Champions, and lured the premier superhero teams of both worlds into battle in order to capture both Flashes, who they knew had the ability to cross between the worlds to stop them. Fortunately, the JLA possessed a crystal ball given to them from Merlin on an earlier adventure that possessed the power to magically summon the Justice Society. The League and Society decided to trade places to take on each other’s villains, before inevitably uniting at the end to stop the Crime Champions. The crossover between the two superteams proved so popular that it was an annual occurrence in Justice League of America until 1985.

“CRISIS ON EARTH-THREE!” JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #29-30 (1964), BY GARDNER FOX AND MIKE SEKOWSKY

The second annual Justice League/Justice Society crossover introduced a third world — Earth-Three — to DC’s new multiverse, and also added a third team, the Crime Syndicate of America. But Earth-Three’s America was not like ours, because in this dark reflection of a world, “Columbus was an American — who discovered Europe” and “it was actor Abraham Lincoln who shot President John Wilkes Booth!” and so naturally, in this world the Justice League was a team of supervillains! For no other reason than they hadn’t had a good fight in a while, Johnny Quick, Superwoman, Owl-Man, Power Ring and Ultraman imprisoned the JSA and battled their Justice League opposites on Earth-Two, thinking it neutral ground. The Justice Society was freed and the Crime Syndicate defeated, but they would return many times to plague the Justice League.

“THE WOLF-GIRL OF STANHOPE!” ADVENTURE COMICS #387(1969), E. NELSON BRIDWELL AND KURT SCHAFFENBERGER

Not all Earths in the multiverse are as different as Earths Two and Three. Some have only minor differences. Take, for instance, Earth-387, a world exactly the same as the main DCU, except for the fact that humans all resemble rather furry werewolves. Supergirl discovered this Earth when she took a serum that was supposed to give her immunity to Kryptonite but, instead, made her start growing fur. Luckily an explosion that occurred on one of Supergirl’s rescue missions tore open a portal to the other world, where she met the Supergirl of that Earth-387, who had recently drank a serum that had accidentally turned her into a hideous, bald human. The two swapped serums, returning both Supergirls to their natural states of hairiness.

“TO KILL A LEGEND” DETECTIVE COMICS #500 (1981), BY ALAN BRENNERT AND DICK GIORDANO

On a foggy and fateful night in Gotham City, the ever-cryptic Phantom Stranger appeared before Batman and Robin and delivered a harrowing message: “Forty years ago, another Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered...and vowed to avenge their deaths. Twenty years later, on this Earth, you watched your parents die...now — on still another Earth — the cycle is about to repeat itself!” The Stranger whisked the dynamic duo away to Earth-Five, where Batman hunts down that world’s Joe Chill — the man who killed his parents on Earth-One — only to find him dead! Racing across Gotham, the dynamic duo arrived in the infamous alley just in time to prevent Thomas and Martha Wayne’s horrible fate at the hands of Chill’s killer. Phantom Stranger promptly returned Batman and Robin to Earth-One, leaving them to wonder about the fate of the young Bruce of Earth-Five, who would still grow up to become the Batman of Earth-Five, but not out of vengeance, instead inspired by the mysterious hero who had saved his parents.

“THE UNTOLD STORY” LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE: CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS (1999), BY MARV WOLFMAN AND PAUL RYAN

When a Barry Allen who had retired to the 30th Century with his wife, Iris, discovered his Earth was being consumed by a wave of anti-matter, he decided to travel back in time to warn the present-day Justice League. However, he ended up on a completely different world known as Earth-D, one populated by heroes known as the Justice Alliance of America, and among them was The Flash, a Japanese man named Tanaka Rei. Barry and Tanaka meet up and Barry discovers that - much like his own experience with Jay Garrick — he is Tanaka’s childhood hero, whose adventures he’d read about in comic books. Sadly, Earth-D is destroyed by the end of the story by the same wave of anti-matter from Barry’s world, which was a consequence of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

“SUPERMEN/BATMEN” SUPERMAN/BATMAN #25 (2006), BY JEPH LOEB AND ED MCGUINNESS

When Mr. Mxyzptlk plays The Joker in a cosmic game of chess pitting multiversal versions of Batman and Superman against each other, the original World’s Finest end up right in the middle of the conflict. The issues leading up to the 25th issue blowout featured a team-up between Bizarro and the new Batzarro, a squadron of Supergirls, and appearances by the communist Red Son Superman and the futuristic Batman Beyond as the Man of Steel and Caped Crusader are taken on a tour-de-force of the DC multiverse. The conflict culminated in the two heroes leading an army of alternate Bat- and Supermen, who then merged together to form Composite Superman-Batman. Mxyzptlk put everything back to normal in the end, after his fellow Fifth-Dimensional friend Bat-Mite was freed from the Joker’s mind where he’d been trapped, which had been Mxy’s goal all along.

 

“TITANS OF TOMORROW” TEEN TITANS #17-19 (2004), BY GEOFF JOHNS AND MIKE MCKONE

Hurled ten years into their future, the Teen Titans find themselves in a dystopian world of their own making. Many of the Titans of this possible future have taken up the mantles of their mentors — former Robin Tim Drake as Batman, Superboy Conner Kent as Superman, Bart Allen as the no-longer-kid Flash, Gar Logan shifted from Beast Boy to Animal Man, and Miss Martian M’Gann M’orzz became Martian Manhunter, among others — and have become the leading superteam of the era. However, the present day team finds that not all is as it seems when Superboy witnesses his future self torturing Deathstroke by burning off his arm. They soon discover that there are two teams — Titans East and West — that have split the country in two, with Cyborg 2.0’s Titans East resisting their fascist former friends in the West. The Teen Titans escaped and returned to the present using the Cosmic Treadmill, vowing to stay united in order to prevent the future they’d seen from happening.

“SUPERMAN BEYOND” FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND 3D #1-2 (2008), BY GRANT MORRISON AND DOUG MAHNKE

During DC’s multiverse-altering event Final Crisis, Clark Kent is sitting at Lois Lane’s deathbed when Zillo Valla, a Monitor of the Multiverse, offers Clark a chance to save his wife in exchange for his help. Superman agrees to assist her and follows her into the Bleed — the space between universes — using her ship, the Ultima Thule. Aboard the Ultima Thule, Superman meets Captain Adam, Captain Marvel, Overman and Ultraman, his counterparts from Earths 4, 5, 10 and the Antimatter Universe, respectively, all of whom have been recruited by the Monitor to join against the Mandrakk, the Dark Monitor. Eventually, the team grows into an army known simply as the Supermen of the Multiverse, who unite against Mandrakk and an out-of-control Ultraman to save all of reality. Many of these Supermen returned during the events of Multiversity to defeat the forces of the Gentry and a new Dark Monitor.